Fred Phelps

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Reverend Fred Phelps Sr., the anti-gay preacher who founded the Westboro Baptist Church, has died, the church confirmed. Phelps was 84. A church spokesman told CNN he died of natural causes on Wednesday evening.

Phelps created the Topeka-based nondenominational church in 1955 and helped organize countless protests at public events to fuel his vehement anti-gay beliefs, including at military funerals.

"The world-wide media has been has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr," a post reads on the church's website. "It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words."

Per their website, the Westboro Baptist Church has conducted almost 50,000 demonstrations since June 1991, including the notable picketing at the funeral of gay college student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

Typically a dozen or so people from the congregation (almost all of the members are related to Phelps) would hold up signs that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11."

Nathan Phelps, Phelps' estranged son, posted on Facebook several days ago that his father was on the "brink of death" and had been excommunicated from the church. He later clarified it was "unclear" whether his father had been expelled or not from Westboro.

Phelps is survived by his wife, Margie Marie Simms, 13 children, 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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