Billy Graham, Evangelist Known as 'America's Pastor,' Dead at 99

Playing Influential Christian Evangelist Billy Graham Has Died

Billy Graham, the evangelist known as "America's Pastor," has died. He was 99.

Graham, who had reportedly been in poor health in recent years, died at his home in Montreat, N.C., Wednesday morning, according to his family.

Graham brought evangelical Christianity into the mainstream with powerful sermons seen by more than 200 million people around the world.

He was heard by crowds in 185 of the world's 195 countries, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

His biggest ever "crusade" was in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1970s. Over a weekend, more than three million people traveled to see him, including more than one million people for his final service.

He became a spiritual adviser to presidents, developing friendships with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and Bill Clinton.

George W. Bush once credited Graham with paving the way for him to become president insofar as the pastor helped him to quit drinking alcohol.

He even caught the interest of the Queen of England, whom he visited at Buckingham Palace after she saw him on television.

While his friendships with politicians were well documented, Graham also once famously said the religious and political right should remain distinct.

"It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right," he said in a 1981 interview with fellow preacher Jerry Falwell for a Parade magazine. "The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it."

Graham was born Nov. 7, 1918 and raised on a fairy farm in North Carolina. Growing up during the Depression "he learned the value of hard work on the family farm, but he also found time to spend many hours in the hayloft reading books n a wide variety of subjects," according to his biography on BillyGraham.org.

At age 15, Graham met a traveling evangelist by the name of Mordecai Ham as the minister swung through Charlotte for a revival. It was through that meeting that Graham says he was persuaded to give his life fully to Jesus Christ.

“My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ," Graham would later say.

Graham was ordained by Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Fla. in 1939 after attending the Florida Bible Institute, now known as Trinity College, outside Tampa.

In 1943 he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and married fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, the daughter of a missionary surgeon who spent the first 17 years of her life in China.

Graham first rose to prominence while holding his so-called Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. While scheduled for three weeks, the revivals were extended to more than eight weeks as overflow crowds filled a tent in downtown LA each night.

Graham's "crusades'' would be held around the world--from the blockbuster in Seoul to London to Melbourne--until his final such revival in New York City in 2005.

While the crusades ended, Graham continued to work and publish books, including his 2005 bestseller Living in God’s Love: The New York Crusade about his famous 1957 Madison Square Garden crusade when, over the course of 16 weeks, the Billy Graham Library says over 2 million people attended the meetings. 

Graham was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1989 and suffered from prostate cancer and hydrocephalus, which is fluid on the brain, The Associated Press reported. 

His wife of more than 60 years, Ruth, passed away in 2007. They had five children together, including Franklin Graham, also a well-known Christian evangelist.

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