The world’s best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. A spokesperson announced on Wednesday that the man known as ‘America’s Pastor’ had lost his life at the age of 99 after a lifetime devoted to his faith.
Graham, who passed away of natural causes at his North Carolina home, served as a spiritual leader to hundreds of millions of Americans as well as multiple presidents.
He is survived by his five children with wife Ruth Bell, who passed away in 2007, and 19 grandchildren.
From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America’s pastor.
Graham retired to his mountain home at Montreat, N.C., in 2005 after nearly six decades on the road calling people to Christ at 417 all-out preaching and musical events from Miami to Moscow. His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations.
He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called “crusades.” Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light.
Billy Graham’s reputation was untouched by sex or financial scandals. When anti-Semitic comments came to light as transcripts of conversations with Richard Nixon surfaced, Graham was promptly and deeply apologetic.
He never built a megachurch, set up a relief agency, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Yet he redefined American Protestant life by popularizing Christianity’s core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith.
Graham was, however, drawn to power. Eventually, he met, prayed with, comforted and joked with 12 U.S. presidents, and Graham learned to walk a tightrope.
He found a fine balance that allowed him to become America’s pastor, Democrat or Republican. North or South.
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead,” President Trump tweeted. “There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
Graham’s last decades were slowed by illness and injury. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1989, felled by broken bones, bouts of hydrocephalous and rounds of pneumonia.
Age, illness and bone-breaking falls had left him struggling to deliver 20-minute sermons.
Graham’s last crusade, in June 2005 in New York City, drew 242,000 people to Flushing Meadows; 8,786 made a new commitment to Christ and thousands more renewed or rejoiced in their faith.
Then he retired to his Montreat, N.C., mountaintop log cabin home (where his five children grew up mostly without their traveling father) to spend his days with his beloved wife, Ruth. They shared Bible study, devotions and an endless recycling of the movie musicals she loved to watch. Those were bittersweet days, with Ruth bedridden and Billy relying on a walker. Their frequent prayer was, “Help me, Lord.”
At her funeral in June 2007, Graham called Ruth the finest Christian he ever knew.
Though Graham’s shoes could likely never be filled, his son, Franklin, has taken over in some aspects—leading The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and becoming a confidant of President Donald Trump, including speaking at his inauguration.