Evangelist Billy Graham, who reached millions, dies at 99

Billy Graham and President John F. Kennedy are shown during a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, 1961. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham shakes hands with a prisoner at Bridewell, the county jail in Chicago, Ill., June 1, 1962. Graham addressed the audience of 1,700 prisoners on his visit as part of his current 19-day crusade in Chicago. The man in foreground is not identified. (AP Photo)
American servicemen in Vietnam greet evangelist Billy Graham during his Christmas visit with troops, Dec. 21, 1966. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson speaks outside the White House, June 16, 1967 as evangelist Billy Graham looks on. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Golfer Arnold Palmer, right, and evangelist Billy Graham make a beeline for the clubhouse, Sept. 3, 1968, to escape a downpour that interrupted their game at the Laurel Valley Country Club. (AP Photo)
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Robert Finch offers the invocation at the annual prayer breakfast, Jan. 30, 1969, in Washington. From left: evangelist Billy Graham; first lady Pat Nixon; President Richard Nixon; former Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas; Vice President Spiro Agnew; Finch; Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. (AP Photo)
American evangelist Billy Graham shown at ABC headquarters in New York on May 21, 1976. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
The Reverend Billy Graham, center, talks with President Ronald Reagan, left, and first lady Nancy Reagan at the White House July 18, 1981. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Billy Graham, right, with Associated Press’s Alvin Steinkopf, April 12, 1954. (AP Photo)
The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham got together with President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a personal chat that lasted 45 minutes in Gettysburg on Sept. 8, 1961. The evangelist, now holding an evangelistic meeting in Philadelphia, has visited Eisenhower several times, both here and at the White House. “He is a great person to talk to,” Graham said after meeting, “aside from being a deeply religious man.” (AP Photo/Ziegler0
Evangelist Billy Graham, left, helps President-elect Richard Nixon with his overcoat after they attended services at 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church, in New York, on Jan. 5, 1969. Dr. Bryant M. Kirkland, right, minister of the church, talks to Nixon. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, July 4, 1970 during opening ceremonies for Honor America Day. A crowd of several thousand came to hear the ecumenical religious and patriotic program led by Graham. (AP Photo)
Vice President Walter Mondale, left, chats with Evangelist Billy Graham during a meeting, Thursday, Oct. 6, 1977 in Washington. Graham reported to Mondale on his recent trip to Hungary. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to evangelist Billy Graham at a White House ceremony in Washington, D.C., Feb. 23, 1983. The medal, given to 12 persons, is the highest civil award of the government. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
Patriarch Pimen, leader of the Russian Orthodox church, listens as American evangelist Rev. Billy Graham speaks in Moscow's main cathedral, Sept. 21, 1984. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham speaks to 250,000 people gathered on the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park, Sept. 23, 1991, during his first crusade in the city in 21 years. A spokesman said it was the largest crowd ever at one of Graham's North American crusades. (AP Photo/David Burns)
President and Mrs. Clinton, along with Rev. Billy Graham bow their heads during the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb.4, 1993. The president joined leaders of Washington's political and military establishment at the annual prayer event. (AP Photo/greg gibson/stf)
The Rev. Billy Graham, right, grasps the hand of former President George Bush during the Metroplex Mission at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2002. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Robert Runcie, right, talks with American evangelist Dr. Billy Graham at London's Lambeth Palace on Monday, Jan. 16, 1984. The churchmen discussed Dr. Graham's Mission England campaign which begins on May 12th and will last ten weeks. (AP Photo/Robert Dear)
American evangelist Billy Graham chats with Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during his visit to No. 10 Downing Street, London, on May 31, 1989. Mr. Graham is in the United Kingdom for an evangelistic tour. (AP Photo)
U.S. President George H. Bush with guest Rev. Billy Graham takes a boat ride off of his Kennebunkport, Maine home, August 26, 1989. (AP Photo)
Rev. Billy Graham speaks to reporters during an interview in a hotel in Uniondale, N.Y., Tuesday, June 14, 2005. Now 86 and in frail health, Graham is all but certain that his revival meeting in New York City next week will be the last he ever leads in the United States - and probably the last that the famed evangelist does anywhere. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Evangelist Billy Graham gestures during an interview in New Orleans Thursday, March 9, 2006. Graham, a minister who has visited some of the world's least developed countries in his long pastoral career, was left speechless by the scope of devastation he saw as he toured hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area a little over six months ago. Graham plans to preach on Sunday, his first public sermon since June. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
** FOR USE AS DESIRED WITH YEAR END--FILE *Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, left, Jimmy Carter, center, and Bill Clinton shake hands during a dedication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in this May 31, 2007, file photo. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome/FILE)
With Abraham Lincoln looking on, Evangilist Billy Graham speaks on Capitol Hill Thursday May 2, 1996 after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. Graham was recognized for "outstanding and lasting contributions to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy and religion." (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)
From left, Kathie Lee Gifford, the Rev. Billy Graham, former President Gerald R. Ford, and former New York Giants' Frank Gifford sing, "America the Beautiful," Thursday, Aug. 19, 1999, at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, Mich., during An Evening to Remember, A Tribute to the Honorable Gerald R. Ford, a 90-minute, revival-flavored tribute commemorating the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Ford's presidency. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
The Revs. Billy Graham, left, and Jesse Jackson, right, participate in a prayer service in Homestead Fla., dedicated to rebuilding from Hurricane Andrew, Sept. 5, 1992. (AP Photo/David Bergman)
Billy Graham FILE- In this Dec. 20, 2010 file photo, evangelist Billy Graham, 92, is interviewed at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The Rev. Billy Graham died at 99 on Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)
Mitt Romney Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with Rev. Billy Graham, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Montreat, N.C. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Rev. Billy Graham, with head bowed in prayers on April 24, 1950 in Hartford, Connecticut, as he joined in asking forgiveness for the more than 400 who trooped to the stage. Nearly 8500 persons packed the hall and overflowed into the street. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham, left, poses on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC, April 26, 1950 with Rep. Joseph Bryson (D-SC) Graham, 31 years-old president of Northwestern College in Minneapolis, opened the April 26 session of the House of Representatives with prayer. (AP Photo/Bill Allen)
Evangelist Billy Graham (second from right), at the White House in Washington July 14, 1950 after asking Devine aid for President Truman in his handling of the Korean crisis. He had just finished a half-hour visit with the Chief Executive. (AP Photo)
Evangelical preacher Billy Graham and his wife Ruth sit by the fireplace at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C., Feb. 8, 1951. The noted evangelist is a native of North Carolina and makes his home in Montreat, N.C. (AP Photo/Rudolph Faircloth)
Evangelist Billy Graham as he arrived in San Francisco June 22, 1951 to address Southern Baptist Convention. (AP Photo/Clarence Hamm)
Evangelist Billy Graham addresses a crowd at a religious rally in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 1952. The 33-year-old revival leader speaks from a platform at the foot of the center steps of the building, standing behind a bouquet of flowers. (AP Photo)
William "Billy" Graham at age 17 on his graduation from Charlotte High School in June 1935. It was before his graduation from high school that Billy had embraced religion at a local revival meeting and had decided on the pulpit rather than the baseball diamond. (AP Photo)
A crowd of several thousand persons stands on capitol plaza and on the center steps of the U.S. Capitol, left, in Washington Feb. 3, 1952 to hear Evangelist Billy Graham preach at a rally. Graham is on platform at center. The senate office building is at upper right. (AP Photo)
Rev. Billy Graham speaks to a large crowd Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 1, 1949. (AP Photo/stf- Ira W. Guldner)
Evangelist Billy Graham Evangelist Billy Graham is shown March 29, 1950 at Portland, Maine. (AP Photo)
Dr. Billy Graham, famous American evangelist, arrives in Hong Kong, Dec. 30, 1952 with his party from Taipei where he had a private interview with President Chiang Kai-Shek. He spent Christmas with the POW in Korea and said of 16,000 “graduates” from his bible institutes in the camps, not one of them wanted to return to their communist-dominated homelands. From left to right are: Dave Morkan, director of youth for Christ in the Far East, Billy Graham, Grady Wilson, of North Carolina and Associated with Graham for 20 years and Rev. James Graham (no relation) of Taipei. (AP Photo)
U.S. Evangelist Billy Graham stands on the rostrum surrounded by those who have "answered his call", at London's Harringay Arena, March 1, 1954. The event marks the opening of his crusade for Evangelism in the UK. (AP Photo/Leslie Priest)
Billy Graham, 35-year-old American evangelist who, for three months, has been preaching to unprecedented crowds in London, enjoys a talk with Dr. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury, right, at entrance to Wembley Stadium, London, just prior to Graham's parting sermon, May 22, 1954. Following a visit with students at Oxford University on May 23, Graham will spend two weeks resting in Scotland. Then after conference with church leaders in Glasgow, he will go to the continent for visits to seven cities, and to American military bases. (AP Photo)
Holding the medals awarded them at annual Freedoms Foundation award program in Valley Forge, Pa., Feb. 22, 1955 at this Revolutionary War shrine, three of the top winners pose in front of a Washington mural. From left: Billy Graham, evangelist; Army Corporal James R. Odermatt, Fort Ord, California, and the very Rev. John A. Flynn, C.N., President of St. John’s University, Brooklyn. Awards were made to all types of groups for their contribution toward maintaining the freedoms started by Washington. (AP Photo)
American evangelist Billy Graham gives the "Namaste" blessing to the large crowd that has gathered around his car in the village of Putthanpuram in southern India, Feb. 1, 1956. Namaste means, "The great perfection within me honors the great perfection within you." (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham relaxes at his mountainside home near Montreat, N.C., May 1, 1957, contemplating his upcoming crusade in New York City. Graham has been in semi-seclusion since January, devoting mornings and evenings to prayer and study, and afternoons to puttering around his farm. Says Graham, "New York is our Jerusalem. It is the greatest opportunity and responsibility I've ever had. Our evangelistic team has wept, prayed and agonized more over New York than over any other city where we have planned meetings." (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham prepares for a dip in the Pacific, March 24, 1959, at Broadbeach, Australia. Graham is on a two-week vacation at the seaside resort about 50 miles south of Brisbane. (AP Photo)
Billy Graham, right, with Associated Press’s Alvin Steinkopf, April 12, 1954. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham holds Bible and waves from deck of the liner Liberte as it is docked in New York March 12, 1955 as he prepares to leave on a European preaching tour. (AP Photo/John Lent )
Evangelist Billy Graham, poses with youngsters in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in New York June 7, 1957 as he watched 150,000 children from 450 boro Protestant churches march in the Brooklyn Sunday School parade. Among those present was Mayor Robert Wagner. (AP Photo/Ben Schiff)
A fence between them, Evangelist Billy Graham and his “pet” ram patch up their differences over a stalk of celery in Asheville, North Carolina on Oct. 23, 1957. The ram butted Billy Graham down the mountainside pasture on Saturday but Graham was sufficiently recovered and left for New York to preach on Sunday at the Polo Grounds. (AP Photo)
American evangelist Billy Graham is met at Euston Station in London on May 11, 1958, by his sister Jane Ford on his arrival from Glasgow, Scotland. Graham is to hold a series of meeting in London. (AP Photo)
Evangelist Billy Graham is as he was interviewed in Indianapolis Oct. 14, 1959 by members of the press on his return from Washington. . (AP Photo/Larry Stoddard)
Evangelist Billy Graham with reed covered “Devil man” of Bigwaakor village in Liberia, Jan. 23, 1960. (AP Photo/Royle)
FILE - In this July 7, 1954 file photo, Evangelist Billy Graham poses with his his wife, Ruth, and their three daughters on the Queen Mary following his arrival in New York. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99.(AP Photo)
Obit_Billy_Graham_10294 FILE - In this June 26, 2005 file photo, the Rev. Billy Graham speaks on stage on the third and last day of his farewell American revival in the Queens borough of New York. A spokesman said on Graham has died at his home in North Carolina at age 99. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
Obit_Billy_Graham_24724 FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2010 file photo, evangelist Billy Graham, 92, speaks during an interview at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)
Obit_Billy_Graham_90037 FILE - In this Oct 26, 1994 file photo, Evangelist Billy Graham begins his sermon in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Obit_Billy_Graham_24279 FILE - In this May 31, 2007 file photo, Billy Graham speaks as his son Franklin Graham, right, listens during a dedication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99.(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Obit_Billy_Graham_49610 FILE - In this Dec. 12, 1961 file photo, Evangelist Billy Graham, left, talks with President John F. Kennedy during a call at the the White House in Washington. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo, File)
Obit_Billy_Graham_48870 FILE - In this Oct. 16, 1971 file photo, Evangelist Billy Graham and President Nixon wave to a crowd of 12,500 at ceremonies honoring Graham at Charlotte, N.C. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo, File)
Obit_Billy_Graham_24967 FILE - In this May 10, 1966 file photo, President Lyndon Johnson presents the Man of the Year award of the Big Brothers organization to evangelist Billy Graham at the White House in Washington. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo, File)
Obit_Billy_Graham_97648 FILE - In this May 31, 2007 file photo, former Presidents, George H.W. Bush, left, Bill Clinton, second left, and Jimmy Carter, right, join Franklin Graham, second right, as they pose with Billy Graham, center, in front of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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MONTREAT, N.C. (AP) — The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died Wednesday. He was 99.

Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina, spokesman Mark DeMoss told The Associated Press.

More than anyone else, Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States. His leadership summits and crusades in more than 185 countries and territories forged powerful global links among conservative Christians, and threw a lifeline to believers in the communist-controlled Eastern bloc. Dubbed “America’s pastor,” he was a confidant to U.S. presidents from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

In 1983, President Reagan gave Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. When the Billy Graham Museum and Library was dedicated in 2007 in Charlotte, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended.

“When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he’s praying for you, not the president,” Clinton said at the ceremony.

President Donald Trump tweeted : “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

Beyond Graham’s public appearances, he reached untold millions through his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic feature films and globe-girdling satellite TV hookups. Graham’s message was not complex or unique, yet he preached with a conviction that won over audiences worldwide.

“The Bible says,” was his catch phrase. His unquestioning belief in Scripture turned the Gospel into a “rapier” in his hands, he said.

A tall, striking man with thick hair, stark blue eyes and a firm jaw, Graham was a commanding presence at his crusades. He would make the altar call in his powerful baritone, asking the multitudes to stand, come down the aisles and publicly make “decisions for Christ,” as a choir crooned the hymn “Just As I Am.”

By his final crusade in 2005 in New York City, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. No evangelist is expected to have his level of influence again.

“William Franklin Graham Jr. can safely be regarded as the best who ever lived at what he did,” said William Martin, author of the Graham biography “A Prophet With Honor.”

Born Nov. 7, 1918, on his family’s dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham came from a fundamentalist background that expected true Bible-believers to stay clear of Christians with even the most minor differences over Scripture. But as his crusades drew support from a widening array of Christian churches, he came to reject that view.

He joined in a then-emerging movement called New Evangelicalism that abandoned the narrowness of fundamentalism to engage broader society. Fundamentalists at the time excoriated the preacher for his new direction, and broke with him when he agreed to work with more liberal Christians in the 1950s.

Graham stood fast. He would not reject people who were sincere and shared at least some of his beliefs, Martin said. He wanted the widest hearing possible for his salvation message.

“The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches,” he said in the early 1950s.

In 1957, he said, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ.”

His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today. Graham’s path to becoming an evangelist began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared farmboy committed himself to Christ at a local tent revival.

“I did not feel any special emotion,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “Just As I Am.” ”I simply felt at peace,” and thereafter, “the world looked different.”

After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, but found the school stifling, and transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa. There, he practiced sermonizing in a swamp, preaching to birds and alligators before tryouts with small churches. He still wasn’t convinced he should be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf course.

“I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the 18th hole,” he said. “‘All right, Lord,’ I said, ‘If you want me, you’ve got me.'”

Graham, who became a Southern Baptist, went on to study at Wheaton College, a prominent Christian liberal arts school in Illinois, where he met fellow student Ruth Bell, who had been raised in China where her father had been a Presbyterian medical missionary.

The two married in 1943, and he planned to become an Army chaplain. But he fell seriously ill, and by the time he recovered and could start the chaplain training program, World War II was nearly over.

Instead, he took a job organizing meetings in the U.S. and Europe with Youth for Christ, a group he helped found. He stood out then for his loud ties and suits, and a rapid delivery and swinging arms that won him the nickname “the Preaching Windmill.”

A 1949 Los Angeles revival turned Graham into evangelism’s rising star. Held in a tent dubbed the “Canvas Cathedral,” Graham had been drawing adequate, but not spectacular crowds until one night when reporters and photographers descended. When Graham asked them why, a reporter said that legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst had ordered his papers to hype Graham. Graham said he never found out why.

The publicity gave him a national profile. Over the next decade, his massive crusades in England and New York catapulted him to international celebrity. His 12-week London campaign in 1954 defied expectations, drawing more than 2 million people and the respect of the British, many of whom had derided him before his arrival as little more than a slick salesman.

Three years later, he held a crusade in New York’s Madison Square Garden that was so popular it was extended from six to 16 weeks, capped off with a rally in Times Square that packed Broadway with more than 100,000 people.

The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose 30 pounds by the time the event ended. It remains his longest revival meeting ever.

As his public influence grew, the preacher’s stands on the social issues of his day were watched closely by supporters and critics alike. One of the most pressing was the civil rights movement. Graham was no social activist and never joined marches, which led prominent Christians such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to publicly condemn Graham as too moderate.

Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court’s school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings.

In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, before his final crusade which was held in New York, Graham said he regretted that he didn’t battle for civil rights more forcefully.

“I think I made a mistake when I didn’t go to Selma” with many clergy who joined the historic Alabama march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I would like to have done more.”

Graham more robustly took on the cause of anti-Communism, making preaching against the atheist regime part of his sermons for years.

As America’s most famous religious leader, he golfed with statesmen and entertainers and dined with royalty. Graham’s relationships with U.S. presidents also boosted his ministry and became a source of pride for conservative Christians who were so often caricatured as backward.

But those ties proved problematic when his close friend Richard Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, leaving Graham devastated and baffled. He resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics.

“Evangelicals can’t be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left,” Graham said in 1981, according to Time magazine. “I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will in the future.”

Yet, in the 2012 election, with Graham mostly confined to his North Carolina home, he all but endorsed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And the evangelist’s ministry took out full-page ads in newspapers support a ballot referendum that would ban same-sex marriage.

His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who runs the ministry, said his father viewed the gay marriage question as a moral, not a political, issue. Graham’s integrity was credited with salvaging the reputation of broadcast evangelism in the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

He resolved early on never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share of the “love offerings” at his crusades, as was the custom, he earned a modest salary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

His ministry was governed by an independent board that included successful Christian businessmen and other professionals — a stark departure from the widespread evangelical practice of packing boards with relatives and yes-men.

“Why, I could make a quarter of a million dollars a year in this field or in Hollywood if I wanted to,” Graham said. “The offers I’ve had from Hollywood studios are amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.”

While he succeeded in preserving his reputation, he could not completely shield his family from the impact of his work. He was on the road for months at a time, leaving Ruth at their mountainside home in Montreat, North Carolina, to raise their five children: Franklin, Virginia (“Gigi”), Anne, Ruth and Nelson (“Ned”).

Anne Graham Lotz has said that her mother was effectively “a single parent.” Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, “I’d rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man.”

She died in June 2007 at age 87.

“I will miss her terribly,” Billy Graham said, “and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven.”

In his later years, Graham visited communist Eastern Europe and increasingly appealed for world peace. He opened a 1983 convention of evangelists from 140 nations by urging the elimination of nuclear and biological weapons.

He told audiences in Czechoslovakia that “we must do all we can to preserve life and avoid war,” although he opposed unilateral disarmament. In 1982, he went to Moscow to preach and attend a conference on world peace. During that visit, he said he saw no signs of Soviet religious persecution, a misguided attempt at diplomacy that brought scathing criticism from author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others.

“It’s worth taking a risk for peace,” Graham contended, although he was clearly stung by the controversy.

Graham’s relationship with Nixon became an issue once again when tapes newly released in 2002 caught the preacher telling the president that Jews “don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”

Graham apologized, saying he didn’t recall ever having such feelings and asking the Jewish community to consider his actions above his words on that tape. Health problems gradually slowed Graham, but he did not cease preaching.

In 1995, his son, Franklin, was named the ministry’s leader. Along with the many honors he received from the evangelical community and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Graham received the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.

Graham will be buried by his wife at the Billy Graham Museum and Library.

“I have been asked, ‘What is the secret?'” Graham had said of his preaching. “Is it showmanship, organization or what? The secret of my work is God. I would be nothing without him.”

___

Online: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.billygraham.org

Billy Graham Center archives: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/archhp1.html

___

Retired Associated Press Religion Writer Richard N. Ostling contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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