Feb. 21, 2018 -- The Rev. Billy Franklin Graham, self-proclaimed as “America’s Pastor,” and a friend and spiritual adviser to multiple presidents, died Wednesday in his Montreat, NC, home. He was 99 years old.
On Facebook, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said, “God called” Graham home. “Mr. Graham once said, ‘When we reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have just begun.’ Now, he is in the presence of the Lord. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.”
A cause of death was not immediately released, but a Graham spokesman told The Associated Press that Graham had long had cancer, pneumonia, and other ailments.
In November of 2013, Graham was hospitalized at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, with a respiratory infection but was discharged after a few days of tests and observation. A representative said he had grown increasingly weak since his 95th birthday celebration earlier that month. He marked his birthday by releasing “The Cross,” a pre-recorded sermon that he said would likely be his last message to the public. It was nationally televised.
Graham had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but in October 2013, his son, Franklin Graham, told Parade magazine that the diagnosis was incorrect.
“Dad had a buildup of spinal fluid on the brain 12 or 13 years ago. At first they thought it was Parkinson’s, but a shunt solved that. His mind is crystal clear. He now thinks he’ll live to be 100. He keeps moving the goalpost,” said Franklin Graham, who now runs the Rev. Graham’s ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The younger Graham told USA Today in late 2014 that his father never fully recovered from pneumonia a year earlier but that his mind was sharp, and “he remains interested in current events and the ongoing work of the ministry that he began more than 60 years ago."
An Evangelical Pioneer
In the pre-cable television era -- before there were channels devoted to Christian programming -- Graham was a fixture on Sunday TV, exhorting viewers to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. His on-air orations before a simple podium and mic made him an early pioneer of televangelism.
Graham was never caught in a snare of hypocrisy as several of his successors were, but he was not immune to controversy. In 2002, tapes of a 1972 conversation with President Richard Nixon surfaced in which Graham was heard making anti-Semitic remarks. Graham issued an apology.
In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, which is the umbrella organization for Graham’s ministry. That includes a weekly radio program (Hour of Decision) that has broadcast for 60-some years; television specials; a syndicated newspaper column (“My Answer”); and Decision magazine, which has a circulation of more than 400,000, according to billygraham.org, Graham’s official website.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also sponsors Internet and telephone ministries, festivals, and crusades. Graham reached live audiences of more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries and many millions more through television, video, film, and webcasts, according to billygraham.org.
Graham preached Christianity to live audiences of nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories through various meetings, including BMS World Mission and Global Mission. He also reached hundreds of millions more through television, video, film, and webcasts.
From Farm Boy to Presidential Confidant
Graham was a prolific writer, authoring 32 books, including his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am, and his last book, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation in 2013. Several were bestsellers.
The Billy Graham Library, housed in a 40,000-square-foot barn with entrances designed in the shape of giant crosses, opened in 2007 near Charlotte, where Graham grew up. It is designed to “reflect Billy Graham’s journey from a humble farm boy to an international ambassador of God’s love,” according to Graham’s website.
In 1934, at the age of 15, the farm boy met a traveling evangelist who visited Charlotte for a series of revival meetings. He was hooked. After he was ordained in 1939 by a church that was part of the Southern Baptist Convention, Graham began developing a ministry that would eventually take him to the remotest corners of the planet and bring him close to several presidents. He prayed at the deathbed of Dwight D. Eisenhower and visited the White House several times to pray with Lyndon B. Johnson. He was a close friend to President Ronald Reagan, and President Barack Obama visited Graham in his Montreat home in 2010. At the dedication of the library in May 2007, Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were in attendance.
Carter, in a statement, praised Graham.
"Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Rev. Billy Graham," the 39th president said. "Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life, and I was pleased to count Rev. Graham among my advisors and friends. "