He never quite made it to 100. The Rev. Billy Graham, the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died early Wednesday morning (Feb. 21st) at age 99 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
He had survived numerous health problems in recent years including cancer, pneumonia and other ailments. His wife, Ruth, died in 2007.
Estimates of how many people heard Graham preach during his evangelistic crusades range upward of 10% of the earth's population. The first was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1947. The last, 58 years later, was in New York City in 2005.
During his early years, some old-timers compared him to another evangelist, Billy Sunday, who preached across the country in the early 20th Century. Others compared him to Dwight Moody, a 19th Century evangelist. But Graham became known not only in the US but around the world.
From growing up on a dairy farm near Charlotte, he became known worldwide, preaching in 185 countries and holding 417 crusades.
I attended one of his events in 1958 at the old Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Boulevard. He was often accompanied by singer George Beverly Shea.
His son Franklin has continued his father's evangelist mission. Franklin has been well-known for his political views. Billy wasn't as controversial, but he did cause some controversy when he insisted that everyone should be admitted equally to his crusades. In the South where segregation was still not only custom but the law in many places, he seated blacks and whites together--insisting on no racial discrimination as early as 1953.
In 1957, he invited Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach jointly at a revival in New York City and bailed King out of jail in the 1960s when King was arrested in a demonstration.
Graham was a spiritual adviser to American presidents and provided spiritual counsel for every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He was especially close to Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon.
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