Billy Graham, the world-famous evangelist known as “America’s pastor,” has died. He was 99.
Beloved for his wholesome magnetism, Graham harnessed the momentum of mass media and modern travel in the 20th century to reach millions with his Southern Baptist message. Radio and television appearances were commonplace for the charismatic preacher, and he embarked on preaching tours across the world, including in Great Britain, where he became friends with Queen Elizabeth in 1955. A fictionalized account of their friendship was explored in season 2 of Netflix’s The Crown.
“This is not mass evangelism, but personal evangelism on a mass scale,” Graham said of his approach, according to the New York Times.
A supporter of civil rights, Graham invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach at one of his crusades in New York City in 1957, and bailed King out of jail in Albany, Georgia, in the 1960s after King was arrested for demonstrating.
Graham advised several presidents, including Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. “When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel like he is praying for you, not the president,” former President Bill Clinton said of Graham at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, in June 2007.
Health issues slowed Graham’s pace in the last years of his life, but he drew 242,000 people to his last crusade in New York in June 2005 before retiring to his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Born in 1918 in Charlotte, Graham went on to study Christianity at Bob Jones College, the Florida Bible Institute (renamed Trinity College of Florida), and Wheaton College before becoming ordained in 1939. At Wheaton, Graham met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell, to whom he was married for 64 years until her death in 2007.
At his wife’s funeral, Graham described her as the finest Christian he ever knew. “I wish you could look in that casket because she’s so beautiful,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “She was a wonderful woman.”
Graham is survived by five children — Rev. William Franklin III, Rev. Nelson Graham, Virginia Tchividjian, Anne Graham Lotz, and Ruth Graham McIntyre — and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.