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.”
Leaders expressed admiration and respect for Graham.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
In a tweet, President Donald Trump said: “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE
“Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions,” Pence tweeted. “We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, ‘well done good and faithful servant.”’
FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
“Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”
FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
“Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of The Reverend Billy Graham,” Carter said in a statement. “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.”
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH
“Billy Graham was America’s pastor. His faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world. I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. ... He was a mentor to several of my children, including the former president of the United States. We will miss our good friend forever.”
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
In a statement, Clinton said he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are saddened by Graham’s death. “I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle. He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace. ... Billy has finished his long good race, leaving our world a better place and claiming his place in glory.”
HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN
Ryan issued a statement that said, in part, “As soaring a figure as he was, Rev. Graham connected with people on an elemental level. His reach was rooted in decency, humility, and love. He set a tone of ecumenical inclusion, advocated civil rights, and refused to accept the segregation of those attending his crusades. Rev. Graham’s service is a testament that, with faith in God, one person can do so much good for the world.”
NORTH CAROLINA GOV. ROY COOPER
“Billy Graham was a strong, humble, positive and passionate North Carolina man of faith who made a difference in the lives of so many. Rest with God, Reverend Graham.”
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM
“One of the greatest messengers of Christ has gone to his heavenly reward,” Sen. Graham wrote in a tweet. “Dr. Graham spread the good news to millions across the world and led a life beyond reproach.”
SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. HENRY McMASTER
“Rev. Billy Graham dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel, touching the lives of millions across the world,” Gov. McMaster said on Twitter. “It is bittersweet to hear of his homegoing this morning, as he will be missed, but we know he is rejoicing with his Savior right now.”
The evangelist’s son, who is now president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, tweeted: “My father ... was once asked, “Where is Heaven?” He said, “Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!” This morning, he departed this world into eternal life in Heaven, prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ—the Savior of the world—whom he proclaimed for 80 years.”
ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ
In an online post titled “Daddy is at Home,” Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz said she did not think of him as a public figure. “I think of my Daddy. The one who was always a farmer at heart,” she wrote. “Who loved his dogs and his cat. Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events. Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap. Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald’s. Who was interested in everything and everyone, from the small to the great.”
The former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate said in a statement, “When the news broke that Billy Graham had died, my first reaction was ‘there’s a real example of “Fake News.”’ Billy Graham has passed from this life for sure at the age of 99, but he is anything but dead. He is more alive now than ever before, and living a life that will never end.”
NORTH CAROLINA SEN. RICHARD BURR
“I was incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Reverend Billy Graham this morning. America’s Pastor was an inspiration to millions of Christians in our country and across the world. While his humility, faith, and booming voice will be sorely missed, today, he is at peace with God.”
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY JUSTIN WELBY
“The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did. He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his savior and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.”
TELEVANGELIST JOEL OSTEEN
In a tweet, Osteen said, “Billy Graham has always been and will always be a hero in our home. Next to my own father, Reverend Graham was the most humble and gracious man I ever knew. I am honored to call him a friend and a mentor. Victoria and I will miss him dearly.”