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Billy Graham dies at 99
Evangelist preached to millions, counseled presidents
Billy Graham
Billy Graham preached to more than 200 million people in 185 countries and territories in a career spanning decades. He died Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, 2018 - photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

The Rev. Billy Graham, evangelist to millions through his famous crusades and a personal counselor to presidents, has died.

He was 99. Graham died Wednesday morning in Montreat, North Carolina.

William Franklin Graham Jr. was for decades the best-known evangelist in the world. His televised events packed stadiums around the globe and ended with thousands of people dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says Graham preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone in history — nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.

President Donald Trump, on Twitter, called him the “GREAT Billy Graham” and “a very special man.”

In a tweet, Vice President Mike Pence said, “Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions.”

Former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement he and his wife, Rosalynn, were “deeply saddened” to learn of Graham’s death.

“Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide,” Carter said. “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 (the) Reverend Graham among my advisers and friends.”

Graham was ordained to the ministry in 1939 by Peniel Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Convention congregation, in Palatka, Florida. He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, the same year he began the weekly “Hour of Decision” radio program. It continued for more than 60 years.

Graham was the author of 33 books and he wrote a newspaper advice column.

He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996 and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Freedom Award in 2000.

A Gallup poll found Graham to be one of the “10 Most Admired Men in the World” in 2017 for a record 55th consecutive year.

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said Graham “was truly ‘America’s pastor.’ Over his lifetime, he was instrumental in counseling numerous presidents through some of our nation’s most difficult times. His work and dedication to Christ are an inspiration to many and will not soon be forgotten.”

“His leadership and service had a profound impact on many lives, and his faith helped many people strengthen their personal relationships with God,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who has served as a pastor, said Graham’s passing was a time both to be sad and to celebrate.

“I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of (the) Rev. Billy Graham, a man of great faith who dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel to millions of people around the globe. Today, he has been called home to join our Heavenly Father,” Hice, of Greensboro, said.

“As we grieve this loss and pray for his family and loved ones during this difficult time, let’s also rejoice in God’s glory and reflect upon Billy’s extensive impact in ministry throughout the world.”

Graham was the son of a pastor, the Rev. William F. Graham Sr., and Morrow Coffey Graham.

His wife of 63 years, Ruth McCue Bell Graham, died in 2007. They had three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.