Billy Graham, 'America's Pastor' And Noted Evangelist, Dead At 99

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Jade Walker
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who became known as “America’s Pastor,” died at his North Carolina home on Wednesday morning. He was 99.

A family spokesman said he died from natural causes, ABC News reported. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association confirmed his death on Twitter.

Born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, William Franklin Graham Jr. was the oldest of the four children of William and Morrow Graham. He was raised on a dairy farm, and little in his childhood suggested he would become a world-renowned preacher.

Then at 16, Graham attended a series of revival meetings run by outspoken evangelist Mordecai Ham. The two months he spent listening to Ham’s sermons on sin sparked a spiritual awakening in Graham and prompted him to enroll at Bob Jones College. When the conservative Christian school’s strict doctrine didn’t align with his personal beliefs, he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida) and joined a Southern Baptist Convention church. He was ordained in 1939.

Billy Graham, seen in 2010, has died at the age of 99. (Photo: CHRIS KEANE / Reuters)
Billy Graham, seen in 2010, has died at the age of 99. (Photo: CHRIS KEANE / Reuters)

Graham received additional training at Illinois’ Wheaton College, where he met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell. They were married for 64 years, until her death in 2007, and had five children.

After serving briefly as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, Graham launched his first radio program, “Songs in the Night,” in 1943. Although he left a year later, Graham liked the idea of sharing his message with a wide audience. As noted on his website, Graham took Jesus Christ literally when he said in Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Graham was still in his early 30s when entered the public spotlight by giving a series of well-attended “sin-smashing” revival meetings that were held under a circus tent in a Los Angeles parking lot. The press took interest in the charismatic young preacher and began writing articles about him. To get his message to even more people, Graham founded his own ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Graham mat his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, at Illinois’ Wheaton College. They were married for 64 years and had five children. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Graham mat his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, at Illinois’ Wheaton College. They were married for 64 years and had five children. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

Graham viewed the Bible as the infallible word of God. He believed that Jesus led a sinless life and that all men were lost and would face God’s judgment.

Such a strict interpretation of scripture also led him to condemn homosexual relationships.

More recently, detractors blasted Graham’s continued belief that homosexual behavior was a “sinister form of perversion,” and his intolerance against the very presence of gay and lesbian couples within Christianity.

“From Genesis on, the Bible praises the marriage of a man and a woman, but it speaks only negatively of homosexual behavior whenever it is mentioned,” Graham’s website states.

Graham’s sermons also promoted evangelism and railed against “godless communism,” drugs, sex and violence. He was convinced he must use “every modern means of communication available” to spread the Gospel throughout the world, and did so in print, on radio and television, online and in person.

And for the next five decades, his electric personality connected with audiences in more than 185 countries.

Graham was the first evangelist of note to speak behind the Iron Curtain, and during the Apartheid era he refused to visit South Africa until the government allowed integrated seating at his events. He published dozens of best-selling books, including Angels: God’s Secret Agents and The Jesus Generation, and wrote a weekly column that was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers.

After serving briefly as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, Graham launched his first radio program in 1943. (Photo: Toronto Star Archives via Getty Images)
After serving briefly as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, Graham launched his first radio program in 1943. (Photo: Toronto Star Archives via Getty Images)

Graham received numerous honors, including the Horatio Alger Award, the George Washington Honor Medal, the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award and the Congressional Gold Medal. A highway in Charlotte bears his name, as does part of Interstate 240 near his home in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1989, he became the first clergyman to be granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work as a minister.

Graham also had a major effect on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. His early crusades were segregated, but once the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, which found public school segregation unconstitutional, Graham integrated the seatings at his revival meetings.

Graham befriended the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as well, and together they preached to more than 2 million people in New York City.

King once remarked on their partnership: “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been.”

When Graham was questioned about his views on faith and race, he argued there was no scriptural basis for segregation.

“Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe,” Graham once preached. “Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.”

Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today.

Graham became the first clergyman to be granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work as a minister. He's seen attending that ceremony in 1989 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images)
Graham became the first clergyman to be granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work as a minister. He's seen attending that ceremony in 1989 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images)

As his message spread, Graham was granted personal audiences with royalty, dignitaries and many sitting presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. Three presidents were even on hand in 2007 for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. Despite being a registered Democrat, Graham opposed the candidacy of John F. Kennedy, and actively encouraged other religious leaders to speak out about the dangers of having a Roman Catholic in the White House.

Though beloved by millions, Graham was not without his detractors. Some fundamentalist Christians took issue with his ecumenical approach to evangelism, and after his 1957 crusade in New York, opponents of Graham’s more liberal theology began calling him “the Antichrist.” According to the biography Billy: A Personal Look at Bill Graham, the World’s Best-Loved Evangelist by Sherwood Eliot Wirt, one Christian educator even said that Graham was “the worst thing to happen to the Christian church in two thousand years.”

As his health began to fail, Graham decided to announce his retirement in 2005. His final sermon, “The Cross ― Billy Graham’s Message To America,” called for a national spiritual awakening.

Nina Golgowski contributed reporting.

Colin Kroll

Colin Kroll, the co-founder of the widely popular game HQ Trivia and the co-founder of the now-defunct video platform Vine, died on Dec. 16, 2018. He was 34.
Colin Kroll, the co-founder of the widely popular game HQ Trivia and the co-founder of the now-defunct video platform Vine, died on Dec. 16, 2018. He was 34.

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, who was denied a 2nd term after support for his presidency collapsed under the weight of an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died on November 30, 2018 at 94.
George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, who was denied a 2nd term after support for his presidency collapsed under the weight of an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died on November 30, 2018 at 94.

Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian filmmaker whose sensual and visually stylistic movies ranged from intense chamber dramas to panoramic historical epics, died on November 26, 2018. He was 77.
Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian filmmaker whose sensual and visually stylistic movies ranged from intense chamber dramas to panoramic historical epics, died on November 26, 2018. He was 77.

Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay, the master-showman magician, actor, scholar, special effects consultant and author who was called “the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive,” died on November 24, 2018. He was believed to be 70, although some sources said he was 72.
Ricky Jay, the master-showman magician, actor, scholar, special effects consultant and author who was called “the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive,” died on November 24, 2018. He was believed to be 70, although some sources said he was 72.

William Goldman

Screenwriter William Goldman, 87, who won two Academy Awards for his screenplays, first for the western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and again for "All the President's Men," and was beloved for his book and screenplay "The Princess Bride," died on November 16, 2018.
Screenwriter William Goldman, 87, who won two Academy Awards for his screenplays, first for the western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and again for "All the President's Men," and was beloved for his book and screenplay "The Princess Bride," died on November 16, 2018.

Roy Clark

Roy Clark, a country music star and former host of the long-running TV series "Hee Haw," died on November 15, 2018. He was 85.
Roy Clark, a country music star and former host of the long-running TV series "Hee Haw," died on November 15, 2018. He was 85.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee, the co-creator of countless Marvel comic book characters that have become staples in pop culture, died on Nov. 12, 2018 at the age of 95. 
Stan Lee, the co-creator of countless Marvel comic book characters that have become staples in pop culture, died on Nov. 12, 2018 at the age of 95. 

Dennis Hof

Dennis Hof, who turned owning a brothel into a unique form of pop culture celebrity, died on October 16, 2018 at the age of 72. 
Dennis Hof, who turned owning a brothel into a unique form of pop culture celebrity, died on October 16, 2018 at the age of 72. 

Paul Allen

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers sports teams, died on Oct. 15, 2018. He was 65.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers sports teams, died on Oct. 15, 2018. He was 65.

Richard DeVos

Billionaire Richard DeVos, co-founder of direct-selling giant Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died on September 6, 2018. He was 92.
Billionaire Richard DeVos, co-founder of direct-selling giant Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died on September 6, 2018. He was 92.

Burt Reynolds

Actor Burt Reynolds, one of the biggest movie stars of the 1970s, died on September 6, 2018 at the age of 82. 
Actor Burt Reynolds, one of the biggest movie stars of the 1970s, died on September 6, 2018 at the age of 82. 

John McCain

Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), a naval bomber pilot, prisoner of war, conservative maverick, giant of the Senate, twice-defeated presidential candidate and an abrasive American hero, died on August 25, 2018 at 81.
Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), a naval bomber pilot, prisoner of war, conservative maverick, giant of the Senate, twice-defeated presidential candidate and an abrasive American hero, died on August 25, 2018 at 81.

Robin Leach

Robin Leach, who chronicled the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s on his syndicated show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” died on August 24, 2018. He was 76.
Robin Leach, who chronicled the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s on his syndicated show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” died on August 24, 2018. He was 76.

Ed King

Ed King, a former guitarist for the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and a co-writer of several of the group’s hits — including “Sweet Home Alabama" — died on August 22, 2018 at 68.
Ed King, a former guitarist for the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and a co-writer of several of the group’s hits — including “Sweet Home Alabama" — died on August 22, 2018 at 68.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat and former United Nations secretary-general, died at the age of 80 on August 18, 2018.
Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat and former United Nations secretary-general, died at the age of 80 on August 18, 2018.

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” whose powerhouse vocal cords revolutionized American music and made her one of the top-selling female musicians of all time, died on August 16, 2018. She was 76.
Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” whose powerhouse vocal cords revolutionized American music and made her one of the top-selling female musicians of all time, died on August 16, 2018. She was 76.

V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 for documenting the migrations of peoples and the unraveling of the British Empire, died on August 11, 2018. He was 85.
V.S. Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 for documenting the migrations of peoples and the unraveling of the British Empire, died on August 11, 2018. He was 85.

Joël Robuchon

French celebrity chef Joël Robuchon, who was credited with winning the most Michelin stars in the world, died on Aug. 6, 2018 at 73.
French celebrity chef Joël Robuchon, who was credited with winning the most Michelin stars in the world, died on Aug. 6, 2018 at 73.

Charlotte Rae

Actress Charlotte Rae, who was best known as the wise and lovable house mother Mrs. Garrett on "Diff’rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life," died on August 5, 2018. She was 92.
Actress Charlotte Rae, who was best known as the wise and lovable house mother Mrs. Garrett on "Diff’rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life," died on August 5, 2018. She was 92.

Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times restaurant critic who chronicled the city’s vast culinary landscape and made its food understandable and approachable, died on July 21, 2018. He was 57.
Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times restaurant critic who chronicled the city’s vast culinary landscape and made its food understandable and approachable, died on July 21, 2018. He was 57.

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a major figure in the New Wave of science fiction writers of the 1960s who became a legend in science fiction and fantasy circles for his award-winning stories and notoriously outspoken and combative persona, died on June 27, 2018. He was 84.
Harlan Ellison, a major figure in the New Wave of science fiction writers of the 1960s who became a legend in science fiction and fantasy circles for his award-winning stories and notoriously outspoken and combative persona, died on June 27, 2018. He was 84.

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson, father to Michael and Janet Jackson and the no-nonsense manager of the Jackson 5, died on June 27, 2018 at 89.
Joe Jackson, father to Michael and Janet Jackson and the no-nonsense manager of the Jackson 5, died on June 27, 2018 at 89.

Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison, who starred on the popular History Channel reality show “Pawn Stars,” died on June 25, 2018. He was 77.
Richard Harrison, who starred on the popular History Channel reality show “Pawn Stars,” died on June 25, 2018. He was 77.

Donald Hall

Donald Hall, a former poet laureate of the United States, died on June 23, 2018. He was 89.
Donald Hall, a former poet laureate of the United States, died on June 23, 2018. He was 89.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur, died June 21, 2018 at 68.
Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur, died June 21, 2018 at 68.

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, the chef, restaurateur and author who hosted CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” died on June 8, 2018 at the age of 61.
Anthony Bourdain, the chef, restaurateur and author who hosted CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” died on June 8, 2018 at the age of 61.

Kate Spade

Designer Kate Spade, seen here with her handbags in 1999, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kate-spade-dead-dies_us_5b16b559e4b0599bc6dd5eb2?4at" target="_blank">died at age 55</a> on June 5, 2018.
Designer Kate Spade, seen here with her handbags in 1999, died at age 55 on June 5, 2018.

Dwight Clark

Dwight Clark, a receiver who made one of the most memorable plays in NFL history and jump-started the San Francisco 49ers dynasty, died on June 4, 2018. He was 61.
Dwight Clark, a receiver who made one of the most memorable plays in NFL history and jump-started the San Francisco 49ers dynasty, died on June 4, 2018. He was 61.

Donald H. Peterson Sr.

Donald H. Peterson Sr., an astronaut who served on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Challenger, died on May 27, 2018. He was 84.
Donald H. Peterson Sr., an astronaut who served on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Challenger, died on May 27, 2018. He was 84.

Alan Bean

Astronaut Alan Bean, a member of the Apollo 12 mission and the fourth human to walk on the moon, died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.
Astronaut Alan Bean, a member of the Apollo 12 mission and the fourth human to walk on the moon, died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.

Philip Roth

Author Philip Roth, who was both hailed and derided for laying bare the neuroses and obsessions that haunted the modern Jewish-American experience, died on May 22, 2018 at the age of 85.
Author Philip Roth, who was both hailed and derided for laying bare the neuroses and obsessions that haunted the modern Jewish-American experience, died on May 22, 2018 at the age of 85.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, the innovative writer who chronicled the early days of the U.S. space program and the rise of 1960s counterculture before becoming a novelist with his classic "Bonfire of the Vanities," died on May 14, 2018 at the age of 88.
Tom Wolfe, the innovative writer who chronicled the early days of the U.S. space program and the rise of 1960s counterculture before becoming a novelist with his classic "Bonfire of the Vanities," died on May 14, 2018 at the age of 88.

Margot Kidder

Actress Margot Kidder, who brought Lois Lane to life in the hit 1978 film “Superman” and three sequels, died on May 13, 2018 at 69.
Actress Margot Kidder, who brought Lois Lane to life in the hit 1978 film “Superman” and three sequels, died on May 13, 2018 at 69.

Larry Harvey

Larry Harvey, who co-founded what evolved into the nation’s most outlandish anti-establishment art, music and exhibitionist extravaganza ― the Burning Man festival ― died on April 28, 2018. He was 70.
Larry Harvey, who co-founded what evolved into the nation’s most outlandish anti-establishment art, music and exhibitionist extravaganza ― the Burning Man festival ― died on April 28, 2018. He was 70.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.