The Reverend Billy Graham died Wednesday at his home in the American state of North Carolina, a spokesman said.
Graham had long suffered from health problems, including cancer. He was 99 years old.
Graham influenced American religious life for generations. He offered spiritual advice to many presidents and became the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history.
Tall, with thick hair and clear blue eyes, Graham became a Southern Baptist clergyman in 1940.
During his 70 years in public life, he spoke to more than 200 million people in 185 countries and territories. He and his supporters held massive gatherings – called the Billy Graham Crusades. Thousands of people attended each rally, either in person or by satellite. They were held on every continent except Antarctica.
Graham often moved around while he spoke to crowds, sometimes also raising a Bible in the air while repeating words from Christianity’s holy book. At the end of his message, he invited people to come forward to seek salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ. Hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, would answer the call and come forward.
Graham visited Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the winter of 1994, he gave sermons in China and North Korea, where he also met with top political and religious leaders. As a result of his world travels, Graham said Christianity was no longer only a Western religion.
Graham was seen as a major force in developing evangelicalism in the United States.
Because of his great influence, Graham was known as “America’s pastor.” He was often asked to pray or speak at major public events, such as political nomination conventions and swearing-in ceremonies for U.S. presidents.
Graham knew every president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. He served as a spiritual adviser to some of them.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan awarded Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor. When the Billy Graham Museum and Library opened in 2007, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended.
At the ceremony, Clinton said of Graham, “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.”
President George H.W. Bush invited him to pray at the White House in 1991 on the first long day of the Gulf War.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,” Trump tweeted.
Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, had five children. She died in 2007 at the age of 87.
Graham had been battling several health conditions and rarely appeared in public in recent years. But he did attend a 95th birthday celebration in November 2013. A video message from the aging preacher was played at the celebration. His son Franklin called it his father’s last message to America. In the video, Billy Graham said America was "in great need of a spiritual awakening."
Franklin Graham followed in his father’s footsteps and rose to become leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He has preached to more than 7 million people worldwide.
Franklin’s son, Will Graham, also speaks at religious celebrations around the world.
I’m Alice Bryant. And I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
reverend – n. a Christian clergyman
evangelist – n. person who speaks in public and urges people to become Christians
salvation – n. in some religions, a belief that God will save those
sermon – n. a talk on a religious or moral subject
who believe from the punishment of God for evil or immoral acts
evangelicalism – n. a movement within Protestant Christianity which holds that only Jesus Christ can save humanity
pastor – n. a clergyman or spiritual advisor