Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelist whose eloquent oratory and passion for Jesus attracted a worldwide following and made him one of the most influential and best-known religious figures of his time, was found dead Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C. He was 99.
His death was confirmed by a spokesman, Mark DeMoss. Mr. Graham had Parkinson’s disease.
Mr. Graham’s ministry spanned more than six decades, and his evangelical “crusades,” as he called them for most of his career, touched every corner of the world. He proclaimed his message of salvation through repentance and commitment to Jesus in the poorest of Third World villages and in the world’s highest centers of power and authority.
In addition to his mass rallies and serving as spiritual adviser to U.S. presidents, he reached millions more through a syndicated newspaper column and best-selling books.
Mr. Graham — he preferred this salutation over “the Rev.” — was a frequent guest at the White House, and he delivered the invocations at presidential inaugurations and national political conventions. In the royal chapel at Britain’s Windsor Castle, he preached before Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He traveled to combat zones in South Korea and Vietnam to pray with U.S. servicemen.
An accomplished showman with a down-to-earth theology, Mr. Graham preached with a burning sincerity, although he generally avoided the exaggerated theatrics of the stereotypical bible-thumping revivalists of an earlier era.
He was charming, tall and handsome, always immaculately dressed, and he had an engaging smile. As he aged, his hair turned snow-white. His delivery was varied and dramatic, liberally laced with a stream of self-deprecating anecdotes, and he was an extraordinarily effective proselytizer.
“Are you frustrated, bewildered, dejected, breaking under the strains of life?” Mr. Graham would ask his audiences. “Then listen for a moment to me. Say yes to the savior tonight, and in a moment you will know such comfort as you have never known.”
Millions accepted his invitations to come forward and “make a decision for Christ” over the years of Mr. Graham’s ministry, although his critics liked to cite published statistics that 80 to 90 percent of these people were church members who were reaffirming their faith.
William Martin, a professor of sociology at Rice University, called him “the most powerful evangelist since Jesus” in a 2002 article in Texas Monthly magazine.
Martin, author of a 1991 Graham biography, “A Prophet With Honor,” wrote that Mr. Graham was singularly influential in trying to restore American evangelism’s good name.
The profession had become badly tarnished by the middle of the 20th century for a variety of reasons. Among these were the rigid fundamentalist religious dogma held up to ridicule in the Scopes “monkey” trial of the 1920s and the unscrupulous excesses of itinerant evangelists traveling the “tent-and-sawdust circuit” as portrayed in the Sinclair Lewis novel “Elmer Gantry,” which later became a hit movie. (Washington Post)