Washington, Feb 21 (IANS) Famed evangelical Christian pastor Billy Graham, a charismatic figure for decades in the US and counsellor to Presidents, died on Wednesday at the age of 99.
Graham passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, his spokesman Jeremy Blume told CNN.
He had dealt with a number of illnesses in his last years, including prostate cancer, hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain) and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In a 60-year career, he is estimated to have personally preached to 210 million people and prayed with every US President since Harry Truman.
Several Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, relied closely on his spiritual counsel.
Graham 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 travelled to combat zones in South Korea and Vietnam to pray with US servicemen.
Graham is reported to have persuaded over 3 million people to commit their lives to Christianity and his preaching was heard in 185 of the world’s 195 countries, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era; no more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, could come close to what he achieved,” said William Martin, a former historian at Rice University and the author of “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.”
Graham kept himself untarnished by sex and money scandals that brought down evangelists and religious broadcasters like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s, the New York Times reported.
The Grahams lived in a 200-acre mountain retreat in Montreat. His wife, Ruth Bell Graham, died in 2007.
He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.
Graham is survived by his sons, the Rev. William Franklin III and the Rev. Nelson Graham, known as Ned; three daughters, Virginia Tchividjian, Anne Graham Lotz and Ruth Graham McIntyre; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.