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Televangelist Billy Graham ‘goes home’

North Carolina, Wednesday Reverend Billy Graham, the influential Southern preacher who became a spiritual advisor to several US presidents and millions of Americans via their television sets, has died, his family said today. He was 99.

The one-time backwoods minister who eventually became the world’s foremost Christian evangelist, spread a message of spiritual redemption at tent and stadium revival meetings, in a career that spanned decades.

“Billy Graham is the closest thing to a national pope that we shall ever see,” journalist Garry Wills once wrote in The Washington Post. The Southern Baptist preacher was close to the family of former President George W. Bush, who once said that a private meeting with Graham in 1985 helped him quit drinking. More recently his role as a sometime spiritual adviser to the young Queen Elizabeth II as she confronted the burdens of rule was featured in the Netflix mini-series “The Crown.”

Graham was a pioneer of “televangelism” to convert souls to Christianity as television got off the ground in the 1950s. Born on November 7, 1918, he was raised as one of four children on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Graham had a spiritual awakening in 1934 that changed the course of his life.

He subsequently attended the Florida Bible Institute, now Trinity College of Florida, and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1939. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Minneapolis, Minnesota and launched a weekly “Hour of Decision” radio programme. His ministry led him to preach the gospel around the country — and the world. Over the course of his career, he was consulted by presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. For a time he was Richard Nixon’s chaplain and golf partner.

President George H.W. Bush invited him to pray at the White House in 1991 for guidance through the first long day of the Gulf War. Graham was married to wife Ruth,who died in 2007. They had five children together. —AFP

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