Rev. BillyGraham

(AP) — The Rev. Billy Graham, dubbed "America's Pastor" and the "Protestant Pope," died at his North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and reach no other evangelist is likely ever to match. The North Carolina-born Graham transformed the tent revival into an event that filled football arenas, and reached the masses by making pioneering use of television in prosperous postwar America. By his final crusade in 2005, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. He had an especially strong influence on the religion and spirituality of American presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. George W. Bush credited Graham with helping him transform himself from carousing, harddrinking oilman to bornagain Christian family man. After World War II, as an evangelist in the U.S. and Europe with Youth for Christ, he was dubbed "the Preaching Windmill" for his arm-swinging and rapid-fire speech. At the height of his career, he would be on the road for months at a time. The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose as much as 30 pounds by the time one of his crusades ended. His wife, Ruth, mostly stayed behind at their mountainside home in Montreat to raise their five children: Franklin, Virginia ("Gigi"), Anne, Ruth and Nelson ("Ned"). Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, "I'd rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man." In the 1950s he created a syndicated newspaper column, "My Answer," which at its height reached tens of millions of readers. Early on, he took up the cause of fighting communism, preaching against its atheistic evils. But he was much less robust in his support for civil rights and did not join his fellow clergymen in the movement's marches, a position he later said he regretted. "I think I made a mistake when I didn't go to Selma" to join the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he said in a 2005 interview. "I would like to have done more." Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on separating the races at meetings. William Franklin Graham Jr. was born on Nov. 7, 1918, on a rural dairy farm near Charlotte. His path began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterianreared teenager committed himself to Christ at a tent revival. Health problems gradually slowed Graham. In 1995 his son William Franklin Graham III, then 43, was designated the ministry's leader. Billy Graham's wife died in 2007 at age 87. Graham will be buried next to her at the Billy Graham Museum and Library in Charlotte. There was no immediate word on other funeral arrangements.

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