Billy Graham, the world’s most well-known evangelist, died on Wednesday at the age of 99.
Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, passed away at his home in North Carolina around 8 a.m., according to Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Graham was known for his preaching and activism, becoming a counsellor to U.S. presidents, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history. He reached millions of people through his appearances on television and radio.
“He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era,” William Martin, author of A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story, said. “No more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, came close to what he achieved.”
The evangelist brought his teachings around the world, preaching to more than 215 million people in 185 countries and territories over the years. His largest such gathering drew one million people in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1970s.
Graham was born as a Presbyterian on Nov. 7, 1918, on his family’s dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. He converted to the Southern Baptist faith came in 1934 at the age of 16 when he heard a traveling evangelist in his hometown. A few years later he decided to become a preacher.
Before becoming a preacher he practiced sermonizing in a swamp, preaching to birds and alligators before tryouts with small churches.
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press