NORTH CAROLINA • US evangelist Billy Graham, who counselled presidents and preached to millions across the world from his native North Carolina to communist North Korea during his 70 years on the pulpit, died yesterday at the age of 99, a spokesman said.
He died in his home in Montreat, North Carolina, according to Mr Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
With his steely features and piercing blue eyes, Dr Graham was a powerful figure when he preached in his prime, roaming the stage and hoisting a Bible as he declared Jesus Christ to be the only solution to humanity's problems.
According to his ministry, he preached to more people than anyone else in history, reaching hundreds of millions of people either in person or via TV and satellite links.
Dr Graham became the de facto White House chaplain to several US presidents, most famously Mr Richard Nixon. He also met scores of world leaders and was the first noted evangelist to take his message behind the Iron Curtain.
"He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era," said William Martin, author of A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story. "No more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, came close to what he achieved."
Some 77 million saw him preach in person, while nearly 215 million more watched his crusades on television or through satellite link-ups, a Graham spokesman said.
Dr Graham started meeting with presidents during the tenure of Mr Harry Truman. He played golf with Mr Gerald Ford, skinny-dipped in the White House pool with Mr Lyndon Johnson, vacationed with Mr George H.W. Bush and spent the night in the White House on Mr Nixon's first day in office.
Mr George W. Bush gave Dr Graham credit for helping him rediscover his faith and in 2010, when it was difficult for Dr Graham to travel, Mr Barack Obama made the trip to the preacher's log cabin home in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Dr Graham's ties to the White House were mutually beneficial. His reputation was enhanced as preacher to the presidents, while the politicians boosted their standing with religiously inclined voters.
"Their personal lives - some of them - were difficult," Dr Graham, a registered Democrat, told Time magazine in 2007 of his political acquaintances. "But I loved them all. I admired them all. I knew that they had burdens beyond anything I could ever know or understand."
In a 2011 Fox News interview, Dr Graham was asked what he would do differently in his career. "I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements," he said.
In addition to suffering with Parkinson's disease for many years, Dr Graham's health problems in his later years included a broken hip, a broken pelvis, prostate cancer and installation of a shunt in his brain to control excess fluid.
Dr Graham and his wife Ruth, who died in 2007, had two sons and three daughters.