Los Angeles Times

Billy Graham, minister to presidents and millions worldwide, dies at 99

When a young religious crusader named Billy Graham began preaching to the masses after World War II, he wore bright gabardine suits with loud, wide ties and argyle socks to show that Christianity wasn't dreary.

And he did not hide behind a pulpit. He "stalked and sometimes almost ran from one end of the platform to the other," one biographer noted, while beseeching unbelievers to give themselves to the higher power he praised with unassailable conviction.

That style drew 350,000 people to a tent in downtown Los Angeles over eight weeks in 1949 - the first major Billy Graham crusade. When it closed 65 sermons later, the mesmerizing preacher was known across the country - and, before long, around the world.

Graham, the most dominant American pastor of the second half of the 20th century, who lifted evangelism into the religious mainstream and through the power of his voice and personality united the often fractious worldwide evangelical community, died at his home Wednesday morning in North Carolina, the Associated Press confirmed. He was 99.

A Southern Baptist minister known for his simple faith and folksy charm, Graham had been in failing health over the last decade with Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer and macular degeneration. He had been hospitalized numerous times with respiratory problems.

"No one was more important in legitimizing evangelism," said William Martin, one of Graham's biographers. "It's now on equal footing to mainline Protestantism and Catholicism in the U.S."

Graham's reach was staggering. He preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and

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