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Christian evangelist Rev. Billy Graham dead at 99

Billy Graham, regarded as one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century, died Wednesday at his North Carolina home. He was 99. (Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Christian evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham died just before 8 a.m. Wednesday at his Montreat, North Carolina, home. He was 99.

Regarded as one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century, Graham was a trusted adviser to every U.S. president since World War II. Many called on him during their most troubling times.

"My one purpose in life," he said, "is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ."

Graham's health had been declining for many years. In 1989, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He suffered broken bones, bouts of pneumonia and other illnesses during his final decades.

His son Franklin Graham posted this statement on Twitter:

William Franklin Graham Jr. was born Nov. 7, 1918, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He grew up on a dairy farm and made his commitment to Christ when was 15 at a tent revival.

In 1939, Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist preacher.

He met his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, in 1943 where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. The couple married later that year. They had five children, 19 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren.

After World War II, Graham began receiving recognition for his preaching in the U.S. and Europe. In 1949, he held his first "Crusade" in Los Angeles.

For decades, Graham traveled the globe preaching and calling people to Christ in more than 185 countries.

He reached approximately 215 million people through his “Crusades” and other public appearances and hundreds of millions more through media channels, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He founded the organization in 1950. It's now led by his son Franklin.

Watch Graham's interview on ABC News from 1992:

Graham founded Christianity Today, a popular evangelical magazine, in 1955.

And he authored more than 30 books. The last one,“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond,” was published in 2015.

In the 1960s, he refused to speak to segregated audiences.

"The ground at the foot of the cross is level," he once said, "and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross."

He was considered a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been,” King once said.

Former President George W. Bush has credited Graham for helping him turn from drinking alcohol when he was a young man.

Following 9/11, he led a national prayer service at Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 14, 2001.

The dynamic preacher was known for his inspirational quotes that spanned generations of followers.

Here are a few of his famous quotes:

"True greatness is not measured by the headlines a person commands or the wealth he or she accumulates. The inner character of a person — the undergirding moral and spiritual values and commitments — is the true measure of lasting greatness." — "Just As I Am" (1997)

"Life can grow sweeter and more rewarding as we grow older if we possess the presence of Christ. Sunsets are always glorious. It is Christ who adds colors, glory, and beauty to man’s sunsets." — "Answers to Life's Problems" (1998)

"The secret strength of a nation is found in the faith that abides in the hearts and homes of the country." — "Day by Day With Billy Graham" (2011)

He remained active into his 70s before retiring in 2005 after his final crusade in New York City. Graham's last years were spent at his mountain home where he and Ruth raised their children. Ruth died in 2007.

Graham received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1996, Billy and Ruth received the Congressional Gold Medal.

"As Ruth and I receive this award, we know that someday we will lay it at the feet of the one we seek to serve," Graham said at the ceremony.

As the news of his death crossed the airwaves and internet, condolences flooded social media including a message from President Donald Trump.

One last thing…
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