US evangelist Billy Graham dies aged 99

Graham served as 'spiritual adviser' to various US presidents throughout the 20th century

US evangelist Billy Graham dies aged 99

File photo dated 01/06/66 of US evangelist Billy Graham. Picture by: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 14:30

US evangelist Reverend Billy Graham has died at his home in North Carolina, a spokesman has said.

The preacher, who became internationally-known over the course of a decades-long career, was 99 years of age.

He died shortly before 8am EST (1pm Irish time) this morning at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

He had been suffering from cancer and pneumonia, spokesman Mark DeMoss added.

According to his ministry, Mr Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history either in person or through TV shows and satellite links.

He also served as 'spiritual adviser' to various US presidents, and in his autobiography Graham said he had a particularly close 'personal and spiritual' relationship with Richard Nixon.

He was dubbed "America's pastor" and was also a confidant of a number of other former presidents from General Dwight Eisenhower to George W Bush.

In 1983, President Reagan gave Mr Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour.

Life

Born on 7 November, 1918, on his family's dairy farm near Charlotte, Mr Graham came from a fundamentalist background.

But he rejected that view to join New Evangelicalism which abandoned the narrowness of fundamentalism to engage broader society.

He was ordained in 1939, after attending Florida Bible Institute, and founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950.

He became a rising star after a 1949 Los Angeles revival, when publisher William Randolph Hearst ordered his reporters to cover the new preacher who was speaking in a "canvas cathedral."

Mr Graham said he never found out why the reporters had been told to "hype" him.

Family

Mr Graham and his wife Ruth Bell Graham had five children, two of which are also ministers now. His daughter Anne Graham Lotz is a Christian author and speaker and one son William Franklin Graham is now head of the BGEA.

Speaking on his father's 99th birthday last November, Franklin Graham - the current CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association - said: "His mind is good but he's quieter these days."

Before his retirement in 2005, Billy Graham preached in dozens of countries, often to crowds of thousands of people:

In tribute, US Vice President Mike Pence said: "Karen and I were saddened to learn of the passing of one of the greatest Americans of the century, Reverend Billy Graham. We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family.

"Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, "well done good and faithful servant." Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you."