Billy Graham, the 20th-century Christian crusader and pathfinder of mass audience evangelicalism who had the ear of 12 U.S. presidents, has died at the age of 99 with tributes to his legacy coming from a diverse group of church leaders including the head of the World Council of Churches .
Among the first to pay tribute were Donald Trump and his vice-president Mike Pence, the most recent beneficiaries of the voting power of US evangelical Christians, The Guardian reported.
Graham died at his home Wednesday morning from natural causes, a family spokesman told ABC News.
Born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, William Franklin Graham Jr. was the oldest of the four children of William and Morrow Graham, Huffington Post wrote.
He was raised on a dairy farm, and little in his childhood suggested he would become a world-renowned preacher.
Then at 16, Graham attended a series of revival meetings run by outspoken evangelist Mordecai Ham. The two months he spent listening to Ham's sermons on sin sparked a spiritual awakening in Graham and prompted him to enroll at Bob Jones College.
FLORIDA BIBLE INSTITUTE
When the conservative Christian school's strict doctrine didn't align with his personal beliefs, he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida) and joined a Southern Baptist Convention church. He was ordained in 1939.
From the 1930s until the early years of this century, Graham pulled crowds of thousands to hear his rallying cry for Christianity.
Over almost six decades, it is estimated that he preached to more than 200 million people.
Graham travelled coast to coast with his evangelizing and was able to channel the mass media to tap into millions, using television and radio networks, newspaper columns, feature films and satellite links.
He wrote dozens of books and his sermons were translated simultaneously into 48 languages and transmitted to 185 countries by satellite.
Graham, who had suffered from prostate cancer, pneumonia and symptoms of Parkinson's disease, died at his home in North Carolina, his spokesperson said.
Trump tweeted: "The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man."
Pence, who is a known evangelical, said his "matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words: 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"
Graham had received additional theological training at Illinois' Wheaton College, where he met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell. They were married for 64 years, until her death in 2007, and had five children.
"He dominated 20th century American evangelicalism and remained a major figure on the world stage throughout most of the 20th century in a way that we can envision no evangelical leader in our times," wrote Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an article titled 'Mohler on Graham' 'An epic era of evangelical history has come to an end.'"
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the global church owed him an "immeasurable and inexpressible" debt.
Graham was "an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians," Welby said. "When it comes to a living and lasting influence upon the worldwide church he can have few equals: for he introduced person after person to Jesus Christ. There are countless numbers who began their journey of faith because of Dr. Graham."
PUBLIC MEMORIAL SERVICE
A public memorial service for Graham began in North Carolina on the morning of Feb. 26, running through the end of the week, culminating in a e with a Feb. 2 funeral that that President Trump is expected to attend, United Press International reported.
A hearse carrying Graham's body arrived at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte on Feb. 25, part of a 10-vehicle motorcade.
Graham will lie in repose at the library until Feb. 28, when his casket will then travel to the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington and his casket will return to Charlotte for burial March 2.
"My father made me promise long ago that we would take him back to Charlotte after he died," son Franklin Graham said.
As the North Carolina motorcade wound through a 130-mile (209 mile) route, thousands lined streets with many carrying U.S. flags, flags with Christian symbolism and handmade signs of appreciation.
Trump and more than 2,300 others are expected to expect the Friday funeral, said UPI.
The services will be conducted under a massive tent reminiscent of Graham's eight-week "crusade" of evangelism in Los Angeles in 1949. About 350,000 people attended his sermons there. The event first drew attention to Graham's oratorical gift and mission.
The World Council of Churches issued a statement on Feb. 26 saying Graham's death marks a milestone in the landscape of churches worldwide, as he was a highly respected church leader and preacher of the Gospel in the USA and around the world.
"He has played an important role for many people in their encounters with the gospel and with Christian faith," said WCC secretary general Rev. Olav Fykse veit. "He was an evangelist at heart."
While Tveit never met Graham personally, Tveit's predecessor former WCC general secretary Rev. Konrad Raiser, met Graham. So did former WCC general secretary Willem Visser 't Hooft, as Graham visited the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in the mid-1950s.
Tveit continued: "The World Council of Churches and Billy Graham were not always in agreement on questions of how Christianity should contribute to work for peace and justice in the world, but he respected a clear position and worked sincerely on a wide range of issues."
Evangelical Christians in particular have much to thank Graham for, Tveit said. "He gave Biblical depth and weight to the evangelical context – something that is dearly needed, not least in our time today – in the U.S. and elsewhere."