Billy Graham was converted to Christianity after, having been turned down for a youth club membership, he went to see Baptist evangelist Mordecai Ham.
Returning home with a friend that night, Graham said he believed: “Now I’ve gotten saved. Now whatever I do can’t unsaved me. Even if I killed somebody, I can’t ever be unsaved now.”
While at college in Florida he would practice his sermons by taking a canoe to a small island and speaking out loud to “birds and alligators”.
Initially he intended to become a chaplain in the Army, but a case of the mumps put an end to that ambition and instead he was hired as an evangelist preacher and began travelling around a America.
Graham began to attract attention for his distinctive style and his speaking events were soon to be labelled as “crusades”.
He would rent a large venue, such as a stadium, park, or street – even, once, a circus tent – and arrange huge choirs of 5,000 people.
He says: Repent of your sins, he told his listeners, accept Jesus as your Saviour and be born again.
In a typical speech, he would say: “Are you frustrated, bewildered, dejected, and breaking under the strains of life? Then listen for a moment to me: Say yes to the saviour tonight, and in a moment you will know such comfort as you have never known. It comes to you quickly, as swiftly as I snap my fingers, just like that.”
Politicians, aware of his following and the power of receiving his blessing, often courted him and he met every president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump.
Richard Nixon, who he backed for office, for example, instructed his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, to call Graham about once every two weeks, “so that he doesn’t feel that we are not interested in the support of his group in those key states where they can be helpful.”
Some criticised him for getting too close to the powerful and only telling them what they wanted to hear.
President Bill Clinton said of Graham: “When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel like he is praying for you, not the president.”
His image was tainted in 2002 with the release of audiotapes that Nixon had secretly recorded in the White House three decades earlier. Now he has gone to rest with Christ.