Billy Graham

Key moments in the long life of Billy Graham

Rev. Billy Graham: photos of his life, his thoughts about death

VIDEO: See photos from the life of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham and listen to excerpts from a sermon he preached about death at Duke University in 1973. Graham died Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, 2018 at his home in North Carolina.
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VIDEO: See photos from the life of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham and listen to excerpts from a sermon he preached about death at Duke University in 1973. Graham died Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, 2018 at his home in North Carolina.

Nov. 7, 1918

Born in Charlotte

Born four days before the end of World War I. His parents, William Franklin Graham and Morrow Coffey Graham, own a dairy farm near what is now Park Road Shopping Center. As a child, “Billy Frank” attends Chalmers Memorial Associate Reformed Presbyterian Meeting House on South Boulevard.


Accepts Christ

Answers the altar call at a Charlotte revival featuring traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham. The 16-year-old Graham goes forward during the singing of “Almost Persuaded, Now to Believe.” “I willed to seek Christ,” he later recalls.



Graduates from Florida Bible Institute near Tampa and is ordained a Southern Baptist minister later that year.

Spring 1943

Graduates from Wheaton College

Gets a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Wheaton College, a Christian school north of Chicago.

June 1943

Takes first pulpit

Becomes pastor of Village Church in Western Springs, Ill., near Chicago. He stays in the job for just two years. He will never again pastor a church.

Aug. 13, 1943

Marries missionaries’ daughter

Weds fellow Wheaton College graduate Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of medical missionaries in China. “Home to me is where my wife is,” Graham says many years later. The couple eventually make their home in Montreat and have five children: Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned.


Holds first Charlotte crusade

Preaches to 40,000 in his hometown at a series of meetings at First Baptist Church on N. Tryon St. The Charlotte News reports that the first-night crowd was so large that they couldn’t all get in the building to see the 29-year-old Graham. “Those who did manage to find seats,” the newspaper said, “had the opportunity of looking upon a slender, handsome young evangelist who started his career by preaching to fish.” Graham would return to Charlotte for crusades in 1958, 1972 and 1996.

August 1949

Accepts Bible without question

Commits himself to a lifetime of doubt-free belief in the Scriptures. Graham, then a Youth for Christ pastor, is jolted by a colleague’s charge that he is committing “intellectual suicide” by accepting the Bible’s claims without question. That leads Graham to retreat to a forest in the San Bernadino mountains near Los Angeles. He stops along a trail, props his Bible on a tree stump, and struggles with his feeings about the Bible. In the end, he remembers praying: “Oh, God, I cannot prove certain things. But I accept this book by faith as the Word of God.”

September-October 1949

Goes national at L.A. crusade

Headlines a tent cusade in Los Angeles that brings him to national prominence. The crusade is extended from three to eight weeks to accommodate crowds that end up totaling 350,000. Graham’s big break comes after newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst sent his editors this now-famous order to promote Graham’s ministry: “Puff Graham.”


Launches the BGEA

Establishes the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis. The BGEA also begins a weekly “Hour of Decision” radio program and publishes Decision magazine


Named to Most Admired list

Makes Gallup Poll of world’s most admired men for first time. Graham stays on the list for decades, cracking the Top 10 a record 60 times.

May-September 1957

Storms New York

Holds crusade events over 16 weeks in Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and Times Square, drawing 2.3 million people. The fiery 38-year-old Graham talks about turning Times Square into “a great cathedral.”


Has tea with the queen

Flew to England, where he again preached – he’d been there in 1954 and 1957 – and met with Queen Elizabeth on the 38th birthday of her husband, Prince Philip. They had tea, and the queen poured. “It was like having tea with any nice English family,” Graham reported. “It was all rather wondferful.” Decades later, in 2017, a Netflix TV series about Queen Elizabeth, called “The Crown,” featured an actor playing Graham.

Oct. 7, 1964

Reaches out to Roman Catholics

Meets in Boston with Cardinal Richard Cushing in 45-minute televised conversation said to ease strained relations between evangelicals and Roman Catholics.


Backs Vietnam War – and LBJ

Tours Vietnam for President Lyndon B. Johnson and offers this hawkish and wrong-headed report: “There is no question – the war is already won militarily.”

Oct. 15, 1971

Honored by Charlotte – and Nixon

Gets a “Billy Graham Day” parade and celebration in his hometown. About 150,000 turn out. So does President Nixon, who tells the gathering: “You have contributed ... one of the great leaders of our time.”

June 3, 1973

Gets his biggest crowd

Preaches to an estimated 1.1 million during a crusade in Seoul, South Korea.


Reacts to Watergate transcripts

Finally sees the dark side of President Nixon when confronted with transcripts of the Watergate tapes. After standing by the embattled president well into the crisis surrounding the White House, Graham shuts himself in his study to read the New York Times edition of excerpts from the tapes. He discovers a Nixon engaging not only in a cover-up but in obscene language and crude racial and religious stereotyping. Graham recoils, weeps, throws up. “It was a Nixon I didn’t know,” he says later.

September 1975

Publishes best-seller

Makes the New York Times’ best-seller list with “Angels: God’s Secret Agents.” It sells 1 million copies in 90 days and is on Times’ best-seller list for 21 weeks. Overall, Graham’s books have sold more than 25 million copies.

Feb. 23, 1983

Awarded Presidential Medal

Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, from President Ronald Reagan. Says the president: “Millions of lives across the globe have been enriched because of his good work.”

March 27, 1983

Gets his own road

Charlotte dedicates a 4.8-mile roadway leading to airport and names it Billy Graham Parkway. “We don’t deserve it,” Graham tells the crowd of dignitaries.

April 1988

Visits China

Preaches in five cities during a 17-day tour of China, where wife Ruth grew up. It’s part of Graham’s lifelong effort to bring Christianity to the communist world. He also preached in Yugoslavia in 1967, Hungary in 1977, Poland in 1978 and the Soviet Union in 1982 and 1984.

Jan. 16, 1991

Supports first Iraq war

Stays at White House at the invitation of President George H.W. Bush, an old friend, on the night he launches Operation Desert Storm against Iraq.

Sept. 22, 1991

Packs Central Park

Preaches to 250,000 in New York’s Central Park, the largest one-day crowd to hear him in North America. “God loves New York,” Graham tells the multiracial, interfaith crowd.

March 31, 1992

Preaches in North Korea

Graham becomes the first foreign-born evangelist to preach in the communist nation.

July 2, 1992

Reveals Parkinson’s symptoms

Confirms publicly that he has symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, an affliction of the central nervous system that leaves him with trembling hands and a shuffling walk.

March 17-21, 1993

Crusades by satellite

Begins mastering “electronic” crusades broadcast worldwide via satellite. Preaching from a small hall in Essen, Germany, he reaches more than 8 million people in 55 countries over five nights.

April 27, 1994

Eulogizes Nixon

Presides over Nixon’s funeral, saying that his friend symbolized the power of never giving up. Years earlier, after the Watergate debacle, Graham had acknowledged getting too close to politicians and too involved in partisan politics. “I went too far,” he told Life magazine.

March 16-18, 1995

Headlines global outreach

Preaches to an estimated 1 billion people via satellite during the “Global Mission” crusade from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Billed as history’s largest onetime Christian outreach, Graham’s message is interpreted in 116 languages in 185 countries.

April 23, 1995

Gives Oklahoma City sermon

Leads nationally televised memorial service for 168 victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. “Let the healing begin,” he preaches, with millions watching from home.

Nov. 8, 1995

Names son successor

Turns over the reins of the BGEA to his son, Franklin Graham, also an evangelist. “Daddy realizes he just can’t go on forever,” the new CEO says. And father says of his son: “No doubt God has given him the gift of evangelism.”

May 2, 1996

Gets Congressional medal with Ruth

Billy and Ruth Graham receive the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol and are honored at a dinner attended by President Bill Clinton. The Grahams were the 114th recipients of Congress’ highest civilian honor.

Sept. 26-29, 1996

Leads final Carolinas crusade

Preaches to more than 300,000 at then-Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte over four days. “One of the goals of this crusade,” he tells the multi-racial crowd, “is to help bring the races close together, to help us to love each other, and we ought to go out of our way to love people of other races.”

Sept. 14, 2001

Calls for unity after 9-11

Offers soothing spiritual words to the nation after the terrorist attacks on September 11. Speaking at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral in Washington, the white-haired Graham talks about a caring God: “The Bible says that he is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”

March 2002

Apologizes for past anti-Jewish comments

Seeks forgiveness from the Jewish community after Nixon White House tapes from 1972 are released. In them, Graham seems to agree with the president’s anti-Semitic ramblings during a conversation 30 years before. Graham tells Nixon that a Jewish “stranglehold” on the media was ruining the country. “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” Graham, a longtime supporter of Israel and winner of a 1971 award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, issues two apologies in 2002, then asked forgiveness – face to face – during a private meeting with Jewish leaders. “I was wrong for not disagreeing with the president,” he says.

Oct. 29, 2002

Breaks ground in Charlotte

Presides over the groundbreaking for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s move from Minneapolis to Charlotte. The complex, located off Billy Graham Parkway near the airport, will open in 2005, and eventually include the Billy Graham Library, dedicated in 2007.

May 14, 2004

Sidelined by age, illness

Increasingly frail, Graham falls in his home and fractures his pelvis – the latest in a series of injuries and illnesses that largely took him out of the public eye in his last years.

June 24, 2005

Preaches at last crusade

Opens his 417th – and final – crusade, in New York. Over three days, Graham, 86 and relying on a walker, urges nearly 250,000 people at Flushing Meadows Corona Park to change their lives for Jesus. “It’s like watching Moses,” says Angie Bond, who drove three hours to be there. “He’s bringing God’s people out of the wilderness and into the light.”

May 31, 2007

Dedicates library with presidents

Former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton help Graham dedicate the $27 million Billy Graham Library, located on the BGEA complex in Charlotte. Also on the grounds: the evangelist’s boyhood home. After a parade of speakers praises the then-88-year-old Graham, he jokes to the crowd of 1,500: “I feel like I’ve been attending my own funeral.”

Billy Graham shakes hands with Jimmy Carter as George H.W. Bush looks on, at the Billy Graham Library in 2007.

June 14, 2007

Mourns wife Ruth’s passing

Tells those attending the Montreat funeral for Ruth Bell Graham, his wife of almost 64 years, who has died after a long illness: “She is so beautiful. I sat there (at the funeral home) last night, looking at her. And I prayed because I know she had a great reception in heaven.” Graham and their grown children bury Ruth the next day on the library grounds in Charlotte. “I hope she saves a room for me” in heaven, Graham says at the private service.

Nov. 22, 2009 and April 25, 2010

Plays host to political leaders

Meets with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republicans’ 2008 vice presidential candidate, and then, six months later, President Barack Obama. Both make a pilgrimage to Graham’s mountaintop home in Montreat. Obama is the 12th president to meet with Graham – and the first sitting one to visit his home.

May and October 2012

Re-enters politics via ads

His image appears in full-page ads addressed to voters. The BGEA Association first runs ads in May urging voters in North Carolina to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Then, in October, it runs more ads, in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, calling on voters nationwide to elect candidates who base their decisions on “biblical values,” which is widely seen as an endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. All the ads feature photos of Billy Graham and words attributed to him. Some Graham scholars publicly suggest the words are not his and that Franklin Graham is trying to turn his father into “a mouthpiece of the religious right,” as one puts it. The younger Graham denies their assertions. A few years later, Franklin tells the Observer that, at his request, Donald Trump authorized his foundation to contribute $100,000 to help pay for the ads.

Nov. 7, 2013

Celebrates 95th birthday

Feted on his 95th birthday with a mega-party at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn that draws big names from the worlds of religion, politics and TV. Franklin Graham, the master of ceremonies, gives prize seats and speaking roles to Palin and conservative stars from Fox News. Future President Trump also shows up. But when Billy Graham speaks, he acknowledges not the celebrities, but his family and longtime colleague Cliff Barrows. The crowd gets to see a video featuring the elder Graham offering new words about the cross. It also airs on Fox News, Charlotte TV stations and in churches around the country.

Feb. 21, 2018

Dies, at 99, at home in Montreat

Timeline compiled by Tim Funk, Ken Garfield, and Marion Paynter.