According to the New York Times, Graham died at his home in Montreat, N.C., on Wednesday (Feb. 21). He was 99 years old. Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, confirmed the news. Graham had dealt with a number of illnesses in his last years, including prostate cancer, build up of fluid on the brain and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Graham became probably the best-known Christian evangelist in the world during his six decades of preaching the gospel. His website states that he preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries over the course of his long ministry.
Graham was known as “America’s pastor,” and he served as a counselor to many U.S. presidents. He also had a strong connection to country music. Graham brought his massive, stadium-filling crusades to Nashville three times, in 1954, 1979 and 2000. He was close friends with and a spiritual guide to a number of country artists, including Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels and Ricky Skaggs. In an email to Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper in 2009, Graham counted Johnny and June Carter Cash among his dearest friends.
“(Nashville is) one of the most dynamic cities I’ve ever visited, forward-looking and full of energy,” he wrote. “The Nashville of the 1950s is a far cry from the Nashville of today but there’s a reason for that: the spirit of its people. I hope you never lose that enthusiasm.”
Country musicians including Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Sara Evans, Josh Turner and Brad Paisley came together for the soundtrack to the movie Billy: The Early Years in 2008. Turner also appeared in the film.