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Evangelical leader Billy Graham dead at 99

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Billy Graham. (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)

MONTREAT, N.C. (WLOS) - The Rev. Billy Graham has passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, a family spokesperson confirms.

The religious leader, known to millions around the world, died at the age of 99.

Graham's spiritual journey began more than 60 years ago in 1949 with his first crusade in Los Angeles. The reverend's fiery delivery launched his career as a national preacher capable of drawing large crowds. He developed his powerful speaking style after listening to tent revival preachers in the Southeast. Graham grew up on his father's dairy farm in Charlotte.

Graham became the first preacher to reach millions with a new electronic pulpit. Most of his crusades, including the one in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1977, were filmed and videotaped for national broadcasts. Over the years, Graham softened his delivery, but he never changed the gospel's message. After achieving fame and a large following, Graham remained humble. His humility reflected his belief that Christians show their faith best when they serve. At the close of many services, such as the one in Moscow in 1992, Graham said "You've come tonight to Christ, not to Billy Graham. I have no supernatural power to do anything. I'm just a man like you are. I'm only a messenger and my message is that God loves you."

Graham was not only an ambassador of faith, he was also an ambassador of his country. The reverend left his mark in American history by counseling many U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Health problems began limiting Graham's international ministry in the early 1990s. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In 1995, he collapsed during a speaking engagement in Toronto. Graham's final crusade was held in New York in 2005. That is when he told a crowd of nearly 70,000 that he did not fear death and was looking forward to heaven.

A woman who played an important role in Graham's ministry was his wife, Ruth. The internationally famous couple never shied away from expressing their love for each other. They firmly believed it was a marriage made in heaven. Ruth passed away in 2007.

While age limited Graham's travel at the end of his life, his conviction about the certainty of God's forgiveness never waivered. His faith allowed him to speak boldly and comfortably about life after death.

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