Famed evangelist Billy Graham, who turns 99 years old today, has inspired millions of people across the globe. From ordinary citizens to celebrities and U.S. presidents (the revered preacher has met with every U.S. president since World War II), Graham has extolled his Christian views in a way that has truly resonated with the masses.
Many of his interactions with the rich, famous and powerful were documented in “Billy Graham & Me,” a book published in 2013 as a part of the “Chicken Soup” franchise. In fact, the text documented 101 personal stories from famous Americans who have interacted with the preacher in some form or another.
Below, see just 10 well-known figures who have been impacted by the evangelist:
Dan Rather, Former CBS News Anchor
In “Billy Graham & Me,” Dan Rather shares a story about how he once told Graham that the Soviet Union was a godless country, asking to whom, exactly, the famed preacher would deliver the gospel message if he visited the country.
But Graham replied, as excerpts published by Religion News Service note: “What you don’t understand is that below the surface, there are a lot of religious people, and they are afraid to come out, they won’t risk coming out, but in effect, Dan, there are many, many, quiet, secret Christians, far more than you can imagine.”
While Rather initially didn’t believe Graham, the evangelist went to Russia in 1982, 1984 and 1988 and was met with massive and enthusiastic crowds.
“It turned out that he had been right all along, and I was wrong,” Rather said. “He understood the basic religiosity of people even when their religious instincts had long been repressed.”
The former anchor also recalled how he once, years later as a youth, wanted to “expose” Graham. But when he and a friend went to a Houston crusade to do just that, something totally unexpected happened.
“By the end of the sermon, when Reverend Graham made his call to come down to the front and accept Jesus Christ into your life, it was all (my friend) and I could do to hold back from accepting the invitation,” he said, according to an excerpt published by the Charlotte Observer. “We had gone there as zealous investigative reporters. Now we were something else – we were actually open to Billy Graham’s message … Our cynicism had just melted away.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is yet another person who’s been impacted by Graham, sharing at his 95th birthday party how the minister personally impacted her family. Asked to honor Graham with a speech, she offered praise and a personal story to the more than 800 celebrities and individuals in attendance.
“I don’t think there’s been a greater honor — a more humbling opportunity — than I have tonight and that is to publicly honor Rev. Billy Graham…if it weren’t for Billy Graham, I don’t know where I would be,” Palin told the audience. “It was in the early 70s during the Jesus movement he (helped) lead so many people to Christ. My family’s life was transformed.”
The 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate recounted how her mother was looking for a deeper spiritual connection — something she inevitably found after watching Graham’s televised crusades. When her mom heard about putting “one’s life in our Lord’s hands,” she became a born-again Christian
“The message that Billy Graham had shared via those television waves rocked her world, transformed her life,” Palin continued. “My mom then led the rest of the family toward Christ.”
Michael Tait, Lead Singer of the Newsboys
Christian singer Michael Tait also recalled a conversation he had with Graham that was published in “Billy Graham & Me.” Tait was visiting with the preacher when Graham shared that President Barack Obama had been sitting in the same chair Tait was in just the night before.
The singer asked what Obama was doing there.
“Well, he wanted to come and see me. He called from the Oval Office. The Secret Service was all around, you know, but he walked in by himself, sat down there, and we spent half an hour together,” Graham said. “We talked about the country, and this, that, and the other.”
Tait asked Graham if he believed Obama is a Christian.
“Well, I believe the man knows the Lord. We prayed together, and before he left, he asked me if he could pray,” he responded, adding that he was impressed with the depth of Obama’s prayer.
President Ronald Reagan
According to The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, President Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham were longtime friends. The two reportedly met in 1953, one year after Reagan married his second wife, Nancy.
After an assassination attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981, Graham flew to Washington, D.C., to comfort Nancy Reagan and to be with the family. But it seems the biggest impact Graham had over the former president was when it came to spiritual matters.
“It was through Billy Graham that I found myself praying even more than on a daily basis … and that in the position I held, that my prayers more and more were to give me the wisdom to make decisions that would serve God and be pleasing to Him,” Reagan once said.
TobyMac, Christian Singer and Former Lead Singer of dc Talk
Toby McKeehan, whose stage name is TobyMac, recalled playing at a Graham crusade back in 1994. He remembered being asked to meet with the preacher and his wife, Ruth, at their North Carolina home. And it was something that happened there that showed McKeehan Graham’s true character.
“When we arrived, we were invited to sit down and we all started talking. Then something happened that I’ll never forget,” he said. “Dr. Graham asked us if we wanted something to drink. He actually went to the kitchen and brought us two Cokes and a glass of water on a tray. That servant’s heart at work even in his home impressed me deeply.”
McKeehan also talked about Graham’s passion for reaching young people — a passion that ran so deep the pastor risked putting the band on stage, despite knowing some of his followers might not appreciate the music.
“Billy told us that we were his translators for the next generation, helping put the Gospel message into a language they could understand,” McKeehan continued. “I saw that he cared enough for the world’s youth to risk the possibility that half his people might not like us joining him on stage. However, for Billy Graham, reaching young people was worth the risk. To me, that showed who he was.”
Kathie Lee Gifford, Veteran TV Host
As TheBlaze once reported, veteran television host Kathie Lee Gifford was once moved to tears while discussing how evangelist Billy Graham “changed [her] life forever” by helping lead her family to the Christian faith and by guiding her through personal struggles.
Speaking on “TODAY,” Gifford recalled arriving home one day as a child to find her mother and sister kneeling and sobbing in front of the television screen. While she initially thought something terrible had happened, she realized that they were watching and reacting to one of Graham’s “crusades” (the evangelist regularly hosted these large-scale stadium events that were often broadcast on television).
“Both of them had come to faith by watching the power of his message through a television screen,” Gifford said of her mother and sister.
It was later that same year that Gifford, too, became a Christian while attending a showing of “The Restless Ones,” a film that was produced by Graham’s organization. Gifford said she felt God reaching out to her in that theater.
Later in life, she had an opportunity to get to know Graham personally and now considers him a close friend. Gifford fondly recalled the evangelist’s appearance on her 1994 Christmas special. When he arrived at her home and she offered him anything that might make him more comfortable, he had a comical response.
“Could I have a Big Mac?” she remembers Graham asking. “And I just thought ‘Billy Graham likes Big Macs! You’ve got to love it. He’s just human.”
Johnny Cash, Singer
Singer Johnny Cash was a close friend of Graham’s who regularly showed up at crusades to share his story. His personal journey struggling with drugs, among other issues, and a return to his Christian faith captivated audiences.
“It’s been a long road. There were times that it was a wide crowded road and a confused road with a lot of pain and trouble,” Cash once said while on stage at a crusade. “I just wanted to say in case anybody had any doubt that I’m a Christian, and I’m awfully proud to say so.”
Graham provided Cash with a platform to connect with his brokenness, while Cash offered Graham a celebrity name with a compelling story to share with the masses.
Wynonna Judd, Singer
Country singer Wynonna Judd also wrote in “Billy Graham & Me” that the evangelist has helped her to think deeper. Considering that she didn’t have a father she was close with, Judd saw Graham as a parental figure.
“One of the first times I saw Billy Graham he was like an action figure and seemed bigger than life. I thought, ‘Who is this character on TV?’” she said. “He spoke with such passion and conviction. I wondered what it would be like to be his daughter and what it would be like to have a dad like that … Because I didn’t have a father, he’s been a voice, sort of a whisper.”
Judd continued, “They say the world yells and God whispers. He’s been a whisper in my life that has caused me to think deeper.”
President Bill Clinton
Graham also reportedly made a big impression on President Bill Clinton decades before the Democratic leader entered the political fray. When Clinton was around 12 years old, he attended a Graham crusade in Little Rock, Ark., where the preacher’s decision not to segregate the audience made a major impact on the young boy.
“The crusade happened as Billy wanted it, with tens of thousands of people, black and white, pouring into the stadium where the Arkansas Razorbacks played,” Clinton said in “Billy Graham & Me.” “When Billy finished preaching and issued the call, inviting us to rededicate our lives to Christ, thousands, black and white together, some smiling, some crying, went down to the field to answer the call.”
Clinton went on to say that the act was one “of moral courage and deep faith.” Later, in 1989, Clinton, then governor, again joined Graham at a Little Rock crusade. He has praised Graham’s decision to meet with leaders from both sides of the aisle.
“Billy and Ruth Graham have practiced the ministry of … being friends with Presidents of both parties … always completely private, always completely genuine,” Clinton said in a quote published on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Graham were close friends. In fact, King preached at some of Graham’s crusades, offering an incentive and opportunity at the time for cross-racial collaboration. Together, the two brought in diverse audiences as they touted and embraced inclusiveness. Both Christian figures had a profound impact on one another.
“Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been,” King once said.
The civil rights leader also credited Graham with having a significant impact on the reduction of tension between Southern whites and blacks. According to Graham’s website, the evangelist once canceled a tour of Europe to preach crusades in Alabama — events aimed at bringing the races together.
(H/T: Religion News Service)