U.S. evangelist Billy Graham, who counseled presidents and preached to millions across the world from his native North Carolina to communist North Korea during his 70 years in the pulpit, died two weeks ago at the age of 99 and became the 4th civilian to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol this past Wednesday.
Graham died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, according to Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
According to his ministry, he preached Christianity to more people than anyone else in history, reaching hundreds of millions of people either in person or via TV and satellite links.
Graham became the de facto White House chaplain to several U.S. presidents, most famously Richard Nixon. He also met with scores of world leaders and was the first noted evangelist to take his message behind the Iron Curtain.
Graham found himself at times in controversy over his disapproving stand on gay rights, as well as over a secretly recorded conversation with Nixon in which the cleric complained that Jews had too much influence on the U.S. media. In the later years of his career he intentionally muted his political beliefs to focus on the Gospel.
Graham was no longer a close associate of presidents in recent years but many former U.S. leaders paid tribute on Wednesday. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: "The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man."
Graham started meeting with presidents during the tenure of Harry Truman. He played golf with Gerald Ford, skinny-dipped in the White House pool with Lyndon Johnson, vacationed with George H.W. Bush and spent the night in the White House on Nixon's first day in office.
Nixon and anti-Semitism
Graham's closest presidential relationship was with Nixon, who offered him any government job he wanted - including ambassador to Israel. It turned out to be a painful relationship for Graham, who said Nixon and his circle misled him on the Watergate scandal.
Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman first mentioned Graham's anti-Semitic remarks in a 1994 book, which Graham strongly denied. But when audio tapes from the Nixon White House were released in 2002, Graham could be heard referring to Jews as pornographers and agreeing with Nixon that the U.S. media was dominated by liberal Jews and could send the United States "down the drain."
''They're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,'' Graham said to Nixon - "the Jewish stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain,'' he continued.
Graham also confided in Nixon that he hid his true feelings about Jews from them: ''I go and I keep friends with Mr. Rosenthal (then executive editor) at The New York Times and people of that sort, you know. And all -- I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I'm friendly with Israel. But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances.''
Graham, who had a long history of supporting Israel, apologized profusely after the tapes' release and said he had no recollection of the conversation.
"If it wasn't on tape, I would not have believed it," Graham told Newsweek. "I guess I was trying to please. I felt so badly about myself - I couldn't believe it. I went to a meeting with Jewish leaders and I told them I would crawl to them to ask their forgiveness."
The author of more than two dozen books with titles such as "How to Be Born Again," Graham also ran the weekly "Hour of Decision" radio program broadcast around the world on Sundays for more than 50 years.
Graham helped bring religion into the television age. He first put together a television show, which was eventually syndicated, in 1951 and began live broadcasts of his revival meetings in 1957 from New York's Madison Square Garden.
In a 2011 Fox News interview, Graham was asked what he would do differently in his career.
"I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements," he said. "I took too many of them in too many places around the world. If I had it to do over again I'd spend more time in meditation and prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love him."
In addition to suffering with Parkinson's disease for many years, Graham's health problems in his later years included a broken hip, a broken pelvis, prostate cancer and installation of a shunt in his brain to control excess fluid. He was hospitalized in 2011, 2012 and 2013 for respiratory problems.
Reuters contributed to this report
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