Influential US evangelist Billy Graham, who counselled presidents and preached to millions across the world has died aged 99.
Mr Graham died at 8am local time on Wednesday at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, according to Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
With his steely features and piercing blue eyes, Mr Graham was a powerful figure when he preached in his prime, roaming the stage and hoisting a Bible as he declared Jesus Christ to be the only solution to humanity’s problems.
According to his ministry, he preached to more people than anyone else in history, preaching from his native North Carolina to communist North Korea during his 70 years at the pulpit.
Mr Graham attracted more than three million people to services during a single four-month visit to Australia in 1959.
In Melbourne, a staggering 143,000 people turned out for a history-making event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), while an estimated 150,000 people attended his Sydney meeting, held at two venues – the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds.
Mr Graham’s MCG service still holds the attendance record for the venue of the 1956 Olympics, which has hosted countless cricket and AFL matches since.
He also visited Australia in 1968 and 1979.
Dubbed “the Presidents’ Preacher”, Mr Graham became the de facto White House chaplain to several US 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.
“He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era,” said William Martin, author of A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story.
“No more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, came close to what he achieved.”
In a rare trip away from his home in his later years, Mr Graham had celebrated his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013, at a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, where about 800 guests, including Republican politician Sarah Palin, business magnates Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, and TV hostess Kathie Lee Gifford paid tribute.
The celebration featured a video of a sermon that his son Franklin said was Mr Graham’s last message to the nation.
Mr Graham had been working for a year on the video, which was aired on Fox News.
In it, he said America was “in great need of a spiritual awakening”.
His influence was fuelled by an organisation that carefully planned his religious campaigns, putting on international conferences and training seminars for evangelical leaders, Martin said.
Mr Graham’s mastery of the media was ground-breaking. In addition to radio and publishing, he used telephone lines, TV and satellites to deliver his message to homes, churches and theatres around the world.
About 77 million saw him preach in person while nearly 215 million more watched his crusades on television or through satellite link-ups, a Graham spokeswoman said.
Mr 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 HW Bush and spent the night in the White House on Mr Nixon’s first day in office.
George W Bush gave Mr Graham credit for helping him rediscover his faith and in 2010, when it was difficult for Mr Graham to travel, Barack Obama made the trip to the preacher’s log cabin home in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Current and former politicians paid tribute to Mr Graham, who according to former president Clinton “touched countless hearts and minds”.
Mr Bush, who was close friends with Mr Graham, said he inspired people “across the country and around the world.”
“I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man,” Mr Bush said in a statement.
Former -resident Jimmy Carter also said Mr Graham touched the lives of millions.
“Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve,” he said.
Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many – and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 21, 2018
The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
– With AAP