William Franklin Graham, Jr. was born on November 7, 1918, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to parents William and Morrow Graham. Graham was the first of four children raised on the family's dairy farm in Charlotte. In hindsight, there was little indication that Graham would one day preach the Christian gospel to as many as 215 million people in live audiences over 185 countries. Graham has been credited with preaching to more individuals than anyone else in history, not counting the additional millions he has addressed through radio, television and the written word.

 After high school, Graham moved to Tennessee to enroll in the conservative Christian school, Bob Jones College. However, he felt disconnected from the school's rigid doctrine and soon transferred to the Florida Bible Institute. While in Florida, Graham joined a Southern Baptist Convention church, where he was ordained in 1939.

After graduating from the Florida Bible Institute with a bachelor's in theology, Graham moved to Illinois and enrolled at Wheaton College for further spiritual training. He also met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell, at this time. Bell was the daughter of a missionary and lived with her family in China until she turned 17. After graduating with a bachelor's in anthropology, Graham and Bell were married on August 13, 1943. They would eventually raise five children together.

After a brief stint as pastor of The Village Church of Western Springs in Western Springs, Illinois, Graham became the first full-time staff member of Youth for Christ, a nondenominational evangelistic organization focused on youth and military personnel. He preached in public rallies throughout the United States and in Europe in the immediate postwar era.

A 1949 citywide preaching Crusade in Los Angeles unexpectedly vaulted Billy Graham into the public eye. Originally scheduled for three weeks, the meeting extended to eight weeks. Night after night, crowds spilled out of a huge tent that became known as the Canvas Cathedral. Major newspapers and magazines spotlighted the story, and almost overnight Billy Graham became a household name. A subsequent 12-week Crusade in London (1954) brought him international recognition, and a 16-week Crusade in New York (1957) confirmed his position as one of history’s leading Christian evangelists.

For decades, Billy Graham held numerous preaching Crusades in stadiums and sports arenas across the United States and Canada, as well as in India, Africa, Australia, South America, the Middle East, Europe, and other parts of the world. A 1977 trip to communist-led Hungary opened a new phase in his ministry, eventually enabling him to conduct preaching Crusades in virtually every country of the former Eastern Bloc (including the Soviet Union), as well as China and North Korea.

Graham passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, on February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.

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