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Influential US evangelical preacher Billy Graham dies at 99

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Reverend Billy F. Graham speaks to the crowd on a rainy night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by AFP)

US Christian evangelist Billy Graham, one of the most influential Gospel preachers of the 20th Century and a counselor to 12 US presidents, has died aged 99.

The Southern Baptist preacher eventually became the world's foremost Christian evangelist, spreading a message of spiritual redemption at tent and stadium revival meetings.

In his over 60-year career, he is estimated to have preached to hundreds of millions of people, reaching millions of them through TV and conveying the Christian message on that scale.

An early sermon outside the US took place before 12,000 worshippers in 1954 in Haringay Arena, London, England.

He died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said.

Graham preached his final sermon in New York City in 2005 at the age of 86.

"I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all he has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven,” Graham said at his last sermon as the end of his life approached.

Graham avoided the sexual and financial scandals which dogged most contemporary evangelists. As a social conservative, he opposed same-sex marriage and abortion.

Dubbed "America's pastor," Graham was a spiritual adviser to every US president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Graham also has been credited with helping accelerate the end of racial segregation in Southern US states by refusing to preach to segregated audiences after 1953.

However, his son Franklin Graham, who is also a Christian evangelist, is regarded as one of America’s more prolific anti-Muslim bigots.

He came under criticism for comments he made about Islam in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks when he referred to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."

In an interview with Time magazine in 2010, Franklin Graham reportedly said that Islam "is a religion of hatred. It's a religion of war."

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