Christian evangelist and ordained minister Billy Graham, the influential Baptist preacher who shared a close friendship with Queen Elizabeth II and provided spiritual counsel to numerous U.S. presidents, died Wednesday morning at his mountaintop home in Montreat, North Carolina. He was 99.
Graham’s spokesman Mark DeMoss confirmed the news to PEOPLE.
The preacher had been treated in recent years for cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1989.
Graham spent six decades preaching on television and radio — principally on the Billy Graham Crusades, which he began in 1947. Thought his numerous sermons (and 34 books), Graham has said to have reached more than 200 million people throughout his lifetime of work. He retired in 2005.
His crusade ministry began in 1947 when he was just 29. Over the next 57 years, Graham conducted more than 400 crusades on six continents. His final crusade was held in 2005 when he was 86, over three days at New York’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park. More than 230,000 people attended.
He was an outspoken advocate for racial integration in the 1950s and ’60s, even working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was a spiritual advisor to a sea of American presidents, praying with every U.S. commander in chief from Harry Truman to Barack Obama — earning him the nickname “America’s Pastor.” He frequently provided spiritual counsel to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, America’s highest civilian honor. George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all attended the Billy Graham Museum and Library dedication in 2007 in Charlotte.
On Wednesday, George H.W. Bush released a statement on the passing of his “dear friend” Graham, with Bush spokesman Jim McGrath noting on Twitter that the pastor “was with the Bushes in the White House residence the night Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait commenced Jan 16 1991.”
Graham also had a close friendship with Queen Elizabeth II and was frequently invited by the royal family to special events. Their friendship was seen onscreen in the second season of Netflix’s The Crown.
In 2013, Graham delivered his final sermon in a video message he presented at his 95th birthday party for a crowd that included Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and North Carolina governor Pat McCrory.
“Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening,” he said in the video, titled “My Hope America.” “There have been times that I’ve wept as I’ve gone from city to city, and I’ve seen how far people have wandered from God.”
“With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth – that [Christ] loves you [and is] willing to forgive you of all your sins,” he added.
Graham was married to wife Ruth McCue Bell for 64 years before her death in 2007 at the age of 87. He has five children — daughters Anne Graham Lotz, Gigi Graham and Ruth Graham, and sons Franklin III Graham and Nelson Graham — as well as 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. He is survived by all of them, as well as his sister, Jean Ford.
A private funeral service is planned at the Billy Graham Library, on a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts for the ongoing ministry of evangelism at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association may be made online at BillyGraham.org