Rev. Billy Graham, who died yesterday at home in North Carolina effectively launched his career as one of the 20th century’s most dominant pastor in South Los Angeles.
Over eight weeks in 1949, he drew 350,000 people to a “canvas cathedral” at Washington Boulevard and Hill Street for 65 sermons in his first major crusade. By the time the crusade ended, he was known around the nation.
A folksy Southern Baptist minister, Graham was in poor health in recent years, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, macular degeneration and respiratory problems.
But his reach had been staggering. He preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, according to figures compiled by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He wrote more than two dozen books, including a 1997 bestselling autobiography, “Just As I Am,’ and counseled nearly every American president since Harry Truman, most recently meeting with Barack Obama. He also attended or participated in eight presidential inaugurations.
His last crusade in Southern California was on Nov. 21, 2004, when he addressed about 82,000 people at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“I really pray … on speculation that this may be the last sermon I’ll ever preach,” a frail Graham, 86 at the time, said to laughter. “Because it may be. But I don’t know. It’s all in God’s hands.”
Over his life, Graham also held crusades at East Los Angeles College in 1958, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1963, Anaheim Stadium in 1969 and 1985 and the Hollywood Bowl in 1974.