Name at birth: William Franklin Graham, Jr.
One of the best-known Christian evangelists of the 20th century, Billy Graham gained world attention in 1949 with a tent revival in downtown Los Angeles that was scheduled for three weeks and lasted six. In the ensuing decades, "Billy Graham Crusades" consistently drew audiences of thousands to arenas and stadiums throughout the world. He founded an association that continues those and other ministries, including an "Hour of Decision" radio program, televised crusades, a newspaper column, Decision magazine and films. Graham consulted and prayed with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama -- a fact that solidified his popular status as the nation's preacher but also opened him to criticism. At the same time, his ministry remained free of the financial and sexual scandals that marred the careers of prominent contemporaries such as Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.
Graham made his “commitment to Christ” at age 16 through the ministry of a traveling evangelist, Mordecai Ham… He was ordained as a Southern Baptist and pastored one congregation (First Baptist Church, Western Springs, Ill.), but the rest of his ministry was deliberately nondenominational… He and Ruth McCue Bell met as students at Weaton (Ill.) College and were married in 1943, the year he graduated. They had five children: Virginia (born 1945), Anne (b. 1948), Ruth (b. 1950), William Franklin III (b. 1952), and Nelson (b. 1958). The elder son, known as Franklin, is now CEO of his father’s ministry, although popular culture remains undecided as to who will be the next “great American evangelist”… Graham was a co-founder of Christianity Today magazine.