November 7th, 2013
06:08 PM ET

Billy Graham turns 95 at star-studded birthday

By Phil Gast, CNN

(CNN) - The Rev. Billy Graham took people to church, perhaps for the last time, as hundreds joined the iconic evangelist Thursday evening for his 95th birthday.

A guest list that included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Rev. Rick Warren and businessmen Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump came to pay tribute to a man beloved for his humility and faithfulness.

Because the frail Graham no longer has the strength to speak behind a lectern, his enduring message of salvation through Jesus Christ came in the form of "The Cross," a 30-minute DVD that made its debut at the celebration.

"He is my spiritual hero," said entertainer Ricky Skaggs shortly before the celebration began at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. "He exemplifies brokenness and humility."

Graham, in a wheelchair, entered the room to a standing ovation. Although he did not give a formal speech, he later made impromptu remarks from his table, thanking family and friends.

"The Cross" was filmed in part this year at Graham's remote mountaintop home in Montreat, east of Asheville.

His hearing and eyesight have dimmed, but Graham has remained true to his familiar themes.

"Our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I have wept as I have gone from city to city and I have seen how far people have wandered from God," the pastor said in what is expected to be his final video production. "Of all the things I have seen and heard, there is only one message that can change people's lives and hearts."

That message, as billions around the world have heard for more than six decades, is salvation and the need to live a new life because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Graham has provided counsel to generations of U.S. presidents beginning with Harry S. Truman. Staging revivals that he called "crusades" around the world, the founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has reached untold millions of people in person.

In the video, Graham said when he was young he did not foresee speaking to large audiences.

"As I look back over my life, it is full of surprises. I never thought I would become friends with people in different countries all over the world," he said.

Singers Lecrae and Lacey Sturm also are featured in the video, which can be watched online and will be played in churches across the country. It is part of the "My Hope America with Billy Graham" series. The production included recorded sermons and footage of a younger Graham.

Skaggs, singer Michael W. Smith and TV host Kathie Lee Gifford were among those leading the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Graham. About 850 well-wishers were on hand at the resort inn.

Palin told Graham that his Christian message is needed for a "great awakening" the nation and world need.

Graham is a member of the Rev. Don Wilton's church, Spartanburg  First Baptist in South Carolina, and he still watches Wilton's sermons on TV.

"He'll look at me and say, 'Don, let's talk about that second point you had on Sunday,'" said Wilton, who drives up at least once a week to Graham's home.

"My favorite part is when he puts his hands on me and prays with me," Wilton told CNN affiliate WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina.

Graham, a Charlotte native, began his missionary work in 1944 when he started speaking at rallies for the Youth for Christ/Campus Life ministry. Five years later, Graham was holding a "crusade" in tents in downtown Los Angeles.

Cliff Barrows was with Graham in the early years and for decades has served as music and program director.

Barrows, 90, turned to his boss on Thursday evening, paying an emotional tribute.

"I praise God for the journey we have had together. Thank you with all my heart for the privilege. Happy birthday."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • evangelicals • Leaders • Protestant • Sarah Palin

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soundoff (713 Responses)
  1. articleweb2

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.
    spiritual enlightenment in hawaii

    June 3, 2014 at 2:08 am |


    November 14, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  3. Billy Graham

    I hope you live to 130!

    November 13, 2013 at 2:54 am |
    • Rebbe Bupkis

      He bonded with Nixon on anti-Semitism, and his son is a hateful Islamophobe. Not a fan.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  4. The Cross


    November 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • sam stone

      sort of boring

      November 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        Billy G's message to America: The Christian con pays well !!!

        November 12, 2013 at 8:37 am |
        • ed dugan

          All those years of telling lies and parading as somebody special proves that BS pays off when you talk to people who never had a single thought of their own. What a phony that man is!!!

          November 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  5. Deins

    The cross is offensive to the love of Human Decency! Because Jesus was framed, bludgeoned and intently murdered on principal. For the simple message of "Love one another! We are all the Children of God". As we see ALEC and its tea party mocks and gives Jesus a bad reputation. Said to be a thing of Christian Conservative Values!

    November 11, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • a friend

      the cross , dear friend does offend people, but not for what you think, because the cross questions our faith in ourselves and how were living, we are afraid to go to the cross and because the cross reveals us for what we are in the eyes of christ, spoken by billy graham, maybe you should watch his video before you speak.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • dfsdf

        His was a political response which was entirely accurate. The Tea Party will be the first to accept and welcome the antichrist, I have no doubt. They are fueled by greed and suffering (just as Christ's own betrayed him.) I will not associate myself with the likes of Sarah Palin or Kathie Lee Gifford. Your reply was pulled from propaganda that had nothing to add or take from the O.P.

        November 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    November 11, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Deins

      So do the sins of ALEC and its Tea Party. In the notion that Jesus justifies it.

      November 11, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Michael

      If that were so, you wouldn't still be needing to spam that after all this time... your prayer would have "changed things."

      November 12, 2013 at 1:29 am |
      • JDD

        I will say that I have prayed, and prayer has changed things a number of times in my life.

        A classic definition of prayer is "turning the heart and mind toward God." Most people don't ever experience prayer because they think that prayer is, "asking for stuff from God and waiting half and hour." In this they really do treat God like an Americanized Santa Claus – and it's no wonder that they deride this 'version' of God and rightfully dismiss him as unreal. I'm kind of glad they do.

        Real prayer takes a weekend of quiet, and to be intellectually fair usually means taking a source book from someone who actually believes in God. "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" by John Paul II is a fairly good choice – as is "Mere Christianity" by C.S.Lewis. Find your road less taken, find your Thoreau cabin, and try it someday.

        November 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Robert

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      You sir are not a true Christians when you are lying for God!

      November 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  7. mandarax

    I pray that when he passes, this unholy alliance between religion and conservative politics goes with him. Somehow, I doubt it (I also don't pray – I'll choose to actually work against that alliance).

    November 11, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  8. Mira

    God bless you Rev. Billy Graham you will be rewarded for your faithfulness and commitment to the Lord.

    November 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      wow, how pompous

      November 11, 2013 at 6:18 am |
  9. opal porter

    "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 (NIV)

    November 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • sam stone

      quotes from a book only resonate with those who accept the authority of the book

      do you seriously desire ETERNAL life?

      November 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • JDD

        I do, Sam. I desire eternal life with God who knows and loves me, created me on purpose, created me with purpose. Regardless of whether you share that belief, why would you be surprised by that?

        November 11, 2013 at 11:07 am |
        • sam stone

          ETERNITY, JDD.

          A million years? Psshhhaw

          A billion years? A drop in a bucket

          Would seem to be awfully boring

          November 11, 2013 at 11:46 am |
        • sam stone

          JDD: There are those on this board wbo believe in predestination, that god knows people are going to do before they are born. Do you believe this? If so, how does that jibe with the concept of free will?

          If god knows that some people, before they are born, will not accept jesus as a savior (remember the whole predestination/omniscient god thing) but allows them to be born anyway, what does that say about the nature of god?

          November 11, 2013 at 11:51 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.