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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. ReligiousRight

    The guy is a money grubbing fraud.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • moopsey

      except that fraud can be proven... it's been the perfect scam for millenia... ever since the first snakeoil saleman lost his business to a volcanic eruption or earthquake and realized he could sell protection to the other less-shrew villagers... "hey villagers... good news... I talk directly to the almighty and if you give me ten percent of what you earn, I'll be your personal representative and as such, can make sure you need never feel fear again..."

      November 9, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  2. I hereby demand

    I just feel like, in my heart, that jeebus adherents are frothy and desperate to hang onto their fantasies. Isn't that a mental illness?

    November 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  3. Colin

    This guy and his sons are as passe as Gilligan's Island.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
  4. Truth

    It's clear that the Lord and His Bible is real, and that Genesis 3:6-7, 2 Peter Chapter 3 and Romans 1:18-31 are alive and well on here, namely that the world is full of those who refuse to accept the love of Jesus and the truth of His Word simply because they want what THEY want. It has nothing to do with the whole "there is a God" or "there isn't a God", it's more about the cramp in sinful self that keeps them claiming that "God isn't real", that Christians are "looking for handouts", and that Christians are "bigots". I pray that you listen to Rev. Graham's message so that you won't be like the rich man (in Luke 16) who ignored Lazarus and when both died, Lazarus was with the Lord in Heaven while the rich, self-serving man looked on from torment. And he said Luke 16:27, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send Lazarus to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment (hell).’ 29 But he said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father , but if someone goes to them from the dead (like Lazarus or even me), they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” If you're right, why are so so rabidly ticked at the mention of Jesus? The Word of God is there and obviously working due to convicting you and rubbing your god of self the wrong way. Or it's because of a deep pain in your past you're afraid of letting anyone see. It's not to condemn you but to save you. All you have to do is put down your riled up "there is no God" and "I want what I want" rants and become what God made you to be, a child in relationship with his/her loving Creator with Heaven to look forward to. You won't function or last past physical death if you don't, and it's noone's fault or God's if that happens but your own sin. Christians aren't perfect, but have been forgiven and God wants this for all people.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • Mopery

      Funny, that's not what Osiris said...

      November 7, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • I hereby demand

      Pascal's wager is so...last millennium – scaremonger!
      What if it turns out you were wrong and waisted your Sundays in a building instead of out with nature? Epic failure in life.

      November 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
      • fools

        science

        experiment

        seek jesus with every ounce of strength u can muster and u will find him. no wager. if he doesn't exist, he cannot become real to u. u will KNOW

        November 7, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
        • G to the T

          You make a pretty huge assumption there (that none of us used to be Christians). Truth is I was a christian, believed in the bible and jesus with all of my heart, and now... I don't.

          November 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Osceola Steve

      @ Truth...........Well said. Thank you . .....Truth indeed !

      November 8, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • Fan2C

      @Truth,
      " 30 And he said, ‘No, father , but if someone goes to them from the dead (like Lazarus or even me), they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

      This almighty and omniscient god is totally stymied about how to convince everyone?

      -and-

      As for " "I want what I want" - it sounds like you are the greedy one. This life is not enough for you. You crave MORE, and not only that, a PERFECT, ETERNAL more.

      November 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  5. Mopery

    Another life-long charlatan nearing the end of his days, truly he was blessed by the profit.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • ROCKY

      never a fan.
      god, bring him close to u

      November 7, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • Misty eyes

      Billy G was a for-profit 'prophet' (and not a reluctant prophet... that's for sure). What a money-grubbing family of shysters.

      November 9, 2013 at 12:49 am |
      • yeppers

        I wish I could make up a scam that takes 10 percent and can never be prosecuted for fraud (unless you get as arrogant as Pat Robertson who used donations to pay for servicing his diamond-mining operations in Africa... though he used his political connection in Virginia to avoid conviction)

        November 9, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  6. I hereby demand

    Man, you xtian type folk is getting schooled today. Probly cuz you studied John the Baptist when you shoulda stuck to geography.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  7. Jason in atlanta

    graham's ministry has always been focused on one thing....God's love. While you may disagree with his beliefs, there is nothing evil about him or his message. It poses no harm to non-believers.
    If Christians in America would stop focusing on the actions of others and begin following Jesus's greatest teaching...to love one another; to have have compassion for your fellow man; to withhold judgement; to give of thy self when their is a need....if Christians would begin living out the greatest commandment, then our world would be a better place.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • I hereby demand

      Exclusion is evil. Cons, no liberals is exclusion. You lose. Your pal, I hereby d.

      November 7, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  8. nvmature

    He was against the civil rights movement. He was against protesting the Vietnam War. He refused to tell Protestants it was OK to vote for a Catholic when Kennedy ran in 1960. People forget their history, assuming they ever knew it in the first place. But the thing about history is it sits there, waiting, and all we have to do is look. Rev. Graham’s record is no big secret — sucking up to power starting with Harry Truman, flattering whoever was in the Oval Office, tsk-tsking whatever epic social movement was roiling the country. In the 1950s Graham — to his credit — wouldn’t speak to segregated audiences. But he wouldn’t throw his influence behind the civil rights movement either, brushing off lunch-counter sitters and freedom marchers as those who “become addicted to sitting, squatting, demonstrating and striking for what they want.” Ten years later, the nation was protesting the Vietnam War, and it was Rev. Graham’s turn to mock the 1965 Peace March on Washington.
    “It seems the only way to gain attention today is to organize a march and protest something,” he told a rally, his pal Lyndon Johnson smiling on the stage beside him.

    The list goes on. He helped Nixon pick the corrupt, bullying Spiro T. Agnew as a running mate, and was the hallelujah chorus when Nixon raged darkly about the Jews and their “stranglehold” on the media.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Mopery

      What are you doing talking about facts? Facts have no bearing on any religion...

      November 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  9. nvmature

    Was a late convert to the Civil Rights Movement. What God did he believe in when he was asking King to not ask for so much?

    November 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Mopery

      The only god any preacher really believes in: The Almighty Dollar!

      November 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • no sir

      mlk jr was devout

      November 7, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
      • Mopery

        Yeah he was, so devout that he had how many mistresses again?

        November 8, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  10. shoddymill

    All the people calling him a scammer, please produce your evidence of financial impropriety or any other misconduct on his part. There are con artists working the religion game, but this isn't one of them. If you don't like religion, that's your choice, but Billy Graham has walked the talk. If you can find a lick of scandal surrounding him, you must be sitting on the story of the century.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • I hereby demand

      Cons, no liberals at the end...scandal!

      November 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  11. kissmyas

    Let all these old Evangelical farts be a constant reminder (like Adolf Hitler, George W Bush) of how truly dangerous evil human beings can be to society when allowed to attain power.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  12. Tom

    Anybody criticizing this old man just shut up and go somewhere else.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • I hereby demand

      Don't tell me what to do...

      November 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  13. Russ 139

    If there is a heaven, I'll wager that the multi-millionaire preacher with the mountaintop home won't have any better place than the two lesbians that are raising a family.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  14. sybaris

    Still fleecing the flock at 95.

    Religion, the ultimate ponzi scheme

    November 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  15. Pope Francis to Mr. Graham on His Birthday

    "O si bili si ergo fortibusis in aro. Nonobili demis trux. Sewatis inem? Cowsen dux."

    November 7, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  16. Robert Brown

    I just watched the video, if you are an atheist please watched it.

    http://myhopewithbillygraham.org

    November 7, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • sybaris

      why?

      November 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        It could be a life changing experience.

        November 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
        • sybaris

          If it's anything about religion and the worship of god(s) no thanks.

          But here's one that could change your life because it's based on evidence and not fairy tales.

          [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zheT7naq1wc&w=640&h=360]

          Enjoy!

          November 7, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
      • JM

        Why not?

        November 7, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  17. Olaf Big

    He exemplifies brokenness and humility? Since when "brokenness" (and awkward word constructions)
    is a virtue? Does he also exemplify exploitativeness by any chance?

    November 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • james

      Humility? More like hypocrisy.

      November 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  18. kajal

    those whom God actually loves should already be with Him by this time.
    Don't make us all suffer longer

    November 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  19. allenwoll

    Scammer !

    November 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  20. Topher

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Graham!

    November 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
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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.