Billy Graham was the son of a Baptist preacher who, at the age of 12, gave his first sermon. He later attended Bob Jones University, where he met his future wife, Ruth Bell. He served as editor of the student newspaper and graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in 1935. After graduation, he preached for two years at his father's church in Charlotte, North Carolina
In 1937, he left to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montreat, North Carolina. His father died in 1944, and Graham moved to Los Angeles to take over as pastor of the Los Angeles Baptist Church.
Graham worked for five years as an advertising executive before becoming a full-time Christian evangelist. He began preaching at local churches on Sundays and for $100 per week on Saturdays.
His first crusade took place on February 21, 1948. Graham's average speaking fee increased from $1,000 per engagement at the beginning of his ministry to more than $50 million per year by 1999.
Graham reached millions of people through radio and television; his books; magazine articles; appearances on numerous network programs; and his ministry training centers around the world. He became one of America's most famous evangelists.
He had more than 500 crusades (largely revival meetings) across 53 countries on six continents before turning over management of all his worldwide evangelistic organizations to his son Franklin upon his retirement in 2005.
Graham held evangelical views about Israel but refused to support any specific political parties or policies regarding Israel until after its statehood had been achieved (in May 1980). Graham also visited the Soviet Union during the Cold War but refused requests for him to preach there, due to concerns about being imprisoned or killed for doing so as a Christian minister. In 1989 Graham told CBS News that as a Christian minister he could not accept money from both sides during World War II because he saw it as contradicting Jesus Christ's message of non-violence.
In 1995 President Bill Clinton invited Graham to attend a presidential prayer breakfast meeting with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other world leaders who attended a meeting with the U.S.
president in Washington D.C.. The event was typically held annually by previous U.S presidents including Ronald Reagan before Clinton took office as president in 1993, but was not held again until 2001 when Bill Clinton invited Graham back after meeting him in Dallas following a memorial service honoring former President John F Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery where Clinton was also attending prayer