PBS Debuts BILLY GRAHAM Doc That Details His Life and Ministry

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PBS Debuts BILLY GRAHAM Doc That Details His Life and Ministry

By Movieguide® Staff

PBS debuted the BILLY GRAHAM documentary, part of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series, on May 17, sharing the evangelist’s life and ministry with viewers.

“BILLY GRAHAM explores the life and career of one of the best-known and most influential religious leaders of the 20th century,” according to the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE synopsis. “From modest beginnings on a North Carolina farm, Graham rose to prominence with a fiery preaching style, movie-star good looks and effortless charm. His early fundamentalist sermons harnessed the apocalyptic anxieties of a post-atomic world, exhorting audiences to adopt the only possible solution: devoting one’s life to Christ.  Graham became an international celebrity who built a media empire, preached to millions worldwide, and had the ear of tycoons, royalty and presidents. At age 99, he died a national icon, estimated to have preached in person to 210 million people. BILLY GRAHAM examines the evangelist’s extraordinary influence on American politics and culture, interweaving the voices of historians, scholars, witnesses, family, and Graham himself, to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of a singular figure in the American experience.”

Religion News reports that director Sarah Colt spent two years researching Graham through his sermons, audio recordings, and other interviews. 

Movieguide® explored some of Graham’s story in our obituary

Fame and prestige came early to The Rev. Billy Graham, who was born Nov. 7, 1918.

At 16, in the autumn of 1934, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ at a revival led by the Rev. Mordecai Ham, an itinerant preacher from Kentucky. While attending the Florida Bible Institute, he felt called to the ministry by God and wound up at Wheaton College with a degree in anthropology in 1943. It was there he met and married Ruth Bell, the daughter of a missionary surgeon who had gone to China. The same year, at age 24, he became pastor of a Baptist church in a suburb of Chicago, where he also tool over an hour of Sunday sermonizing and gospel singing on a Chicago radio station.

Shortly thereafter, Graham became the chief preacher for the Youth for Christ rallies run by a radio evangelist, the Rev. Torrey M. Johnson, and the owner of a religious bookstore, George W. Wilson. He and the two men then established the Graham Youth for Christ, which organized Christian “crusades” in the United States and Great Britain.

Then, at the age of 30, Graham began a three-week, 6,000-seat tent revival in Los Angeles. When the newspaper tycoon heard that Rev. Graham had converted Stuart Hamblen, radio’s first singing cowboy, he is said to have told his newspaper editors, “Puff Graham.” Graham became a national sensation and was only 35 when TIME magazine put him on its cover and when he spoke to more than 100,000 people at Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1954.

Since the 1950s, many of Graham’s crusades have been broadcast on national and international TV.

According to press reports, he was often recorded as saying, “This is not mass evangelism, but personal evangelism on a mass scale.”

As millions of people responded positively to Graham’s simple Gospel message, he started meeting personally with presidents and vice presidents, from Pres. Truman Eisenhower to Pres. Obama (he was too frail to meet with Pres. Trump after the inauguration but his son, Franklin, has prayed with Trump). For the most part, however, Graham mostly stayed out of politics, to concentrate on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and biblical principles whenever he spoke publicly.

Billy Graham also had a friendship with Queen Elizabeth II over the decades. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been.” Many professionals in the entertainment industry found their lives transformed by the preacher too. TODAY host Kathie Lee Gifford said that Billy Graham “changed [her] life forever,” and Johnny Cash, who had a long struggle with drugs and fame, was transformed by Billy because of Jesus and would speak at Graham’s crusades.

Graham’s heart for people and sharing the gospel was heard by people in over 185 countries and territories during his life.  

“Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world,” Graham said.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE also put together multiple articles and digital features exploring the legacy of the late preacher. Explore more here, and watch the trailer below.


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