(UPI) — Rev. Billy Graham, one of the world’s most prominent evangelists, died Wednesday morning at the age of 99.

Graham served as a counselor or minister to a dozen U.S. presidents, preaching to 215 million people in 185 countries around the world.

The evangelist was born in 1918 and grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Given the title of “America’s Pastor,” Graham was ordained in Florida in 1943. He later received a solid foundation in the Scriptures at Florida Bible Institute, now the Trinity College of Florida. In 1943, Graham graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois.

Following World War II, Graham preached throughout the United States and Europe and was thrust into international fame during the Los Angeles Crusade in 1949, one of his earliest evangelism drives.

Graham also visited with Queen Elizabeth II in Britain on more than one occasion.

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In his decades-long career, Graham authored 33 books. Many of his books became top-sellers. His autobiography, “Just As I Am,” appeared simultaneously on the three top best-seller lists in one week.

Other Graham accolades include the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The world-renowned evangelist retired to his mountain home in Montreat, North Carolina 12 years ago. His last crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches and 82 denominations.

Graham and his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, who died in 2007, had five children and 19 grandchildren. His son, Franklin Graham, later took over his ministries.

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