ASHEVILLE, N.C. — At 95 and in frail health, Billy Graham often resists family entreaties to make excursions from his mountaintop home. But the nation's most famous evangelist is expected to attend a birthday celebration Thursday night that will feature hundreds of well-wishers and what is being characterized as his final sermon.
In a video that was recorded over the past year, Graham delivers his familiar message about the saving power of Jesus Christ and expresses concern about the nation's direction. "Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening," he declares. "There have been times that I've wept as I've gone from city to city and I've seen how far people have wandered from God."
Graham is white-haired and heavier-set now than he once was, seated in a favorite chair at home with his dog by his side. The half-hour film shows photos and clips that underscore his ministry's intersection with decades of American life and politics, showing Graham alongside presidents (John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton) as well as with Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II — and Johnny Carson.
The video, titled My Hope America, will be aired on dozens of Christian and other TV stations across the country and at thousands of churches.
"This will be my father's last message to the nation," his son, Franklin Graham, said in an interview before the celebration. "He won't be able to do this again."
Among an estimated 900 guests who have accepted invitations to the dinner at an Asheville resort are North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and New York real-estate magnate Donald Trump.
Singers Ricky Skaggs and Michael W. Smith are scheduled to lead the audience in a refrain of Happy Birthday.
Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, says his father's mind is clear but his energy often wanes. "Sometimes I try to get him out to get a hamburger, just to get him out of the house," he says, persisting when his father demurs. "He'll look at me half-disgusted and say, 'Wait until you turn 95.' "