ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) The Rev. Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday Thursday with well-wishers who serenaded him and praised him for his spiritual leadership.
A crowd of roughly 900 people attended the two-hour party for the North Carolina-born evangelist at an Asheville hotel. Graham’s son acknowledged beforehand that it wouldn’t be a long party.
“We’re going to have a short evening,” the Rev. Franklin Graham said. “Daddy’s 95.”
The elder Graham was flanked by real estate mogul Donald Trump and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Franklin Graham said prior to the event that former President Bill Clinton, who had been listed as one of the guests, couldn’t attend.
“Billy Graham, we need you around another 95 years,” Palin said. “We need Billy Graham’s message to be heard, I think, today more than ever.”
The event began with the debut of a new video of Billy Graham from his home as part of a nationwide religious outreach called “My Hope.”
The video features clips of Graham filmed this year at his home in Montreat. Also included are audio excerpts of his early days, when he took his crusades around the nation and the world.
The elder Graham has been hospitalized for a number of health-related issues in the past few years and now uses a wheelchair. While he wasn’t scheduled to make a speech, he did offer thanks to Cliff Barrows, who led the choirs that sang at Billy Graham crusades for decades. Barrows returned the favor.
“Happy Birthday, dear Bill. I thank God for every remembrance of you,” Barrows said.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren directed the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to Graham. Among those on the stage singing to Graham were country singer Ricky Scaggs and “Today” host Kathie Lee Gifford.
Each table had a cupcake with a candle in it, and a medallion noting the birthday celebration on it.