Evangelical leader Billy Graham passed away Wednesday morning at his North Carolina home. He was 99.
But his rise to stardom in the Christian world began right here in 1949 on the outskirts of downtown L.A. Graham launched a tent crusade that lasted eight weeks, and he drew 350,000 people to hear his sermons.
"He brought evangelicalism from what many thought was a backwater, no-account faith, to a leading political and religious force," says Diane Winston, head of the USC Annenberg Knight Program on Media and Religion.
Graham was known for reaching out to the youths of his day, including counter-culture hippies who other faith leaders wrote off.
While in L.A., he also caught the attention of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers plastered Graham on their front pages.
"Hearst knew that Billy Graham was staunchly anti-Communist," Winston says. "He told his editors to 'puff' Graham – in other words, promote Graham."
That attention helped propel Graham's profile to the front of America's consciousness.
His impact on L.A.'s religious life extends to this day.
"If you look at Fuller Seminary, for example, that very much bears the hallmarks of Graham's influence," she says. "They're open, they're seeking to win people over through compassion and through positive outreach."