Skip to main content /transcript



Franklin Graham Continues Father's Legacy

Aired April 14, 2001 - 11:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: He was a Harley-riding rebel.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Drinking the beer and going out to the parties and running around with the different girlfriends or whatever.

ANNOUNCER: A daredevil who followed a call to the world's hot spots.

DENNIS AGAJANIAN, MUSICIAN: He's used to bombs going off around him, and hearing bullets going by him and ricocheting off.

ANNOUNCER: Now he's following his famous father to the pulpit and the political stage. The story of Franklin Graham on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

Dynasties are not limited to politics. Three months ago, the son of a former U.S. president heard his own inaugural prayer delivered by the son of the world's most famous preacher. When George W. Bush assumed the office held by his father, Franklin Graham gave the prayer invoked for decades by his father, Billy Graham.

Now Franklin is getting ready to assume the spiritual mantle of his aging and ailing father. During this season of Easter and Passover, we look at how a prodigal son hopes to carry on his father's legacy.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: But on the third day, God raised him from the grave...

BRUCE BURKHARDT, NARRATOR: The down-home drawl is familiar. So are the gestures.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: And make your way to an island, come stand here.

BURKHARDT: And the words.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I believe that Jesus Christ is your son.

BURKHARDT: A message of faith and hope.

BILLY GRAHAM: Your life can be saved. It can be transformed.

BURKHARDT: A message Billy Graham has been preaching for half a century.

BILLY GRAHAM: From this moment on.

BURKHARDT: But 48-year-old Franklin Graham always resisted following his famous father down the sawdust trail.

BILLY GRAHAM: That would be like being a lightning rod for all of these comparisons.

BURKHARDT: Especially for a former bad boy who rebelled against his father's saintly ways.

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ, SISTER: He has that wild side, which Daddy does not. But his heart is the same.

BURKHARDT: It wasn't easy growing up the son of a world-famous evangelist. William Franklin Graham III was born July 14, 1952, named after his father.

LOTZ: I don't bear Daddy's name, you know, and I think it's harder on Franklin.

BURKHARDT: A father who was gone for months at a time, leaving his wife, Ruth, to raise the five children virtually alone.

WILLIAM MARTIN, BILLY GRAHAM'S BIOGRAPHER: Sometimes she would take a jacket of his out and just put it next to her on the pillow to remind her of the scent of her man.

LOTZ: Being raised by a single parent, and giving your father up, when he spends more time with his secretary or a news reporter than he does with me, that hurts. He was our daddy, and we knew he preached and he went and served Jesus, and so I was glad to let him go.

BURKHARDT: Franklin grew up in a roomy log cabin tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: There wasn't a lot to be involved in, so I went home and got my gun and went to the woods and hunt, or got the fishing pole and we fished. I just loved the outdoors.

BURKHARDT: He got his sense of adventure from his mother, the daughter of missionaries in China. There was nothing stuffy about her.

LOTZ: As a teenager, I was coming back for school and went through this little town of Black Mountain. And this big black Harley-Davidson passed me going the other direction with a guy dressed in black leather and goggles and helmet. And this woman on the back, dressed in black leather and goggles and a helmet. And I was past them before my head swung around. I really thought it was my mother on the back of that motorcycle. BURKHARDT: Franklin was born a rebel. His mother had her hands full keeping him in line.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: My mother was going to insist that I got up in time to get to school at a proper time, so I started locking my door so she couldn't come in. And she started sliding firecrackers under the door. And she thought that was fun.

BURKHARDT: In the meantime, Franklin's father, Billy, was making a name for himself as a preacher.

BILLY GRAHAM: They're more concerned with pleasure, more concerned with money...

BURKHARDT: The former Fuller Brush salesman began holding evangelistic crusades around the country, attracting the attention of "Time" magazine's publisher.

MARTIN: Henry Luce began to have reporters from "Time" and "Life" covering him. And so that, that was really the publicity burst that lifted him above the crowd of young revivalists who were working at that time.

BILLY GRAHAM: You can have joy and peace and happiness in your life such as you've never known.

BURKHARDT: Back home, outside of Montreat, North Carolina, Billy Graham's growing fame tempted some overzealous fans to invade his privacy.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: There was one man who came when I was a little boy. I remember he felt that the end of the world was coming, and he made a threat towards the family. And Daddy just hit the guy. And I remember, I mean, the guy went right down on the ground.

BURKHARDT: Hardly the image of Billy Graham the world had come to know.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: He was tough. He decked me a few times.

BURKHARDT: When the story of Franklin Graham continues, his rebellion against the faith of his father.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Drinking the beer and going out to the parties and running around with the different girlfriends...

KAGAN: Franklin Graham's walk on the wild side, coming up.

But first, this week's celebrity transitions in Passages.

ANNOUNCER: A rap on the wrist for Eminem. The hip-hop bad boy beats jail time with a plea that ends in probation. The controversial rapper had faced up to face years in prison on a felony weapons charge.

EMINEM, RAPPER: I'm just glad to get this over with. ANNOUNCER: A quiz pro's trivial pursuits pay off big time.


REGIS PHILBIN, HOST: ... just won $2 million...


ANNOUNCER: Kevin Olmstead broke the bank on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" collecting what is believed to be the greatest jackpot in game show history. And what is Olmstead planning to do with his $2.18 million? He's going to splurge on a minivan.

Hey, Tiger Woods, you just won your fourth straight major golf championship. What are you going to do next? Ironically, the answer just might be that he's going to Disney World. Indeed, the hottest sports superstar on the planet has reportedly inked a deal to become a pitchman for the Walt Disney Company.

You'll find more Passages and entertainment news in this week's "People" magazine. We'll be right back.


BURKHARDT: Franklin Graham always had a taste for adventure. He's been piloting planes since he was a teenager.

LOTZ: He loves to live on that adrenaline rush, you know, whether it's an airplane or a fast car or a motorcycle or doing something on the edge.

BURKHARDT: Growing up, he was a Harley-riding rebel who would often skip church to ride his motorbike. Franklin loved life in the fast lane.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I just wanted to have fun, drinking the beer and going out to the parties and running around with the different girlfriends.

BURKHARDT: He even inhaled, once.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I went with these guys, and they had a little soapstone pipe. Oh, here, Franklin, try this. I said, Yeah, sure why not? And it burned. This hurts, I don't even like it. So that was my only experience.

BURKHARDT: His family sent him to Stony Brook, an elite Christian boarding school on Long Island. He dropped out. He was later expelled from LeTourneau College in east Texas for breaking curfew by piloting a plane with a girlfriend all the way to Atlanta.

LOTZ: I think his rebellion was probably a little bit what I was going through. It was a rebellion against other people and their expectations.

BURKHARDT: During a conference in Switzerland, Franklin's parents took him to a Lake Geneva restaurant on his 22nd birthday. His father confronted him.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: He looked me in the eye and he said, "Franklin, I want you to know that your mother and I sense there is a struggle for the soul of your life. And you're going to have to make a choice." And when he said it, it was like a -- kind of like a knife. I've never been stabbed, but -- I mean, it just kind of pierced me. And it -- be honest with you, it kind of made me mad, because I knew deep down inside he was right.

BURKHARDT: After driving across Europe with a bottle of Scotch in his hand, the prodigal son decided to come home.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: We were in Israel, and I just got on my knees one night beside my bed, and I just said, God, I have sinned against you, and I'm sorry.

BURKHARDT: Shortly afterward, he married a hometown girl, Jane Austin Cunningham, on his parents' front lawn. During the ceremony, he publicly told everyone how his life had changed.

LOTZ: I knew that it was the truth, that it wasn't an act he was putting on for the families. I knew that was a real commitment he was making.

BURKHARDT: With his new commitment, Franklin Graham began looking for a new direction. Along came family friend Bob Pierce (ph), who invited him to travel the world.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: We went to the gutter areas of the world where people were literally living in the gutters, the trash heaps of the world. And he just said, "Franklin, this is where God has called me. And we can make a difference."

BURKHARDT: Franklin Graham decided to help him with his new ministry, called Samaritan's Purse, taking his own avenue away from his father's work. The relief work has taken Franklin Graham to the world's hot spots, from Sudan to Somalia, from Bosnia to Kosovo.

LOTZ: And I think that portion of him that loves a thrill is something God has given him to send him into areas of the world where somebody like me would never go.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... and a kind of explosion to collapse these buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's unbelievable.

BURKHARDT: Dennis Agajanian (ph), a Christian musician and one of Franklin Graham's best friends, has traveled with him all over the world.

DENNIS AGAJANIAN, MUSICIAN: He's not afraid to die. I mean, you go -- this guy -- "We could die," he said. "Dennis, let's pray we get to stay alive tonight," because automatic fire going off all night and mortar rockets going off all night and Sarajevo, and he's out there, and he gets -- he doesn't even get in an armored personnel carrier, he gets in a van and he goes right where these children are, and he's handing presents to the kids.

BURKHARDT: Franklin Graham's work with Samaritan's Purse has not only landed him in danger, it's also landed him in the middle of controversy. During the Persian Gulf War, the organization sent tens of thousands of Arabic New Testaments to U.S. troops to hand out in Saudi Arabia. He got an irate call from a chaplain in General Schwarzkopf's office.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: He said, "We're not here to evangelize the Saudis. We're here on a military mission." And I said, "Sir, I appreciate that, and all of us in this country support you. But I'm not in the military."

BURKHARDT: In March, the work of Samaritan's Purse in quake- ravaged El Salvador came under scrutiny. The U.S. Agency for International Development questioned whether the group was using government funds to evangelize. The agency later cleared Samaritan's Purse of violating any federal guidelines.

KEN ISAACS, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: We have gotten into situations where people from our own country or people from the U.N. feel like that we're some kind of Bible-thumping right-wing weirdo group of something, you know. And that's frustrating.

BURKHARDT: The relief agency has a budget of $131 million. "Smart Money" puts Samaritan's Purse number one on its list of the most efficiently run religious charities.

One of Franklin Graham's pet projects, Operation Christmas Child. Through it, Samaritan's Purse has delivered gifts packed in shoeboxes to some 9 million needy children around the world.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: When a little kid comes up and they tug on your pant leg and you look down, and there's a little 3- or 4-year-old street kid, and they look up at you, and they say, "Thank you," it's wonderful.

BURKHARDT: While Billy Graham was preaching in his crusades, the younger Graham was ministering through Samaritan's Purse. He was often urged to follow his father into the pulpit, a path he didn't want to take.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: My father can go through the big stadiums, but I'll just go through the highways and the byways.

BURKHARDT: But that attitude would soon change. When Franklin Graham's story continues, a scare concerning his father and the effect it would have on both their ministries.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: My mother, she said, "I just spoke to your father. He's OK, he's in the hospital, but Franklin, he wants you to come and preach for him tonight."

KAGAN: A crisis for the Graham family, just ahead. But before we take a break, another evangelical empire that ran into trouble. Here's this week's Where Are They Now? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE PTL CLUB")

JIM BAKKER: Welcome to "The PTL Club"!


ANNOUNCER: In the late 1980s, the PTL Ministries was rocked by a sex and money scandal that sent founder Jim Bakker to prison. So where are Jim and wife Tammy Faye Baker now?

Tammy Faye divorced Jim during his prison term and remarried his best friend, Ro Mesner (ph). She's the star of a critically acclaimed documentary. Now a free man, Jim has also remarried and currently counsels other ministers who have fallen from grace. Son Jay, pierced and tattooed, runs a ministry in Atlanta for troubled teens. He just published his first book, appropriately titled, "Son of a Preacher Man."


BURKHARDT: All his life, Franklin Graham had resisted following his father into the pulpit.

BILLY GRAHAM: We find that people are more concerned with things than they are with the things of God.

BURKHARDT: But an evangelist who worked with Billy Graham, John Wesley White, had a different idea.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: He came to me one day, he said, "I think God has called you to preach." And I kind of looked at him. And I've always loved it when people, you know, had these word -- a word of the Lord for you. Believe me, don't -- you know, if God's got a word, He'll tell me, and He doesn't need to tell you to tell me. I -- He's going to tell me Himself, you know.

BURKHARDT: White was persistent. In 1989, he finally talked Franklin Graham into preaching at a crusade in Juneau, Alaska.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: So that night, after I preached, I felt in my heart, no, God was calling me. And I had been resisting it really out of pride, because I didn't want to be compared to my father. And that was the wrong reason.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... come to him through Christ...

BURKHARDT: After that, Franklin Graham decided to devote a portion of his time preaching with his father's ministry.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... and tonight, you can have a new beginning...

BURKHARDT: He began holding his own crusades, both in the U.S. and overseas. His crusades -- he calls them festivals -- are a little hipper than his father's. They feature rock bands and Christian pop stars. But in 1995, a scare involving his father threw Franklin's preaching career into question.

BILLY GRAHAM: Excuse me, I am going to sit down.

BURKHARDT: The day before a big crusade in Toronto, Billy Graham became ill.

BILLY GRAHAM: I'm very sorry, doctor, but I think I'm going to have to call that at the last point.

BURKHARDT: He then collapsed with a bleeding colon and was rushed to the hospital. He told Ruth he wanted Franklin to come take his place, but Billy Graham's local board wanted a better-known evangelist.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I get my message ready, and just before we're to go to the stadium, one of my father's men knocked on the door and just said, "Franklin, the local committee has decided to choose somebody else to preach tonight, and not you."

LOTZ: I was extremely upset, and even approached the committee, the Canadian committee and all that, and felt that it was exceedingly unfair. Even if it was the right decision, the way it was done was dead wrong.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Her fingernails came out. She was going to defend her brother, you know, and -- but bless her heart, she was -- she defended me, and I just -- "Anne, let us back off and not worry about it."

BILLY GRAHAM: I'm deeply touched and moved.

BURKHARDT: Billy Graham recovered and returned to preaching. But he began to think about who would take his place at the pulpit. The evangelist, now 82, has Parkinson's disease. His board squabbled over whether his son should succeed him.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Many of these board members have been with my father since the beginning. They remember me when I was, you know, 14, 15 years old, running around with cigarettes, you know, dangling out of my mouth. And for many of these men, you know, I had to prove to them.

He's alive, he's in heaven, he's coming back.

BURKHARDT: The former rebel won them over. Last year, Franklin Graham was named chief executive officer of his father's ministry.

LOTZ: And Daddy, just in front of the whole board, just told Franklin how proud he was of him, and what a blessing he was to him, and to see his son not only in the ministry but helping him and taking over the organization. It was a precious moment.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... took my sins and went to the Cross in my place... BURKHARDT: The younger Graham now divides time between his father's ministry and serving as president of Samaritan's Purse.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: All right, come on in.

BURKHARDT: Franklin Graham and wife Jane Austin...

JANE AUSTIN GRAHAM: ... well, they're still hot, honey.

BURKHARDT: ... reared their four children on a farm in Boone, North Carolina, the headquarters of Samaritan's Purse. Like his father, he's had to deal with being away from his wife and kids. And he makes a point of not staying away long.

LOTZ: One wonderful thing is that he does fly his own airplane, and so he can get home -- he's a homebody. You know, it's amazing. All the trouble he does around the world, he is a homebody.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Not only do I mourn with you...

BURKHARDT: Since being named heir apparent, Franklin Graham has, like his father, stepped into the national limelight.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: The forces of hate and violence must not...

BURKHARDT: He preached at the memorial service for victims of the Columbine school shooting.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?

BURKHARDT: Where he got flak for seeking conversions.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Have you trusted him as your savior?

Our Heavenly Father, we come tonight...

BURKHARDT: He gave the benediction at the Republican National Conventions in 1996 and 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In his father's stead, the Reverend Franklin Graham...

BURKHARDT: And in January...


BURKHARDT: ... Franklin Graham took his father's place in history.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: We have grown in numbers...

BURKHARDT: At the last minute, when his father fell ill, he stepped in to deliver a prayer Billy Graham had given at nine presidential inaugurations.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: We pray that you'll help bring our country together...

BILLY GRAHAM: ... and in the lonely moments of decision, grant him Thy wisdom to know...

LOTZ: To think that my father had given the prayer at Mr. Bush's inauguration, and then Mr. Bush's son is now president.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... peace and prosperity...

LOTZ: And it would be Daddy's son that would offer the inaugural prayer. I mean, that was -- how special is that?


FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I was touched that day to watch George W. Bush take the oath of office and to turn and to see his father behind him, and the pride of the father in the son.

He died on the Cross for you...

BURKHARDT: The mantle is passing from father to son. But how will Franklin Graham carry on his father's legacy?

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: I want you to come quickly, come now.

MARTIN: You say, I'm going to preach, and you're inevitably going to be compared to the most famous evangelist in the world. That's a tall hill to climb.

LOTZ: Daddy could have looked all over the world to find somebody who was suited to take over the association and to do the preaching. And he would have come up with Franklin.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: My friend, a man that I respect...

LOTZ: The blessing is that it's his son.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... and love more than any other person...

BURKHARDT: The prodigal son come home.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: ... my daddy, Dr. Billy Graham. Daddy?

I just want to be faithful to the same message that he's been faithful to, and that's the preaching of the Gospel. And I look at the thousands of lives that have been changed because of my father's commitment to the Gospel. I respect that, and I honor him for that.

KAGAN: There is plenty of religion to go around the Graham family. Besides Franklin, there's his sister, Anne Graham Lotz. She speaks around the world with the organization she founded, Angel Ministries. Franklin's son, William Franklin Graham IV -- they call him Will -- is a seminary student, perhaps the third generation of a preaching dynasty.

For more on the Graham family, log onto our Web site at

Next week, the woman behind that famous smile. Fresh on the heels of her Oscar win, we take a look at Julia Roberts.

That's it for this week. Thanks for watching. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, I'm Daryn Kagan.



Back to the top