Billy Graham in New York for Final U.S. Crusade

June 23, 2005 -- -- At 86, Billy Graham looks frail: His once-resonant voice is softer, he uses a walker, cannot hear out of one ear, and suffers from Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer and a condition that causes fluid on the brain.

Even so, tens of thousands of people are expected to hear him preach this weekend in New York City's Queens borough in the 417th "crusade" of his six-decade ministry.

"This will be the last in America, I'm sure," the icon of evangelism said at a news conference this week at the Rainbow Room in New York. "But we do have an invitation to go to London, and we're praying about that and thinking about that."

'One Message'

Graham will hold sermons at New York's Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, his first public events in New York since an appearance in Central Park in 1991. The revival originally was planned for Madison Square Garden, site of a legendary, 16-week "Billy Graham Crusade" in 1957, but was moved to accommodate larger crowds.

Graham plans to preach for about 35 minutes each day from a specially designed pulpit that will allow him to sit if he feels tired, The Associated Press reported. His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 2000, will be available to help if needed.

Organizers began preparing for the three-day event Monday, and were expected to take three days to set up the stage, some 70,000 seats and several huge video screens.

Graham decided to address New Yorkers again because he's been told the city is more spiritually receptive after 9/11.

"I have one message," Graham told the media Tuesday. "And that is that Jesus came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as lord and savior."

"The gospel has not changed," he said later in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, aired Thursday on "Good Morning America." "And the gospel is that Jesus Christ was sent by God to this Earth."

Decided to Give Life to Christ

Graham was born on Nov. 7, 1918, in Charlotte, N.C., and raised on a dairy farm in nearby Montreat as the eldest of four children in a strict Presbyterian family.

At age 16, he heard the fiery sermon of a traveling evangelist named Mordecai Ham, who persuaded him to give his life to Christ during a spiritual revival.

Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939.

From 1947 to 1952, Graham served as president of Northwestern College in Minneapolis. It was during this period that he began holding revival meetings with singer George Beverly Sheau and song leader Cliff Barrows.

By 1949, his career was taking off as some 10,000 people were turning out to hear Graham's preaching on a regular basis. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Eventually, the evangelist brought his "Billy Graham Crusades" around the world, preaching to hundreds of millions of people in 185 countries and territories. His largest such gathering drew 1 million people in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1970s.

Graham told "Good Morning America" the world's problems have intensified over his decades of preaching.

"Our … problems are magnified because of technology," Graham said. "Television carries everything instantly to every part of the world."

Graham also has written at least two dozen books, including his autobiography, "Just As I Am," published in 1997.

Politics and Controversy

Graham met with criticism in February 2002, when tapes released from the Nixon White House revealed a 1972 conversation with Nixon in which Graham said Jews had a "stranglehold" on the media. He later apologized and said his work with Jews over the years belied that remark.

Graham has offered spiritual advice to 11 presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, but declined Tuesday to answer political questions from the news media because he said they detract from his core message.

"If I get up and talk about some political issue, it divides the audience," Graham said. "What I want is a united audience to hear only the gospel."

As if to prove his nonpartisanship, he mentioned his friendships with Republicans and Democrats.

"I've known the Clintons for many years -- very close friends -- and the Bushes for many years," he said. "And I like them both, and love them both."

'I Believe I Was Chosen'

Looking forward to what may be his final U.S. crusade, he pondered his own mortality.

"Do I fear death?" he asked. "No. I look forward to death with great anticipation. I'm looking forward to seeing God face to face, and that could happen any day."

Graham told ABC News he learned a lot about facing death from watching Pope John Paul II's life come to a close.

"He taught us how to suffer, he taught us how to die, and he taught us that there's a future life," Graham said.

Graham believes that just as young people gathered around the pope in his final days, they will be drawn to him, too.

"It's amazing that the young people are searching for something that they can believe in, and they saw a person live it and die it and suffer in the pope," Graham said. "I know I'm an old man, very old, but they'll come partially to see somebody that believes something. And they're looking for that."

Graham described how he envisions meeting God after he dies.

"I see heaven … no tears, no death, no suffering," he said, "just joy and happiness and serving God.

"I'll say to the Lord, 'Why did you choose me? I came from a farm … [and] never dreamed that I'd be preaching to people in different countries,' " Graham said. "I'm going to ask the Lord, 'Why did you choose me?' Because I believe I was chosen."

ABC News' Charles Gibson, ABC News Radio's Aaron Katersky and WABC-TV in New York contributed to this report.