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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this May 31, 2007 file photo, Billy Graham speaks as his son Franklin Graham, right, listens during a dedication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.. Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. He was 99.(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says Rev. Billy Graham was a "giant among leaders" who should be remembered for his "passion for the Gospel."

Hutchinson issued a statement on Wednesday morning hours after a spokesman for Graham confirmed he had died. The 99-year-old had suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments in recent years.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Billy Graham was a giant among leaders," Hutchinson said in a written statement. "But even as Dr. Graham counseled presidents and prime ministers, he resisted the overtures to engage in politics. Dr. Graham’s devotion was to the Gospel, and his ministry to people regardless of their station in life."

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Photos by The Associated Press

[OBITUARY: Rev. Billy Graham, known as 'America's Pastor,' dies at 99]

Hutchinson said he watched Graham on television as a child and participated in one of Graham's crusades in Little Rock in 1989.

"His ministry was without moral taint," Hutchinson said. "The United States is richer for his ministry. Even as I am saddened at his passing, I am grateful for his energy and passion for the Gospel.”

In a statement, former President Bill Clinton said Graham's "powerful words and the conviction they carried touched countless hearts and minds."

"I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle," Clinton said. "He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace."

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said Graham was one of his heroes.

"God gave Billy Graham the ability to connect and communicate with people around the world, and he used that ability to reach presidents and the persecuted, queens and the impoverished, delivering to all the same message of God’s love and redemption," he said.

Family Council President Jerry Cox also paid tribute to Graham, calling him "one of the most respected Christian leaders in the world" and "a man without peer who simply loved God and followed Him as best he could.”

“I’ve always admired the way Billy Graham could minister to everyday people and presidents alike," Cox said in a statement. "He believed our elected leaders needed God’s wisdom and our prayers. That’s something I really appreciate.”

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.

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