The Rev. Billy Graham's baritone, which has beckoned millions to follow Jesus Christ, is softer and huskier. He moves about with a walker and struggles with various ailments.
But after six decades of traveling the world to preach the Gospel, the 86-year-old evangelist is ready for at least one more revival meeting, next weekend in New York City. The event was moved from Madison Square Garden out to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens to accommodate expected big turnouts.
Graham seems all but certain that it will be his last mass event in the United States and probably the last anywhere.
"In my mind, it is," he said during an interview at a Long Island hotel where he's resting up for the event. "I wouldn't like to say 'never,'
" the amiable evangelist added with a chuckle. "Never is a bad word."
The elder statesman of the evangelical movement has brought his simple but powerful message of salvation through Jesus Christ to more than 210 million people in 185 countries. Churches in London, where he made his first international splash a half-century ago, want him to hold at least one more meeting there around his 87th birthday in November.
The odds of that? "I'd say a slight possibility," Graham said.
Billy's son Franklin -- his successor as leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- will stand by in New York as substitute preacher in case of emergency. But the elder Graham fully expects to speak for about 35 minutes at each of three rallies, and to do so without sitting down.
"When I stand up and touch that podium, the Holy Spirit comes, I believe, in power to help me. If it weren't for that, I would not have attempted to do these three nights," he said. "I'm just totally dependent on the Lord and the prayers of thousands of people."
Even if there are no more mass meetings, Graham still might give occasional talks. But his pace has been slowed considerably by advancing age and infirmities. He spends most days at his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C., where wife Ruth is largely bedridden.
"When I reached about 80, my physical world turned upside down," Graham said. The worst problem is hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, which is relieved by implanted shunts. But he also copes with Parkinsonism and prostate cancer, and he uses a walker because of a pelvic fracture last year.
Cautious even in his more active years, Graham now seeks to shun public controversies -- preferring a simple message of love and unity through Jesus. Asked about gay marriage, for instance, he replied: "I don't give advice. I'm going to stay off these hot-button issues."
Even when he occasionally speaks by phone with President Bush, the evangelist welcomed to the White House by every president since Harry S. Truman doesn't chat to influence "but only to say I'm praying for him and to give him a verse of Scripture."
He also sidestepped the opportunity to dispute Franklin's 2001 remark that Islam is "a very evil and wicked religion."
Instead, Graham said he is proud of his son's leadership. Yet the senior evangelist also recalled that when he arrived for a Fresno, Calif., revival a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his first step was to visit a mosque where some people had been throwing rocks -- in order to express solidarity with Muslims.
"I don't throw rocks at anybody," he said. "That's not my message. My message is the Gospel of Christ."
Are evangelicals getting too deeply enmeshed in political issues? "I don't give it much thought, to tell the truth," he said. "My thought is getting ready to go to heaven and to keep myself as fit as possible physically." Asked about heaven, he reflected on a night four years ago while he was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., having a brain shunt implanted.
"I thought I was dying. The doctor wasn't sure whether I was or not, but late at night I knew that that was the end. At least I thought it was. And I prayed and all of a sudden all my sins throughout my life came into my mind. And I asked the Lord to forgive me and I had the greatest peace that I've ever had, and that peace has never left me, because I put it all in the name of Christ."
The world's best-known Protestant preacher said he was glued to the television during Pope John Paul II's funeral in April : "He taught us how to live, I think, how to suffer and how to die." Graham said he was asked by the Vatican to lead the American delegation to the pope's funeral, but his health wouldn't permit it.
If New York and London are indeed his last crusades, they are fitting places for Graham's finale.
Scanning his career, the evangelist took special satisfaction in his 1957 New York City crusade and the 1954 campaign in London, his international breakthrough.
"We stayed 12 weeks in London. They had hoped to have four or five weeks," he recalled. In New York, "we were amazed. We didn't have any empty seats except one or two nights for the whole 16 weeks."
He said he's returning to New York this time because area Christian leaders told him that since the terrorist attacks "there was a new receptivity and quest for purpose and meaning in people's lives."