MONTREAT, N.C. — As a young man, he practiced his sermons by preaching to the alligators and birds in the swamp. At his height years later, he was bringing the word of God into living rooms around the globe via TV and dispensing spiritual counsel — and political advice — to U.S. presidents.The Rev. Billy Graham, dubbed "America's Pastor" and the "Protestant Pope," died Wednesday at his North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and reach no other evangelist is likely ever to match.More than anyone else, the magnetic, Hollywood-handsome Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States.The North Carolina-born Graham transformed the tent revival into an event that filled football arenas, and reached the masses by making pioneering use of television in prosperous postwar America. By his final crusade in 2005, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide.All told, he was the most widely heard Christian evangelist in modern history."Graham is a major historical figure, not merely to American evangelicals, but to American Christianity in general," said Bill Leonard, a professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina.