Pat Boone Reflects on Billy Graham, Talks Heading to Israel to Celebrate Its 70th Anniversary

Pat Boone
Courtesy of Gold Label Artists

Pat Boone

Normally, being 83 means that you slow down a bit in life. Then, there is Pat Boone. The legendary entertainer tells Billboard that he tries to stay as active as he possibly can – and playfully boasts that there is video to prove it.

“I play some basketball in the 75-79 bracket in Cleveland in the Senior Games, and then in the 80-85 bracket in Birmingham,” he says. “If you Google ‘Pat Boone behind the back pass,’ you will see a quick and spontaneous play. I got trapped and couldn’t get to the basket, and here came one of my teammates. A 6’5" guy between me and the basket, I bounce-passed the ball to my teammate, and caught it in stride, and went up and scored. For some reason, somebody was taking pictures and video of it, and it’s on YouTube…forever,” he says happily, adding that in addition to still flexing his athletic muscle on the hardwood floor, he stays active via swimming and hiking.

Boone is still artistically active, as well. The performer recently released an expanded version of Thank You, Billy Graham, a CD/DVD package that pays tribute to Rev. Billy Graham, who passed away on Feb. 21 at the age 99.

“Billy and [his wife] Ruth were dear friends of ours for forty years or more,” he says. “I remember when Princess Diana was killed, and the world stopped for days. At the same time, Mother Teresa died – someone who was a saint, ministered to the homeless, and the poorest in the world. I noticed that nobody in the world paid much attention to her passing. I wondered then what would happen when Billy Graham -- the greatest single human being of our lifetime, maybe since the day of the Apostles -- what would happen when he passed?”

Not wanting his friend’s legacy to be overshadowed, Boone put pen to paper in 2005 and invited a few of his friends to honor Graham. “I wrote a song called ‘Thank You, Billy Graham,’ and got a ‘who’s who’ of country music and other artists to help me sing it. It’s almost like a ‘We Are The World’-type project,” he said of the song, which includes Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes and many others. “I want this package to be in every American home. I know that’s not going to happen – I assume it won’t, but I would love for it to be in millions of homes so that the next generations – and the ones after that would not be completely oblivious to the impact that he has had on the whole world. We won’t see another one like Billy. I don’t think the world will accommodate another man like him. He was a confidante and advisor to presidents, kings, people like Muhammad Ali – people from around the world. He loved and respected them all, and he never backed off. He knew that some people wouldn’t agree with him about Jesus being the only way to salvation, but he was going to preach it anyway. That’s what he believed the Bible said. He was a brave and articulate giant of a man,” Boone said.

As it turns out, Billy Graham isn’t the only prominent friend that Boone can count on. He’s going to see another one in a few weeks. In May, Boone will return to the Holy Land to lead a tour through Israel, accompanied by over 250 people during the monumental anniversary of its statehood. “It’s a sizable endeavor coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s modern statehood on May 14,” Boone says, adding that he has a past acquaintance in the country.

“His name is Benjamin Netanyahu,” said Boone of the Prime Minister. “He’s been a friend since his days at MIT, where he went to college. He became a fan of mine and Elvis'. When we finally met, after he was Prime Minister, I walked in – and he said ‘Hello, Speedy, come on in,'” a reference to Boone’s 1962 Hot 100 hit “Speedy Gonzales,” which peaked at No. 6.  The singer is very proud of his friend. “He is God’s choice for Prime Minister because he knows what God planned and did for the people of Israel in bringing these people that he had scattered throughout the world back to the land that he gave Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the people of Israel. This May 14 will be the 70th Anniversary of that day. We’re going to be there, and I’ll be hosting about 100-150 people for not just the day of celebration, but on that day, the United States Embassy will be dedicated in Jerusalem. We will have a private audience with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I hope to hear him say ‘Come on in, Speedy,'” Boone says with a smile.

Audiences have delighted in Boone’s music since the Nashville native first hit the Hit Parade with “Two Hearts” in 1955. What do fans want to talk to the singer about when they come face-to-face? He laughs and says that at first, they usually look at his feet.

“They’re always glad to know that I’m wearing White Buck shoes,” he affirms. “Either they will tell me what I’ve meant to their lives in some way, or will tell me about a song. They know me, and they want me to know them.” Boone knows he will only have a few seconds with each fan, so he hopes he can leave a positive mark.

“I’m trying to relate to everyone who is standing in front of me, and hear what they have to say, answer what they ask me, sign things, take pictures, but I know I only have thirty seconds to mostly a minute with each of them, to try to leave them an impression of me that they will take for the rest of their lives. I want it to be a favorable one,” he says. Most times, he feels he has succeeded in that aim. But, there was one time in particular where he wasn’t quite sure what he needed to do.

“I had some stuff in my left hand, and an ice cream cone in my right,” he said of one instance of an autograph request. “Obviously, I would have to put some stuff down, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ask her to hold my cone. I told her if she would write to me, I would send her a record. She didn’t do it. That’s one of a couple of times in sixty years that I’m afraid that I made a bad impression,” he says. “There’s pressure. I want to make those few moments as good as the person hoped it would be.”


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