Eddie Long, the flamboyant megachurch pastor whose reputation was tarnished after former congregants accused him of sexual misconduct, has died. He was 63.
Long died Sunday after battling cancer, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, said in a statement to multiple media outlets.
His death came “after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer,” the statement said.
Senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist since 1987, Long oversaw the church’s explosive growth with membership swelling from a modest 300 to 25,000.
The church operated television and international ministries, and built satellite churches in several cities, including Miami, Denver and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Long was a Christian author, a gospel singer and was also known for preaching and practicing a “prosperity gospel” in which the faithful would be rewarded with wealth.
Long was also known for his flamboyant lifestyle, as he flew around the world on a private jet, drove around metro Atlanta in a $350,000 Bentley and lived in a $1.4 million house with six bedrooms and nine bathrooms.
In 2006, the church hosted then-President George W. Bush and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush during the funeral of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But four years later, scandal erupted when four young men filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct, bringing notoriety to his church that reached far beyond its 10,000-seat cathedral at its home base in Lithonia, just east of Atlanta.
Long’s lavish lifestyle was a focal point in the lawsuits, which accused him of seducing the young men into sexual relationships in exchange for trips, clothes and cars.
Two of the men had accused Long of grooming them for sexual relationships through the church’s LongFellows Youth Academy. The other two men, one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, made similar allegations in the legal cases.
Eight months later, Long settled the cases out of court for an undisclosed amount and has never admitted any wrongdoing. After that, some congregation members changed their opinion of him, but many others continued to rally around the charismatic leader.
He’s survived by his wife, Vanessa Long, four children and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.