LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) — 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
Long has been senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist since 1987. The church said it grew from 300 members to more than 25,000 under Long's leadership and became one of the nation's largest congregations.
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.
"As I reflect on his life, I am especially remembering Bishop Long's support during some of the most difficult times in my life. the passing of my mother in 2006, and the sudden and unexpected loss of my sister in 2007," King's daughter, Bernice King, said in a statement Sunday. "During these devastating moments in my life, he was there for me and my family in many ways and I will forever be grateful."
Scandal erupted in 2010, 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, Georgia, 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.