North Carolina native Eddie Long, pastor of an Atlanta area megachurch whose image was tarnished after former members of his flock accused him of sexual misconduct, died Sunday of cancer. He was 63.
Bishop Long had strong ties to the Charlotte area: He was born and raised in Huntersville and graduated from North Mecklenburg High School in 1972.
He went on to N.C. Central University in Durham, where he got a business degree.
In 1987, Long became senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist in Lithonia, Ga., near Atlanta. Under his leadership, the church grew from 300 members to more than 25,000 – including some celebrity congregants.
In 2003, his megachurch started New Birth-Charlotte in Huntersville – its first church plant outside Georgia. The satellite had 10,000 members at one point.
During a time when some high-profile preachers were being criticized for their flamboyant lifestyles, Long had a private jet and drove a $350,000 Bentley. He lived in a $1.4 million house with six bedrooms and nine bathrooms.
In 2006, the family of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chose Long’s church as the site for the funeral of his widow, Coretta Scott King. Those who attended included then-President George W. Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
In public, Long was a strong proponent of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. So in 2010, it became national news when four young men filed lawsuits accusing Long of sexual misconduct. One of the young men was a Matthews teenager when he said he met Long at the Charlotte satellite, the Associated Press reported that year. The lawsuits said Long lavished gifts of trips, cars and jewelry on the young men.
Eight months later, Long settled the cases out of court for an undisclosed amount and never admitted any wrongdoing.
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church said in a statement that Long died Sunday after “a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer.”
He's survived by his wife, Vanessa Long, four children and three grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed.