Van Wagoner was best known for his books Mormon Polygamy: A History and Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, which was named best book by both the Mormon History Association and John Whitmer Historial Association.
He had recently published the five-volume The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, in which Van Wagoner suggests that Young's organizational talents contributed more to the rise of Mormonism than the efforts of Joseph Smith, its founder.
Van Wagoner also served as an unofficial historian for the city of Lehi and authored, Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town, and other works about the community.
On Monday, Utah historians mourned Van Wagoner's loss, calling him a rare historian whose scholarly works had become classics of Mormon history. "I've long considered Richard one of the finest historians of my generation and a helluva nice guy to boot," historian Will Bagley said in an e-mail to the AP. "His contributions to Mormon and Utah studies are beyond measure."
In his professional life, Van Wagoner was an audiologist. Since 1977, he had owned the Mountain West Hearing Center in Salt Lake City.
A fifth-generation Mormon and a self-described "rock-ribbed skeptic," Van Wagoner was a Utah native.
He is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Woods said a funeral is planned for Saturday in Lehi.