Beverly Hills police officers responded to a home just before 2:30 a.m. where they found one person shot. Avant was taken to a hospital and died. It was unclear why the home was targeted, police Chief Mark Stainbrook told reporters on his first full day as head of the department.
No suspects were found at the scene and no one else was harmed, he said.
"The Avant family's contributions to the world of entertainment and to better communities across Los Angeles are unmatched," Stainbrook said. "There are no words to express our profound sorrow for this immense loss."
A Netflix spokeswoman earlier confirmed to Fox News that the victim was 81-year-old Jacqueline Avant before authorities identified her. Avant's daughter, Nicole, is married to Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer.
"Jacqueline was an amazing woman, wife, mother, philanthropist and a 55-year resident of Beverly Hills who has made an immeasurable positive contribution and impact on the arts community," a statement from the Avant and Sarandos families said. "She will be missed by her family, friends and all of the people she has helped throughout her amazing life."
Stainbrook declined to release details of the shooting as the investigation is still in its infancy, he said. He said detectives will look at all possible motives but would not speculate if Avant was killed during a robbery or how many suspects were involved.
The Los Angeles area has seen a wave of robberies by thieves associated with street gangs who confront victims after following them home from prime locations. Several celebrities have been targeted in recent weeks, including Terrence J and "Real Housewife" Dorit Kemsley.
"I don't think it's a random attack but I can't speculate on that right now," the chief said.
Avant was a local philanthropist and president of the Neighbors of Watts support group. She also served on the board of directors of the International Student Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Her 90-year-old husband is known as the "Godfather of Black Music" and was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris were among those who paid tribute to him in a video made for the induction ceremony in October.
He mentored a number of artists including Bill Withers, Little Willie John, L.A. Reid, Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. In 2019, Netflix released "The Black Godfather," a documentary about his career.
News of Avant's death triggered a slew of tributes from celebrities and political figures, including former President Bill Clinton.
"Jackie Avant was a wonderful woman, a great partner to Clarence and mother to Alex and Nicole, an active citizen & a dear friend to Hillary and me for 30 years," he wrote on Twitter. "She inspired admiration, respect & affection in everyone who knew her. We are heartbroken. She will be deeply missed."
Daniel Bakewell, a lifelong friend of the Avant family and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a Black-owned weekly newspaper, conveyed his condolences in a statement released through the publication.
"I cannot express how overwhelmingly pained I am at the loss of such a beautiful person as Jackie Avant. For her to be killed in such a senseless way is unfathomable," he said. "There are no 2 more kind and generous people than Clarence and Jackie and for their home and their lives to be violated in such a violent manner is unconscionable."
NBA legend and former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson called Jacqueline Avant "the sweetest person you could ever meet."
"She had a beautiful soul, kind heart, & always had a kind word for everybody. She was quiet, yet powerful, & very smart. We are crying for Clarence, Nicole, & Alex’s loss. Our thoughts & prayers go out to the entire family," he wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said she was "heartbroken" by the tragic news.
"Mrs. Avant was a force of compassion and empowerment locally and nationally for decades, as well as a model of service and giving back to those who needed it most," she tweeted. "The devastating events of last night along with recent reports of brazen crime in Los Angeles rupture the expectation of safety we have for our friends, families and fellow Angelenos."
"All of us have a right to be safe and last night was an absolute violation of that right," she added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.