“Soul Train” creator and host Don Cornelius, who brought R&B into America’s living rooms with his long-running television show, committed suicide Wednesday, Los Angeles police said.
The 75-year-old Cornelius was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head about 4 a.m. in his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home, Los Angeles police said. He was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Police were called to the music impresario’s home by a report of a shooting.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of my friend, colleague and business partner,” said Grammy-winning musician/producer Quincy Jones.
“Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV, there was ‘Soul Train.’ That will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius.”
DON CORNELIUS THROUGH THE YEARS: THE "SOUL TRAIN" HOST WITH MUSIC'S BIGGEST ACTS
Cornelius had battled health problems in recent years, and endured an ugly, public divorce that followed a 2009 sentence of three years’ probation for spousal battery. His legendary television show, dubbed “The Hippest Trip in America,” presented stars like Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Barry White to a national television audience. Cornelius, with his deep voice, stylish clothes and soaring Afro, provided a hipper alternative to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” when his show debuted on Aug. 17, 1970. The first episodes aired locally in Chicago, broadcasting from a too-small studio in the Chicago Board of Trade building. Cornelius put up $400 of his own money to produce the first show.
|Don with Ms. Aretha Franklin on the show.|
|Diana Ross sings.|
He then lured the talent to the unusual venue: the Staple Singers, Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King. The show was syndicated a year later, making Cornelius a national star. Although he dropped out as host in 1993, the weekly program continued running until December 2007.
It was Clark who inspired the Chicago insurance salesman to quit his day job and get into the television: “I wanted to do a black ‘American Bandstand,’” Cornelius said in a documentary on the show.
|THE SOUL TRAIN DANCERS.|
Born in Chicago, Cornelius became the epitome of cool with his low-key style. He ended every broadcast by telling his audience, “We wish you peace, love ... and soooul.” The Rev. Al Sharpton recalled his first meeting with Cornelius — as a 19-year-old brought along by James Brown for a “Soul Train” appearance. “He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown, and he was a cultural game changer on a global level,” Sharpton said. “Had it not not been for Don Cornelius, we would not have ever transcended from the ‘Chitlin circuit’ to become mainstream cultural trendsetters.” The show became as much a Saturday morning staple as corn flakes and orange juice, with weekly features like the Soul Train line becoming part of pop culture.
Cornelius became a broadcasting icon. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. Last year, a Chicago street was named in his honor at the 40th anniversary of the show’s syndication.
Rest in Peace Mr. Cornelius!
Ike and Tina Turner on Soul Train