"Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius commits suicide

LOS ANGELES Wed Feb 1, 2012 6:41pm EST

1 of 3. Los Angeles police and news media are shown at the house of Don Cornelius in Los Angeles February 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gene Blevins

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Don Cornelius, creator of the iconic TV music and dance show "Soul Train" that helped introduce Americans to black pop culture, died on Wednesday after shooting himself in the head, Los Angeles officials said.

Police found the body of Cornelius, 75, at his house in the wealthy, hillside area of Los Angeles called Sherman Oaks at around 4 a.m on Wednesday. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

"The death was reported as a suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head," Los Angeles coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter said. Police said there was no evidence of foul play.

It was not immediately known why Cornelius would have taken his own life, although he was said to have been in failing health in recent years.

Cornelius, who launched "Soul Train" in Chicago in the early 1970s and hosted it for more than 20 years, told a judge in his 2009 divorce that he was suffering from significant health issues and wanted the case settled quickly.

"Soul Train", which ran until 2006, became part of U.S. pop culture history, boosting the careers of newcomers like the Jackson Five and older artists such as James Brown who were trying to tap into a younger audience.

Almost immediately following news that he died, tributes poured in from the music world.

Aretha Franklin, who appeared on the dance and TV show, called his death "sad, stunning and downright shocking and a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large."

Composer and record producer Quincy Jones said he was "deeply saddened" at the sudden passing of his friend, colleague and business partner.

The Recording Academy, which gives out the Grammys, called Cornelius a "trailblazer" who "created a cultural phenomenon with 'Soul Train.'"


Cornelius was born in 1936 in Chicago and as an adult, became a journalist who was active in the civil rights movement. For a time, he worked at local radio station WVON, and by the late 1960s he had dreamed up the idea of a TV show dedicated to the soulful sounds of African-American music.

"Soul Train" was born with the deep-voiced Cornelius as the host who gave hip kids of the '70s what "American Bandstand" creator Dick Clark offered TV viewers in the early days of rock 'n' roll -- a show mixing youth, music, fashion and pop culture.

As "Soul Train" gained popularity, it crossed over into mainstream TV and allowed R&B artists the ability to broaden their fan base.

"Don played an enormous part in my career by giving me exposure when there was none for African American recording artists on television," Dionne Warwick said in a statement. He called him "an icon of the broadcasting world."

Cornelius hosted "Soul Train" until 1993. The show continued to air. It eventually became the longest running U.S. series in first-run syndication. Cornelius sold his company in 2008.

"Once he left the TV show, he kind of dropped out of sight... He stayed within the confines of his family and home," Los Angeles-based black music historian Tom Reed said.

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime friend, expressed shock and grief over Cornelius' death.

"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 in a statement.

Former basketball star Earvin Magic Johnson, whose Vibe Holdings company currently owns the rights to "Soul Train", said on his Twitter account; "`Soul Train' taught the world how to dance! I thank (Don) for trusting me with his `Soul Train' brand and I will carry on his legacy through it."

A statement was posted on the Soul Train website calling Cornelius a "television visionary."

(Reporting By Lauren Keiper, Jill Serjeant and Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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Comments (4)
Lonecia wrote:
I loved Soul Train and watched it every week when I was growing up. Don Cornelius introduced me to the best music I ever heard and still love.

Thank you and farewell Mr. Cornelius.

Feb 01, 2012 7:27pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DJScorpio6969 wrote:
Don Cornelius is the black Dick Clark of black pop culture. I’m 45 years old now. I was 5 years old when Soul Train premiered on channel 5 in the afternoon in 1971 and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was on channel 7. I remember well. The first artist Soul train premiered was Al Green. I grew up on Soul Train. And Don Cornelius made black america feel real good when a lot of artists came on that show. Don Cornelius even launch the career of Jody Watley who was a dance regular on Soul Train and became a female member of the R&B group, Shalamar with Jeffrey Daniel & Howard Hewitt. Don Cornelius will be missed as the pioneer of the black pop culture, an innovator, a legend in his own right. He will be missed. I’m shocked about his death. Peace.

Feb 01, 2012 8:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
“It was not immediately known why Cornelius would have taken his own life, although he was said to have been in failing health in recent years.”

He probably decided that his quality of life didn’t warrant continuing.

It’s a shame that his end was so very violent, rather than peaceful, surrounded by friends and family.

Why can’t we take our own lives on our own terms?

Not having the ability to seek assisted suicide. Now THAT’S a crime!

RIP Don Cornelius.

Feb 01, 2012 10:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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