Don Cornelius, the silken-voiced host of Soul Train who helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, has died of an apparent suicide. He was 75.
Police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home at about 4 am. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the coroner’s office.
A police cruiser sat parked at the entryway of Cornelius’ home on a two-lane stretch of Mulholland Drive in the hills above Los Angeles as detectives searched inside. News cameras camped outside as drivers on their morning commute drove by.
Police Officer Sara Faden said authorities have ruled out foul play. Detectives have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.
Soul Train began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.
It showcased such legendary artists as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed.
Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.
His prompted many to speak of the positive influence he and his show had on pop culture, music and the black community.
”God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of Soul Train,” said Franklin, an early performer on the show.
Franklin called Cornelius ”an American treasure.”
Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson told KNX-Los Angeles that Cornelius ”was a transformer.”
”’Soul Train’ became the outlet for African-Americans,” Jackson said, adding that he talked to Cornelius a few days ago and there were no signs Cornelius was upset.
Others also expressed their grief.
”I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius,” Quincy Jones said. ”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.
”His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched,” he said. ”My heart goes out to Don’s family and loved ones.”
Clarence Avant, former chairman of Motown Records, said,