Don Cornelius, the creator and longtime host of the groundbreaking music show ‘Soul Train,’ was found dead in his California home this morning.
According to the Los Angeles Times, police arrived at Cornelius’ Sherman Oaks home around 4 a.m. and found him dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A radio news announcer by trade, Cornelius began moonlighting at WCIU-TV in the 1960s. While there, he toyed with the idea of creating an African-American version of “American Bandstand,” Dick Clark’s influential music show, with live dancing five days a week. On August 17, 1970, the first episode of Soul Train premiered on the station, and by the following year, it was being syndicated in other markets.
‘Soul Train’ became the longest-running nationally syndicated show in history, airing from 1971 through 2006. Cornelius held down the hosting duties for most of that run, before stepping away in 1993. Cornelius remained as its executive producer and expanded the brand into an annual awards show.
“I have known him since I was19 years old and James Brown had me speak on Soul Train,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. “We have maintained a friendship for the last 38 years. 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. Had it not been for Don Cornelius we would not have ever transcended from the Chitlin circuit to become mainstream cultural trendsetters.”
Cornelius recently told the Los Angeles Times that there were early plans to create a movie based on the franchise. “We’ve been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the ‘Soul Train’ dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project. It’s going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show.”
In 2008, Cornelius was arrested and charged with spousal battery and dissuading a witness from making a police report, and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to three years probation.
During his rocky divorce battle to ex-wife, Viktoria, TMZ reported that Cornelius made a morbid request in the couple’s divorce papers. “I am 72 years old. I have significant health issues,” Cornelius said. “I want to finalize this divorce before I die.”