Don Cornelius, music industry icon and creator of the seminal TV show “Soul Train,” is dead, the victim of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police and the Los Angeles coroner’s office.
Chris No, a police spokesman, told reporters that police received a call from someone in Cornelius’ Sherman Oaks home shortly before 4 a.m., reporting that shots had been fired. When officers arrived, Cornelius was lying on the floor, unresponsive, with a gunshot wound to the head.
Cornelius was taken to Cedar-Sinai Medical Center where he was pronounced dead shortly before 5 a.m.
“It was reported as a suicide, a self-inflicted wound,” Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter told reporters. “I have investigators at the hospital.”
“Wow, we really lost an icon in the music industry,” said Paul Gardner, an entertainment and corporate attorney based in Baltimore, who represents singer Maya and several rappers.
“You have to understand when Don was starting his thing it was the only show where African American entertainers could be exposed to a mainstream audience,” Gardner said. “Now you’re getting beamed into millions of homes (and) before they were not.”
Gardner said he met Cornelius several times in Los Angeles over the years, primarily at award shows, but that every successful Black entertainer in R&B had a connection to Cornelius.
“Everybody alive today owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Cornelius,” said Gardner, who is encouraging people to pause for a moment of silence to honor Cornelius and, once arrangements are made, to send flowers or make a donation to a charity of Cornelius’ choosing, if he had designated one.
Cornelius, a former disc jockey, created, wrote, produced and hosted “Soul Train” in Chicago in 1970. The show was an instant hit and went into national syndication a year later. The teen dance show, which featured veteran and rising R&B stars and professional dancers – all of which has given rise, in part, to the current crop of talent reality shows – provided the first opportunity for many Black entertainers to enjoy crossover success.
In a 2010 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Cornelius said he was developing a movie project about “Soul Train.”
“We’ve been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground. It wouldn’t be the ‘Soul Train’ dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project,” he told The Times. “It’s going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show.”
“Soul Train,” which had a 35-year run was the longest-running first-run nationally syndicated show in television history. Cornelius relinquished hosting duties in 1993 and the show went off the air in 2006.
“What? Oh, my God!” said El DeBarge, Jr., when reached at his home Wednesday morning with the news.
DeBarge said he didn’t know Cornelius well, but “my dad (singer El DeBarge) knew him. I met him several times throughout the years and he always seemed like he had it together and he had the utmost respect from everyone.
“My mother (dancer Bobbi Sanders) used to be on ‘Soul Train’ when she was 19, 20, when she first started out…That’s how she actually met my dad,” said the younger DeBarge, who added he was on Cornelius’ last taping of “Soul Train” with actor Shemar Moore.
“I can’t believe the brother is no longer with us. Even more shocking is the way he went out,” said Larry Bivins, a veteran journalist in Washington, D.C. and avid “Soul Train” fan.
“My brother-in-law, George, who now lives in South Africa, and I would watch ‘Soul Train’ together almost religiously whenever he visited. I admired Cornelius for his longevity, dedication to R&B and the exposure he gave to entertainers as well as those who went on to fame, however brief, after starting as dancers on his show. I wish the brother ‘love, peace and soul’ in the hereafter,” referring to Cornelius’ signature sign off at the program’s end.