Legendary ‘Soul Train’ Creator Don Cornelius Battled Demons in Final Years - Friends of Don Cornelius say the legendary creator of the long-running television show Soul Train was dealing with significant “demons,’’ and while they are saddened by his death, they say they aren’t surprised he took his own life with a gunshot to the head.
“Don was always a smart man, but in recent years he’d made a lot of poor choices in business and in his relationships with women,’’ said one friend of 30 years. “He was swayed by a few people to invest in projects that didn’t pan out and the last marriage in many ways destroyed his mind, heart and his soul. He was never the same after that marriage.’’
Some close to the smooth-voiced television host described a man hurt and distraught by bad business decisions, poor health, and an ugly divorce that took hundreds of thousands of dollars from his children and other family members.
Long-time friends such as Clarence Avant, the former chairman of Motown Records, said that no matter the reasons for his death, the music industry owes Cornelius a great debt. “His legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history,” he said. “He was one of my dearest friends and I will miss him deeply.’’
Los Angeles police said they arrived at Cornelius’ Mulholland Drive home around 4 a.m. on February 1 after receiving a call from one of his sons, who became worried after Cornelius called him. “He and his son had a conversation earlier and the son came over and found his father in that state,” said Officer Sara Faden, of the Los Angeles Police Department. “It looks like the two of them had spoken within the hour.”
Cornelius, who was found on the floor, was rushed to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:57 a.m. There was no suicide note. Police, who spent most of the day at the house talking to friends and family members, have ruled out foul play.
News of the music pioneer’s death prompted an outpouring from some of the pop world's biggest stars. Aretha Franklin, who performed on Soul Train, released a statement calling Cornelius' death "sad, stunning, and downright shocking … a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large." Smokey Robinson said Cornelius "brought exposure to black talent and a positive image to young black teenagers that had never been done before."
For me, a black girl with practically no rhythm, "Soul Train" was my classroom, helping me navigate the social minefield of high school dances.
On Saturdays, I'd study the "Soul Train" dancers and try my best to mimic their moves. With my siblings, in front of our old TV, you couldn't tell me I wasn't hip, as we'd bounce around doing the Click Clacks, the Shaft or Son of Shaft dances. If I had any edge at all as a teenager, I owe every bit of to Don Cornelius.
Cornelius was one cool cat.
Always sharply dressed, in the early days he used to sport a perfectly shaped afro. He was social- minded and showed it, like when he interviewed James Brown onstage and brought up urban crime.
When he did the "Soul Train Scramble" - dancers would move letters around to discover hidden phrases or names - the answers often were historic black figures such as Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman.
It's ironic that Cornelius' death yesterday, an apparent suicide, was on the first day of Black History Month.
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