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'Soul Train' creator Don Cornelius commits suicide

Don Cornelius in 1973

 

Don Cornelius, creator of the long-running TV dance show "Soul Train," is dead at 75 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the coroner's office.

Authorities have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.

Cornelius' world grew dark in recent years as he faced fallout from a divorce and other pressures. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery and, in his divorce case that year, he also mentioned having significant health problems.

He has two children, Anthony and Raymond, with his first wife, Delores Harrison.

The entertainment world is mourning the death of "Soul Train" creator and host Don Cornelius, who was found dead in his California home Wednesday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. NBC's Aditi Roy reports.

TheGrio: Why 'Soul Train; will never leave America's station

"Soul Train" began in 1970 in Chicago and aired in syndication from 1971 to March 2006, featuring primarily African-American musicians. It 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. As the smooth-talking host with a deep voice, Cornelius gave to hip young kids of the '70s what 'American Bandstand' creator Dick Clark offered to viewers in the early days of rock 'n' roll.

As the popularity of 'Soul Train' grew, the show began to cross over into mainstream America and R&B artists soon broadened their fan base. That cemented its status as not just a hit TV program but one that helped shape pop culture.

Stars such as Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, James Brown and Stevie Wonder appeared on the show.

Watching the show became a weekly ritual in many households, especially African-American homes. Author Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote in theGrio that "It was virtually a black household ritual to do one of two things when Saturday rolled around and it was Soul Train time. One was to sway, swoon, and sing the lyrics belted out by the parade of R&B legends and top hit artists ... The other ritual was to dance, or more likely stumble around the living room, trying to do our best imitation of the latest dance steps displayed by the show's perpetual motion gyrating couples."

Popular features on the show included the "Soul Train Line," where individual dancers showed off their moves between two lines of people, and the "Soul Train Scramble Board," where dancers unscrambled letters that spelled the name of that night's performer or a prominent African-American.

The show began each episode by welcoming viewers to "the hippest trip in America" and closed by wishing them "love, peace and soul."

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

"Before MTV there was 'Soul Train,' that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius," he said. "His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched."

 

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