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Don Cornelius: Founder of Soul Train found dead at age 75

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A distraught “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius called his son early last Tuesday morning, shortly before he is believed to have fatally shot himself in the head, law enforcement sources said.

The son rushed to Cornelius’ home and found his father mortally wounded with a gunshot wound to the head. He called 911, and his father was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

According to law enforcement sources his death is being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. County coroner’s office. Sources said detectives have interviewed several people close to Cornelius and say that all evidence suggests he took his own life.

In a 2010 interview with The Times, he said he was excited about a movie project he was developing about “Soul Train.” According to The Times Hollywood Walk of Fame database, Cornelius’ “Soul Train” became the longest-running first-run nationally syndicated show in television history, bringing African American music and style to the world for 35 years. Cornelius stopped hosting the show in 1993, and “Soul Train” ceased production in 2006.

Inspired by “American Bandstand,” he devised a similar program spotlighting black music and introduced it on the Chicago UHF station WCIU in 1970. It was syndicated in 1971, and Cornelius soon moved the production to Hollywood. Cornelius was the deep-voiced host, and in addition to major black artists, the show also attracted such R&B-leaning rock performers as David Bowie and Robert Palmer.

Cornelius had undergone brain surgery in the 1980s and was quoted in newspapers at the time as saying he didn’t feel quite the same afterward. His second marriage, to Russian model Viktoria Chapman, ended in divorce after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery in 2009. He had alluded to health problems in divorce papers.

Although law enforcement sources believe Cornelius killed himself, they said it would take days to fully investigate, including interviewing friends and family and examining evidence in his home.

 

 

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