Don Cornelius, 75, was found dead in an apparent suicide at his Sherman Oaks home on Wednesday morning. There is speculation he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, but police are investigating. Still, Cornelius will always be remembered as a hero to many, especially urban kids growing up in the ’70s.
“And you can bet your money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey!” Before Cornelius was the host of one of the first, longest-running, weekly, black-oriented, music-variety shows on television with “Soul Train,” Cornelius was selling life insurance in his hometown of Chicago. Soon after, Cornelius left his $250-a-week job for a $50-a-week gig at a popular radio station. Many folks in his inner circle thought that when he took a pay cut, he had lost a few brain cells, but Cornelius was determined to try his hand at broadcasting in 1966.
His disc jockey stints eventually led Cornelius to a job as a sports anchorman on an ethnic-programming Chicago television station. It was during this time that Cornelius hatched the idea for a Black-oriented dance show and pitched it to the station heads. The dance show idea was well-received. Still, while station owners allowed Cornelius to produce it, they stipulated that Cornelius would have to bankroll it. Cornelius soon came up with the name “Soul Train,” because of a local promotion that he spearheaded in 1969.