On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, we learned that Don Cornelius (allegedly) raised a gun and shot himself in the head. There is no fun lead in or sexy way to state that fact. At age 75, though blessed with a legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship as the creator of Soul Train, he made the choice to leave this world. There will be those who speak about some troubled relationships, such as the breakdown of his second marriage and subsequent nasty divorce. There will be people who speak to their beliefs that his soul will now be damned to the eternity of hell.
I won’t speak to any of that. What hits me is that the police were summoned to his house at 4:00 am. That is a quiet time. A haunting time. A lot can go on with a man left alone with his dark thoughts in the early morning hours. Reports state that during the divorce in 2009, Don said that he was suffering from some serious health issues and wanted to get the proceedings done before he died. We don’t know the pain some others feel as they take in each day’s breath.
In the 1970s, if you loved music and dancing, watching Soul Train on Saturday was the place to be. As a business man, Don was the first African-American produce, host and own his own show. As the decades wore on, the show evolved in the changing musical atmosphere and hosted hip-hop artists that were sometimes rebuffed as guests in other TV venues. And Don wasn’t even a hip-hop fan.
Nothing can take away the magic of what Soul Train was. What it meant to the black community in terms of support for musicians and promoting a positive cultural image. And Soul Train’s reach went beyond the racial divide, gaining fans of all races and having guests that included Elton John, David Bowie and Robert Palmer.
Don leaves behind two sons and a lifetime of appreciative fans. I hope that in the darkness of the night, Don knew how much he mattered.