“He did pass away this morning” at his home in the Sherman Oaks area, Los Angeles Police Department officer Sara Faden told AFP. She said police responded to a 4:00 am call of a shooting, but Faden said she was not able to confirm U.S. media reports that Cornelius died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
“The investigation is still ongoing,” she said. Cornelius created “Soul Train” in 1970, and it quickly become essential viewing for young Americans, particularly African-Americans, eager to see and hear black stars who often did not get exposure on mainstream — and largely white — radio or television. By the following year, the so-called “hippest trip in America” was in national syndication. The dapper-dressed, baritone-voiced Cornelius presided over the musical variety program that showcased splashy dance moves, outrageous fashion trends and over-the-top hairstyles almost as much as its legendary musical acts.
The show featured stars like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and Whitney Houston, and helped propel the careers of up-and-comers like Luther Vandross. “Soul Train” emerged as a counterbalance to the more established music show “American Bandstand,” which while occasionally profiling black acts like rock pioneer Chuck Berry and soul giant James Brown, largely catered to white acts. In a rare interview, Cornelius told the magazine TimeOut Chicago that when he turned on American radio in 1970, “I saw the general-market world, the white world. “I felt that it was my mission to see to it that black talent had an opportunity to get national television exposure.” Celebrity gossip website TMZ reported Wednesday that when Cornelius divorced his wife in 2009, he told a Los Angeles judge that he had “significant health issues” and wanted to “finalize this divorce before I die.” “Soul Train” aired continuously until 2006, and the show made claims in later years that it was the longest-running nationally syndicated program in television history.