As our news blog The Informer reported this morning, Cornelius was found in his Sherman Oaks home and taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center around 4 a.m. Investigators from LAPD have not officially ruled if the death was a suicide or homicide.
Cornelius was born in Chicago in 1936. He began his career as a journalist and was hired by Chicago's WCIU-TV as a news and sports reporter. At the same time, he was emceeing a traveling concert series featuring local acts he called "The Soul Train." The station soon became home to the program, and its first airing was August 17, 1970.
As documented in 2010's Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America, Cornelius was a visionary, not only introducing African-American musicians to a mainstream audience, but also creating one of the first African-American owned media empires. As the writer, producer and host of Soul Train, he was integral in the show's immediate, overwhelming success -- by the end of its first season, it was syndicated and running in 24 markets outside of Chicago.
The shows musical acts, dancers and Cornelius' own catchphrases, delivered in his cooler-than-cool bass ("A groove that will make you real smooth"), made the show must-see. Soul Train became the vehicle for moving urban trends to the masses. Not just masses -- one of the series' regular dancers, Jeffrey Daniel, created the slick backslide that Michael Jackson made famous as the Moonwalk.
Soul Train, the longest, continuously running first-run syndicated program in television history, hosted everyone from Aretha Franklin to Run DMC, though Cornelius was reluctant to embrace hip hop. In 1993, he ended his 22-year-stretch as host of the program but continued to operate the business behind the scenes until he sold the show in 2008.
The past few years have seen Cornelius suffering from health problems and a bitter divorce, but he sounded optimistic in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2010, mentioning a possible Soul Train movie project.
To quote Cornelius himself, as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul.
Thursday night Center for the Arts Eagle Rock -- a venue that made our Top 10 Live Music Venues in L.A. -- will throw a "Soul Tribute" in honor of Don Cornelius. Peanut Butter Wolf will play videos and Monalisa will spin music. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the party lasts until 12:30 a.m. There's a $5 donation. 18 & over, 2225 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, 90041.
Below, one of our favorite clips from the show (note Cornelius' reaction post-performance), and the famous Soul Train line.