Don Cornelius, creator of iconic dance program 'Soul Train' that helped introduce Americans to black culture on TV, died after shooting himself in the head, officials said on Wednesday. He was 75.
"The death was reported as a suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head," said coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter. Cornelius was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m., Winter said.
Police discovered the popular personality's body at his house after responding to reports of shots fired in the wealthy, hillside area of Los Angeles called Sherman Oaks where he lived. The community is home to many celebrities and entertainment executives.
Cornelius was taken to a nearby hospital where he was officially pronounced dead, LAPD spokesman Kevin Maiberger said. He declined to give details because detectives were still at the scene investigating on Wednesday morning.
Cornelius launched 'Soul Train' in the early 1970s as a local dance show from Chicago. It relocated to Los Angeles the following year and eventually became part of pop culture history by boosting the careers of young artist breaking out, such as the Jackson Five, and older artists like James Brown that were looking to tap into a young, funky audience.
As the smooth-talking host with a deep voice, Cornelius gave to hip young kids of the '70s what 'American Bandstand' creator Dick Clark offered to viewers in the early days of rock 'n' roll.
As the popularity of 'Soul Train' grew, the show began to crossover into mainstream America and R&B artists soon broadened their fan base. That cemented its status as not just a hit TV program but one that helped shape pop culture.
'Soul Train' aired until 2006, making it the longest running U.S. series in first run syndication. Cornelius sold the franchise in 2008.
Long-time friend Rev. Al Sharpton expressed shock and grief over the news of the death.
"He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level," he said in a statement.
Quincy Jones said that he was "deeply saddened" at the sudden passing of his friend, colleague and business partner.
"Before MTV there was 'Soul Train,' that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius," he said. "His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched."