The Sad 2012 Death Of Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius, the host and creator of the music show "Soul Train," was a legend in his own lifetime. His contribution to American television is practically incalculable. The series was broadcast nationally from 1971 to 1993 with Cornelius as host and continued until 2006 with a succession of other hosts. The hit show focused on showcasing the best Black musical talent, as well as a small number of white artists who appealed to Black audiences during the period. In doing so, Cornelius broke down barriers of Black representation on American TV — never before had Black talent been so openly celebrated, nor were Black viewers so directly catered for in terms of the content of the show and the advertisements supporting it. But as CNN notes, "Soul Train" appealed to white audiences too, and before long the show was one of the most watched music shows across the U.S.

Cornelius was charisma personified, and he became a beloved screen presence during his many years hosting "Soul Train." However, he quit hosting the hit show in 1993, much to the surprise of the audience of loyal viewers he had built up over the years. Though he stayed on the production team behind the hit show, his personal life later hit the headlines after he ran into legal issues, and he died by suicide in 2012 at the age of 75.

A botched operation

Little was known about Don Cornelius' private life when he was at the height of his fame. "My father was extremely private and unfortunately, when you're a private person, you keep things inside," his son, Tony, told Reuters in the aftermath of his tragic death. As a result, few people except those closest to him were aware of the circumstances that led to his decision to quit being the face of "Soul Train."

In 1982, Don Cornelius underwent an operation that would change his life forever. The "Soul Train" host was suffering from a congenital brain condition that required medical intervention to fix malformed blood vessels. He rarely discussed his condition, though he gave an insight into the effect the procedure had on his day-to-day life in a 1995 interview with The Washington Post: "My health history does not allow me to be what I used to be as a manager or as an entrepreneur." Of the procedure, which reportedly took 21 hours, he said: "You choose your brain surgeons for their stamina. You're never quite the same afterward. Travel is always a real test."

Failing health

Don Cornelius tended to stay out of the public eye in his later years. Instead, his name would occasionally make the papers on account of disturbing stories related to his private life. The "Soul Train" hero's reputation notably took a nosedive in 2008 when it was revealed that he had been arrested on domestic violence charges and his wife had filed restraining orders against him. After initially denying the charges, he eventually admitted his guilt and spent three years on probation.

As details of his personal problems emerged into the public sphere, so too did the fact that he had long been in declining health. Over the course of the last 15 years of his life, he had suffered from seizures as a result of his condition, which left him frustrated and depressed, per his autopsy report. Nevertheless, Cornelius' contribution to the world of music has not been forgotten since his death. In 2023, it was announced that he was to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his services to music in the development and helming of his groundbreaking show.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat