Police had responded to a report of a gunshot around 4 a.m. PST, the Associated Press reports, and Cornelius was declared dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from a self-inflicted gunshot wound an hour later.
“Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business,” music industry icon Quincy Jones said in a statement. “Before MTV there was Soul Train; that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched.”
Soul Train was broadcast nationally from 1971 to 2006, with Cornelius, an executive producer, also serving as host until 1993. (Subsequent hosts included Mystro Clark, actor Shemar Moore [now of Criminal Minds] and Dorian Gregory [Baywatch Nights].)
The show, which at the time was likened to a “black American Bandstand” (though Cornelius reportedly never cared for that comparison), helped introduce audiences to minority recording artists — Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Earth, Wind and Fire included — that otherwise did not get much play from the mainstream media even in the wake of the civil rights movement.
“Soul Train was a new idea,” Cornelius said in a 1984 interview with United Press International. “It was special-market television in a general audience medium before cable came along…. We took the Bandstand format and gave it another look, created another character.”
You can watch a clip of Cornelius interviewing a young Michael Jackson here, while below is as a compilation reel of some of Soul Train‘s biggest acts.