Before there was Barack Obama, there was Don Cornelius.
I find myself sadder today, one day after hearing the news of his passing, than I was when I initially heard the report.
Mr. Cornelius, 75, died on February 1, 2012, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I think it’s just set in for me today because when I first heard I really wasn’t surprised that he’d taken his own life. In fact, over the last few years, I had heard more about Don Cornelius’s personal life than I ever did in the entire time he hosted Soul Train.
While always upbeat and courteous to his guests and the dancers, he maintained a certain “coolness,” that while I wouldn’t describe it as cold, I wouldn’t describe him as one who allowed outsiders into Don’s world. He was somewhat mysterious. And I loved that about him. Actually, it was sort of sexy.
I overheard a lady on the train yesterday talking on the phone about how it was a shame that he tarnished such a great legacy by dying the way he did. I don’t see it that way, at all. If anything, it seems that Mr. Cornelius was a man who liked to be in control of his own destiny, though none of us are truly in control.
But to the extent he could control his fate, he did. I suspect he probably was suffering from the effects of aging (although he always appeared young in spirit), poor health and a nasty divorce. This combination can take a toll on a 75 year old man.
For me, nothing could tarnish his legacy or take away from the appeal of his sultry voice. He opened the door for so many artists when no one else did. He also gave African Americans a sense of pride about their appearance (the dancers always rocked the newest fashions). He helped to promote Ultra Sheen, Afro Sheen and Essence Magazine. And I can’t help but think he made a lot of white folks envious. Can you imagine how much they wanted to be black when watching “Soul Train?”
I’m sorry that he’s gone, but I’m happy that he left, privately, and before the tabloids could publish photos of a sick, weary and unrecognizable Don Cornelius.
I wish you “Love, Peace and Soul.”*
*Don Cornelius’s trademark signoff on “Soul Train”