Don Cornelius is dead by his own hand. The 75-year-old founder and host of the iconic 70’s TV show Soul Train died from what police are calling a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home in Sherman Oaks, California. And while this may seem to be not much of a headline for a slow news day, it is, in fact, of more than passing interest to the TTAG Armed Intelligentsia. . .
Cornelius is credited with bringing black music to television. As a young white child growing up in the 70’s, the opening animation for Soul Train was an outward and visible sign that I needed to get my then-skinny white butt off the couch and go outside to do whatever kids did back then, for the cartoon fest that was Saturday morning television was officially over for the day.
In short, I was not a fan. Of the show, at least. But as far as Cornelius himself, I have to admit that I admired the guy for being a trailblazer, albeit one that simply figured out that he could be the “black Dick Clark” and make a mint on black music. (Hey, at least he was a black man profiting from black music. That’s something, at least.)
It’s Cornelius we can thank for being the pioneer who brought not just Motown to television, but a whole host of black stars and genres of music largely overlooked by American Bandstand. With his trademarked voice, smooth as aged bourbon, he introduced America to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The O’Jays and Barry White.
In many ways, he opened a window onto a black culture that had not been seen previously on mainstream television. Remember that back in the day, there was no such thing as BET, Oprah, or any other black impresario that broadcast to a mixed-race audience.
But we can also thank him for being, if not the father, then the man who popularized lip syncing on recorded television. (Heretofore, most acts would play live for recorded performances, but might resort to lip syncing for a live performance, just in case they anticipated problems.) Cornelius proved to a generation that it was more important to stand there with a dead mic and look as if you were actually performing than it was to perform the music itself. In effect, he’s the spiritual godfather of both Milli Vanilli and Ashlee Simpson.
From 1971 through 1993, he sat at or near the top of the black entertainment food chain. Along with his partner Quincy Jones, Cornelius was black entertainment. In his later years, Cornelius suffered the same fate as many who find their spotlight has faded – money troubles, health problems and marital strife. He was charged in 2008 for spousal battery. Pleading no contest to misdemeanor domestic violence, he was placed on three years probation which had terminated only a short time before his death.
In his bitter 2009 divorce trial, he told a judge that he wanted to “finalize this divorce before I die.” That turned out to be eerily prescient. The divorce was granted in 2010. At the trial, he’d mentioned that he’d been facing significant health issues which included brain surgery and complications from a stroke.
Police were summoned to his Sherman Oaks home where they found him with what is presumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Now, this might give members of the TTAG Armed Intelligentsia pause, for when last I looked, Sherman Oaks is in California. And haven’t they banned guns there?
Well, as it turns out that despite their best efforts, no they haven’t.
We don’t know what kind of gun Cornelius used (yet – as long as there are bottom-feeders out there like Perez Hilton and TMZ.com, it’s only a matter of time), but for the nonce, let’s assume that it was a handgun. How did he get it? Was it legally-obtained? Did he have a permit?
Most of these questions really aren’t that big a deal anywhere BUT the People Republik of Kalifornia. There the rule of thumb seems to be, “if you’re rich or famous, you qualify for a permit,” thus proving F. Scott Fitzgerald right. The rich (and famous) are NOT like you and me, for they can get a concealed carry permit in Cali. Now, I’m not a resident of the Golden State and I’m not an attorney. (But any of our TTAG regulars that can shed light on the legal aspects of gun ownership in CA are welcome to put their two cents in here, as always.)
Cornelius may have legally owned a gun and might even have had a permit, but I suspect that even the California laws that make exceptions for fame and fortune come up short when it comes to spousal assault and battery. I’d be surprised, too, if the judge on the case didn’t order Cornelius to surrender any weapons he owned due to the divorce proceedings and his arrest for battery. Then again, this IS California we’re talking about here. Double standards are au courant and have been since Hector was a puppy stand-in for Rin Tin Tin.
There’s been little speculation in the media as to why Cornelius chose to end his own life and we won’t pour fuel on that fire here for it serves no useful purpose. But I do think it’s ironic that a star killed himself with a gun in California – especially one who was only recently off probation for spousal abuse – and nobody in the media seems to be in the least bit interested in asking the question “do gun laws really save lives, or are they enacted solely to make liberals feel better about doing something symbolic about a problem for which there really is no cure?”
I’ll leave you with the words of The Man himself, which he used to sign off of Soul Train each Saturday afternoon:
And you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!