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Soul Train Host Shoots Himself. In California.

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, 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!


  1. avatar Whiskey Tango says:

    I live in Ca. I like to think it would be a normal state like Oregon or Nevada if not for the Bay Area and that piss hole known as LA. We have a 10 day waiting period when we by a gun and have to take a silly little handgun safety class when purchasing your first handgun. Veterans, active duty, and police get to skip the class. Getting a CCW really depends on what county you are in. In my county it is shall issue but places like San Francisco you might have a bit of a problem. We have the 10 rd magazine limits, ( because 11 would just be evil) and we have bullet buttons on our so called assault rifles. Most of the laws concerning the “evil black rifle” or her eastern European cousin involve cosmetics. (pistol grip, folding stocks, and the shoulder thing that goes up) link provided lol.

    1. avatar Tim says:

      NOT veterans, RETIRED Military – big difference, eh? I asked, I served eight years – so had to get the HSC.

      1. avatar Whiskey Tango says:

        8 years of honorable service and you still have to take a hand gun safety class? I would take that as slap in the face.

        1. avatar Moonshine7102 says:

          As would I. Service is service, and f^ck Kalifornia for saying differently.

        2. avatar Tim says:

          Well, I can be offended all I want, but I wanted to buy that Sig, so I took the 25-question test. Funny thing, I no longer need it since I now have a LTC, CHL, CCW, etc… In my city (ordinance), the dealer has to also log the ammo (caliber and qty) for your purchase of ammo, unless you have a CCW.

    2. avatar APBTFan says:

      Arizona is always welcome to new residents.

    3. avatar Mikeb302000 says:

      Whiskey Tango, so if I understood you correctly, Brad is wrong about the claim that only the rich and famous can own guns in California. Is that right? Why didn’t you say so? Brad wrote three paragraphs on the “rich and famous” theme.

      1. avatar Whiskey Tango says:

        Look at it like this mikey. Back in the the ’90s the only person in San Francisco with a CCW was Dianne Feinstein. So yeah in certain places the “rich and famous” are held above the rest of the serfs.

        1. avatar Mikeb302000 says:

          You sure about that, WT? Was she literally the ONLY one?

          Maybe this is one of those Moonshine-type hyperboles.

      2. avatar C. Walther says:

        I didn’t read anywhere that said only the rich and famous can have guns. I read that only the rich and famous can have carry permits.

    4. avatar wtfdidIjustread says:

      What on earth did I just read? As I understand it, guns are not completely banned in California. Not even remotely so. While California does have an approved handgun list, 10 round magazine restrictions, and CCW permits that are not shall issue in some of the most populous counties, I don’t see how any of this is relevant to an article about a guy shooting himself in the head in his own home. There’s no indication in the article that Cornelius acquired his gun illegally.

      I’m all for pointing out the failures of gun control but can you at least try to make the criticism fact based. I get that California is the punching bag of the gun community but this was the best example you could come up with? The “only the rich and famous get guns in California” cry has absolutely no relevance here. I also found it hilarious that you decided to mention TMZ and Perez Hilton in your article. I’m pretty sure they at least attempt to include facts in their stories.

      Further, this entire article is pretty sloppy, even by blog standards. Why on earth you felt the need to piss on Don Cornelius’ legacy by claiming he’s the godfather of lip syncing is beyond me (given your track record it’s probably not even true).

      1. avatar Mikeb302000 says:

        Good comment. I guess you don’t know Brad yet.

  2. avatar Big John says:

    How are any of those stipulations normal? Not being an ass, I just don’t understand…

    1. avatar Whiskey Tango says:

      I wasn’t saying they we’re normal. What I was saying we would be normal but the insane part of our guns laws seem to come from legislators out of the Bay and LA. I hope that cleared it up.

  3. avatar Helen A Handbasquet says:

    I live in the heart of San Francisco which means there is no way in hell the sheriff will ever issue me a CCW ( and after whacking his wife he’s had to surrender his own sidearm, ha ha ha ) but I don’t need a permit to blow my brains out with the .41 I keep at home. It would be interesting to see if DC did have a CCW; not sure if he was properly rich or famous with his show being off the air for so long.
    I would have been very ironic indeed if he ended it all by jumping in front of a train instead of using a handgun.

  4. avatar RobinGoodfellow says:

    As a recent California transplant, I can say I find the firearms laws vexing. Only “listed” guns are allowed to be sold in the state. Without a CCW (which I am extremely unlikely to be granted in Orange County) I must carry my handgun unloaded in a locked case–and that case MUST NOT be attached to my vehicle. So I can’t just lock it in my glove box. But, apparently, the trunk is OK, as long as I can’t get into the trunk from the back seat.

    Gun laws in my home state of Florida are much more civilized.

    1. avatar Tim says:

      You can buy off-list guns through Private Party Transfers – they sell them all the time on

      1. avatar Jon says:

        It’s a violation of CA law, but yes, you can do it.

        1. avatar Anonymouse says:

          The “Safe Gun” roster only applies to dealer sales, private party transfers are specifically exempt.

        2. avatar Tim says:

          Not a violation, it only applies to dealers. Otherwise there would be a whole lotta hay being made since we all have to fill out the DROS and wait 10 days for the traded or bought gun.

  5. avatar Mike OFWG says:

    It appears that Virginia is about to sunset the one gun a month law! I was kinda strapped having to come up with the toads to purchase twelve guns a year.

    1. avatar Tim says:

      Man, that sucks – you HAVE to buy a gun a month in VA?

      1. avatar Mike OFWG says:

        Nah Tim, I was just joshin, but the restriction was that you could only purchase on one handgun a month (don’t know about rifles), unless you had a ccw permit. I bet you are joshin me!

        1. avatar Tim says:

          Yes, a little sarcasm there – we have the same thing in CA.

      2. avatar Aharon says:

        We must pass Sunrise Laws requiring all citizens to buy one gun per month. It will be good for liberty, safety, and the economy.

        1. avatar applebutter says:

          Nope. Once you do something like that, some yahoo with the gummint will get the idea he can order you to buy other stuff you may not want or need.

          Like, for instance, health insurance.

        2. avatar MadDawg J says:

          I like the law in Kennesaw, GA (where I used to live). All heads of household are required by law to have a gun and ammo. There hasn’t been a murder there in 25 years and there is not much call for home invasions (GA has a “Stand Your Ground” Castle Law) either.

          Besides the fact that the law has worked very effectively, it is also a “two can play at that” to those passing anti-gun laws.

  6. avatar Jon says:

    I live in CA, am an attorney, and have a CCW. You can see the list of prohibiting misdemeanors here:

    The CCW process in CA is spotty and ripe for abuse, but that said, a) he shot himself at home, so the CCW angle is kind of a tangent, and b) gun control doesn’t work to start with. Very possibly the guns were illegally owned, kept, acquired, whatever, but you can do all of that if you’re poor and obscure, too.

  7. avatar Anonymouse says:

    Cut the stupid california baiting, its irrelevant here: Concealed carry permits have nothing to do with his ownership. (and, as an aside, it really depends on the county. EG, Sacramento is effectively “Shall Issue”, and the process overall has significantly improved due to a recent state law. CalGuns Foundation CCW Initiative)

    As for legal ownership? Probably not, and quite possibly “probably not” in most any state. It depends on the actual charge he agreed to in the no-contest plea, but if it was an actual domestic violence charge that was pleaded, thats a lifetime Federal prohibition on gun ownership. If it was assault, battery, stalking, etc thats a 10 year state ban.

  8. avatar Aharon says:

    I recall taking the California Gun Safety Test (eyes rolling here it was so friggin nuts). The Ms.-Information about the statistics of children’s accidental gun deaths and in juries was way off the charts literally.

  9. avatar bontai Joe says:

    Soul Train arrived on my TV right about the time I hit puberty. The music was sorta ok, but the dancers were hot to watch. I used to watch it on Saturday mornings. Sorry to hear of Mr. Cornelius’s health and personal problems in his later life and sad to hear of his suicide.

    1. avatar Mike OFWG says:

      I’m with you bontai Joe, always sad to hear that another human being took their own life. I can’t judge, my mom died in 2011 at 96, she had a no life support clause in her will, she didn’t eat, drink or talk the last week, we treat our pets better than that.

  10. avatar JP in Tennessee says:

    If he had been convicted of domestic battery, then per federal law he was banned for life from possessing any firearm. So, since it was illegal for him to possess a handgun, it was therefore impossible for him to shoot himself. Because we all know that passing a law will control someone’s behavior.

  11. avatar GS650G says:

    “for the cartoon fest that was Saturday morning television was officially over for the day”
    Exactly the same here. When I started watching it instead I developed an appreciation for black music that continues today.
    George Duke wrote the theme song for Soul Train and never charged Don for using it.

  12. avatar Ralph says:

    RIP, Don Cornelius, and thanks for the music.

  13. avatar rt66paul says:

    He may have bought the guns before Ca law got so overly crazy(it started when Ronald Reagan saw Black Panthers with guns protesting in Sacramento-open carry of loaded long guns was stapped).
    I don’t know about the aledged abuse, but maybe the judge did not ask about any firearms he may have owned in 2009. Many people in Ca have weapons bought in the good ol’ days before waiting periods (registration), so they are not connected to those handguns(or later, long guns), or even – dare I say it – they could have a handgun that was bought out of state at some long ago time and did not even think about notifying the state DOJ. Remember, in Ca, as far as celebrities are concerned, it is, “Do as I say, not as I do”.
    Many people that remember freer times, will do as they please. I was at a Halloween party, one couple in their 80s were there as the Godfather and wife, he was packing a nice S&W revolver, loaded – of course. I told him it might not be a good idea to wear it home(and why) and he just laughed it off.

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