On Wednesday, those who knew Cornelius recalled his impact on American culture. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. In , after more than two decades of changing musical styles and fashions, he stepped down as host. The show ended production in Cornelius was born in Chicago on Sept. He sold tires, cars and insurance before taking a course in broadcasting in The show was the talk of the town.
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With his first wife, Delores, Cornelius had two sons, Anthony and Raymond. His second marriage, to Russian model Viktoria Chapman, ended in divorce after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery in Times staff writers Valerie J. After gathering all of the information, I then reconstructed the story using a narrative, non-fiction approach.
I wanted to begin to uncover the reasons why Soul Train had this lasting cultural impact around the world. What was it about the show that allows it to continue to resonate for so many different kinds of people? And what was Don's personal story -- how did he persevere as a black pioneer in television?
Who was he behind the cool pose we witnessed on television? How did these two things -- Don's personality and the phenomenon of Soul Train -- come together to create the longest running first-run syndicated show in television history?
And how did it come together to create a lasting cultural phenomenon? There are many pivotal moments, but one is where Cornelius' trusted secretary turns out to be embezzling. Much later in his life, and in the book, the scene where Don Cornelius won't pay towards Lil Joe Chism's headstone is heartbreaking. What do you think he owed his dancers? Do you think his trust issues and generosity issues extended past business travails into something more internal?
On the one hand I believe spiritually that to whom much is given, much is expected and a few hundred dollars to pay for the headstone for a loyal dancer that helped to build the success of the show would have been easy to do. The dancers, most of whom came from the same circumstances that he did, also looked up to him and many just wanted recognition from him that they were a huge part of what made the show tremendously popular.
Dick Clark didn't have the same kind of expectations in terms of helping people -- particularly the dancers -- that Don did.
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But Don was a pioneer. A black pioneer in a television industry that was not very welcoming. So I think there is definitely a different set of responsibilities that comes with that. There is the responsibility in giving back in more ways than are just financial.
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The debate with Belafonte and Jay Z speaks to this -- can collective advancement come from one's own personal advancement? I personally don't think we've arrived at that point yet.
I think for Don personally the burden of celebrity may have eventually affected his psyche. Maybe he thought the only time that people turned to him was for money. Maybe he started feeling used.
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Don Cornelius, with the persona he created for the show, seemed to try to create this distance between him and the world. I think that persona prevented him from making a lot of personal connections. Maybe that's the way he wanted it. Maybe personally, he felt imprisoned, as many celebrities do, because he had to constantly be on. It's possible, from a purely business perspective, that he felt that he gave dancers an opportunity, a platform, to showcase their talents and that exposure was its own reward. Personally, maybe the price of taking on the persona of Don Cornelius was that he became indifferent.
He was very complicated. You mentioned his generosity at the same time as his refusal to pay for a headstone for a few hundred dollars. When he believed in someone there was no price he wouldn't pay to have them succeed as I detail in the book about some of the artists he managed. Maybe he didn't want to lose money on people he didn't bet on -- a very narcissistic way of thinking. But no one that I talked to made the claim that he was a nice, warm person -- it was quite the opposite.
Most talked about him as a private person with this Dr.
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He kept a lot close to his chest, including the Soul Train brand. He regretted it after the song became a huge hit, but that's how protective he was of the brand and that translated to his personal life as well. One is the episode with Marvin Gaye on February 16, This was his first televised appearance since his hiatus from touring after Tammi Terrell died.