*The Late Don Cornelius, whose memorial is today at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills, lifted our spirits for decades, but saddened us by taking his life before it was his time to go. Shortly after brother Don’s suicide, many of us heard stories from his son, Tony, about poor health and misery. Don suffered an aneurism just a few years earlier, and his divorce from model Viktoria Chapman Cornelius likely put a hurting on his bank account.
I felt sorry for Don, who fell victim to the elixir of love and gave his heart to a woman who would eventually tear it out. Viktoria, a woman who looks too young to even remember Soul Train, also has an interesting history as a soft porn actress. It’s hard to imagine her being the perfect wife and mother type. But in all fairness, the allegations of domestic violence in the Cornelius household tell us that Don might not have been so perfect himself.
The scenario under which Don Cornelius lived, died and suffered was honestly quite typical: An older man with a lot of money attracts a young, beautiful woman who loves to shop at Saxs Fifth Avenue. The tradeoff, in these cases, can often be quite simple: Money for looks. A romantic partnership can be built on a lot of things, but if it’s built on something superficial, there’s a much greater chance for disaster.
In Cornelius’ case, his wife put him through a nasty divorce, right at the time he needed companionship the most. But love is a two-way street, so it’s hard to say whose at fault. But we do know a couple of things: The sadness from his life circumstance likely contributed to Don’s decision to kill himself, and his ex-wife profited handsomely from his death.
When your body, your relationship and your life are slowly decaying, it can be tempting to bring all three to an end as soon as possible. At the age of 72, Cornelius said, “”I am 72-years-old. I have significant health issues. I want to finalize this divorce before I die.” He seemed ready to close the door years before his suicide.
Don lived an extraordinary life and experienced an unfortunate death. He also reminded us that who we choose to love is probably one of the most important decisions we’ll ever make. This is not to fault Cornelius for falling in love with the beautiful woman in front of him, but it says something about ensuring that our mates have personalities are that are just well-rounded as their body parts.
No end, no matter how sad, can take away from the greatness of Don Cornelius. His legacy was etched in stone long before any of this happened. But even as we admire our heroes and learn from their triumphs, it is also important to learn a thing or two from their mistakes.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.