*Tony Cornelius, the son of late “Soul Train” founder Don Cornelius, says nothing had suggested to him or to friends that his father was suicidal.
“He was not feeling well so it’s really hard to say why my dad decided he had had enough,” Cornelius’s son told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s just one of those things. You just never know what someone is thinking. I can tell you due to health, things like divorce and relationships, there’s all kinds of things that may trigger a reaction like that. But as his son, as one who was really close, I can’t tell you [why].”
Don Cornelius, 75, who launched Soul Train in 1970 with $400 from his own pocket, died Feb. 1 of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Tony Cornelius (pictured below), who had worked with his father on various aspects of the franchise for about 15 years, says his father did not seem deeply despondent. “There were no signs of anything like that,” he said. “Many people can tell you they spoke to him, they talked to him, he was smiling when they saw him.”
In 2009, Don Cornelius was divorced from his second wife, Russian model Viktoria Chapman Cornelius, whom he had married in 2001. The previous year, he was arrested on charges of domestic violence and was placed on a 36-month probation, ordered to complete a 52-week domestic battery violence treatment, perform 300 hours of community service and stay 100 yards away from where the alleged attack took place. The probation period had ended recently. Tony declined to comment on that episode in his father’s life other than to say, “I think divorce is something that hurts everyone.”
But the main issue, he believes, was health. His father had sold the Soul Train franchise in 2008 and while he may have found it hard to let go of the property, he was satisfied overall with the way the new owner, InterMedia, was handling the property, Cornelius said.
“When it comes to the industry, he had done everything he wanted to do. He had been everywhere he wanted to be,” he said. “There was nothing he had not experienced. The factor that I would say, as his son, that really hurt him would be his health. My father had an aneurysm 15 or 20 years ago. When you’re struck with that kind of problem, it affects other parts of your body. He could get around well [but] he was frustrated by his health.”
A remembrance is planned for February 17, although the place and the guest list have not been finalized.
“The more I’m away from all this, the more I look at it as a celebration [of his father's life],” Cornelius said. “There are packages being produced on every station and the internet, all around the world, about the things he developed. It’s a situation where even younger people who never got a chance to see ‘Soul Train’ are being introduced to a world that they didn’t get to experience.”
Tony Cornelius also said he wants to create a foundation in his father’s name to help others who are struggling. “There are quite a few kids that are committing suicide,” he said. “Many times out of tragedy comes help.”