The tipster who notified TMZ.com about the death of “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius Wednesday morning might never be identified, but no identity was needed for the story to quickly consume social media and expand into the mainstream.
TMZ.com, which has gained notoriety for breaking such celebrity news, reported at 6 a.m. Pacific Time: “Don Cornelius — who famously created ‘Soul Train’ was found dead in his Sherman Oaks, CA home this morning … and law enforcement sources tell us it appears he committed suicide.
“We’re told cops discovered the body at around 4 AM PT. Law enforcement sources tell us … Cornelius died from a gunshot wound to the head and officials believe the wound was self-inflicted.”
The Los Angeles Times followed 32 minutes later: “Law enforcement sources said police arrived at Cornelius’ home around 4 a.m. He apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.”
From there, the story went viral, as it was confirmed, tributes flowed and surprising biographical information surfaced, such as Cornelius’ brief life as a journalist.
“Don Cornelius was born in Chicago on September 27, 1936. He grew up on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side and attended DuSable High School, where he studied art and drew cartoons for the school newspaper,” according to Jordan Wankoff in “Contemporary Black Biography.”
Greg Kot wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Cornelius “worked numerous jobs”: he sold insurance, worked as a TV newsman and deejayed at WVON, which serenaded the South and West Sides with soul music. While employed at WCIU-TV in the ’60s, he started hosting soul dance parties around the city and eventually approached station management about a show based on the same idea. They accepted.”
The Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “Cornelius started his career as a fill-in disc jockey and also worked in the news department at WVON-AM in 1966, having gone to broadcasting school after working in the insurance business.
“He also appeared on WCIU-Channel 26’s ‘A Black’s View of the News’ before he created ‘Soul Train,’ which would become the longest-running syndicated program in television history.”