Don Cornelius, Soul Train Creator, Is Dead

02/01/2012 at 10:25 AM EST

Don Cornelius of Soul Train Fame Dead at 75
Don Cornelius
Paul Natkin/WireImage
Soul Train creator Don Cornelius was found dead Wednesday morning in his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home. He was 75.

He "died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head," L.A. Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter tells PEOPLE. "Earlier this morning, paramedics had responded to his L.A. residence at the 12,600 block of Mulholland Drive. He was transported to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m. An investigation is ongoing."

According to Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Sara Faden, Van Nuys police officers responded to his home at 4 a.m. "Mr. Cornelius was transported to the hospital where he was declared deceased," she tells PEOPLE. "Our detectives are still on the scene."





Six firefighters reported to the scene, as well, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson confirms.

Born in Chicago and originally an insurance salesman, Cornelius attended broadcasting school in 1966. After a start in local radio, he pitched his TV idea for an African-American version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, using $400 of his own money to film a Soul Train pilot in 1969. He took the show's name from a music promotional event that he had recently staged.

The Saturday morning show, which debuted in Chicago in 1970, was popular enough to be syndicated the following year. On it, Cornelius introduced some of the top names in R&B, including Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, and, over time, rock stars and jazz acts also appeared.

In 1987, Cornelius instituted the annual Soul Train Awards, which honored Stevie Wonder the first year. Cornelius remained as Soul Train host until 1993, when guest hosts took over.

By 2005, the show was syndicated to 105 cities and was said to have reached an estimated 85 percent of African American households. The show ended in 2006, when Chicago's Tribune Company shut down its TV distribution arm.

News of Cornelius's death was first reported by TMZ.com.

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