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American television icon Don Cornelius created and hosted Soul Train, which spent more than 30 years on the air.
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When American Bandstand went off the air in 1989, Soul Train was still going strong. But Cornelius continuously looked for ways to freshen up the show. In 1993, he gave up his duties as host and brought in guest hosts. “I had come to believe . . . that the era of the well-spoken, well-dressed Dick Clark, Don Cornelius-type in a suit and a tie was over ... I am just convinced that people want to see people on TV who are more like themselves,” he explained to The New York Times.
In 1995, Cornelius launched the Lady of Soul Awards. The first honorees were Debbie Allen, who received the Lena Horne Award for outstanding career achievements in the field of entertainment, and Salt-N-Pepa, who received the Aretha Franklin Award. Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and Brandy performed during that first ceremony. Later on, both Brandy and Queen Latifah won the Aretha Franklin Award.
Getting performers for the show, however, was sometimes a challenge for Cornelius. In 2001, he complained about MTV’s booking practices for its own award shows, which call for acts not to appear on competing programs within 30 days of the event. “It’s anti-competitive behavior that needs to be addressed at the Federal Trade Commission level,” he told the Los Angeles Times. He thought the tactic was especially egregious because of the cable music channel’s early history of not showing videos by African-American artists.
By 2005, Soul Train was being seen in 105 cities, reaching an estimated 85 percent of black households, according to the show’s website. Unfortunately, recent events have put the show’s future in question. In December 2007, the program lost its distributor when Tribune Entertainment closed that division in its company.
After the end of Sould Train, Cornelius told the Los Angeles Times that he was in discussions to create a movie based on the famous franchise. "It wouldn't be the Soul Train dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project," he said. "It's going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show."
But life took a dark turn for Cornelius in 2008, when he was arrested and charged with spousal battery, dissuading a witness from making a police report, and assault with a deadly weapon.He pled no contest to misdemeanor domestic violence, and was sentenced to three years probation. The incident led to a bitter divorce battle between Cornelius and wife, Viktoria, in 2009. During their feuding, which lasted for over a year, Cornelius was also suffering from multiple health issues, including a stroke and several undisclosed ailments that required brain surgery.
The legal proceedings took an emotional toll on Cornelius, who made the statement within his divorce documentation that, "I am 72 years old. I have significant health issues. I want to finalize this divorce before I die." In 2010, Cornelius was granted his divorce.
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