Last Updated: May 22, 2024
Richest Celebrities
Net Worth:
$10 Million
Sep 27, 1936 - Feb 1, 2012 (75 years old)
Television producer, TV Personality, Screenwriter, Actor, Television presenter, Announcer, Disc jockey
United States of America
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What was Don Cornelius' Net Worth?

Don Cornelius was an American television show host and producer who had a net worth of $10 million at the time of his death in 2012. On February 1, 2012, police officers found Cornelius with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 75. Don Cornelius was best known as the host of the nationally syndicated dance/music franchise "Soul Train." More importantly, he was the show's creator and owner. He sold the rights to Soul Train to a group of investors for an undisclosed amount in 2008. Those investors sold Soul Train to BET in 2016. Don Cornelius got his start in show business in 1966 when he landed a job as an announcer, news reporter, and disc jockey on Chicago radio station WVON. Cornelius joined Chicago television station WCIU-TV in 1967 and hosted a news program called "A Black's View of the News." In 1970, he launched "Soul Train" on WCIU-TV as a daily local show. The program entered national syndication and moved to Los Angeles the following year. Cornelius hosted "Soul Train" from 1971 until 1993 and produced it until he sold it to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.

Early Life

Don Cornelius was born on September 27, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. He was raised in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago's South Side. He attended DuSable High School and graduated in 1954, after which time he joined the United States Marine Corps. He served in the Marines for 18 months during the Korean War. After returning to the United States and leaving the military, he worked a number of jobs selling tires, cars, and insurance. He later became an officer with the Chicago Police Department. However, he was unhappy with the work and quit his job in order to take a three-month broadcasting course in 1966. At the time, he was married with two children and only had $400 in his bank account. However, the risk paid off as he landed a job as an announcer, news reporter, and disc jockey on the Chicago radio station WVON.

Soul Train

Cornelius then joined the Chicago television station WCIU-TV in 1967, where he hosted a news program called "A Black's View of the News." Inspired by the civil rights movement and his new career in journalism, Cornelius noticed that in the late 1960s, there were very few television programs devoted to soul music. He felt the need to introduce the music of Black Americans to a larger audience and provide a larger platform for soul music in general. This need motivated him to create the program "Soul Train" in 1970. Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Hutton, and Honey Cone were featured in the debut episode.

The program was a near-immediate success and entered national syndication, moving to Los Angeles in 1971. Cornelius worked as the show's writer, producer and host. He became well-known for his signature style and afro, his smooth and deep voice, and particularly his catchphrases. He always closed the show with the phrase, "and you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and as always, in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul!"

Between 1971 and 1993, "Soul Train" featured all of the hottest acts of the time. Artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson appeared on the show, among numerous others. The show also acted as a launching pad for many talented dancers, who went on to have successful careers.

"Soul Train" was also instrumental in more prominently showing Black Americans on television, as before they primarily only had roles on white-centered programs. It helped launch the "Black is Beautiful" Campaign in the United States and showcased Black American culture, music, and dance to a wide audience. The show was universally appealing, as it had a massive white audience and developed a huge following around the country.

Don Cornelius

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Later Years

Cornelius left his role on the show in 1993, though it continued on without him until 2006. Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008. Outside of his work on "Soul Train," Cornelius had a small number of film roles. He appeared as a record producer in the 1988 film "Tapeheads." In 1987, he appeared as a fictionalized version of himself in the film "The Return of Bruno," a mockumentary about the fictional singer Bruno Radolini portrayed by Bruce Willis. In the film, Cornelius hosts a show called "Bless My Soul," loosely inspired by "Soul Train." Cornelius appeared in an episode of "Unsung" in 2012, his final onscreen appearance before his death.

Personal Life

Cornelius's first wife was Delores Harrison. The couple had two sons together, Anthony and Raymond before their marriage ended in divorce. He married Russian supermodel Victoria Avila in 2001. They remained married until 2009. The events that led up to the dissolution of their marriage were dramatic. In October of 2008, Cornelius was arrested at his Los Angeles home on Mulholland Drive on a felony domestic violence charge. He was charged with spousal abuse but pleaded not guilty. He was banned from going near Avila, who filed two restraining orders against him. He was ultimately placed on 36 months of probation, during which time Avila filed for divorce.

In the years that followed his death, sexual assault allegations directed at Cornelius surfaced. In a 2022 documentary miniseries called "Secrets of Playboy," Cornelius was accused of sexually assaulting two Playboy bunnies in the 1970s. The women alleged they had been brought to Cornelius's home for three days and were locked in separate rooms and assaulted. Cornelius's son, Anthony, subsequently released a statement that called the allegations baseless and unbelievable.


On February 1, 2012, police responded to reports that a gunshot was heard at Cornelius's home. They found Cornelius dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 75 years old. An autopsy report revealed that Cornelius had been suffering from seizures during the last 15 years of his life, a complication from a brain operation he had had in 1982. He had reported that he had never felt the same following the operation, which had led him to retire from hosting Soul Train. In the final six months of his life, his health had taken a sharp turn for the worst, leading him to commit suicide.

Real Estate

For much of his later years, Don Cornelius lived in an impressive mountaintop mansion. The 4,000-square-foot mansion with endless views was sold a year after his death for $1.39 million:

While he was married to Victoria Avila, Don owned a separate LA mansion. Victoria received this mansion in their divorce.

Victoria was also the beneficiary of $300,000 worth of life insurance policies connected to Cornelius. He agreed to give her these policies and the house above in their divorce settlement.

All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.
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