LOS ANGELES - Don Cornelius, the silken-voiced host of ''Soul Train'' who helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, died early Wednesday of an apparent suicide. He was 75.
Police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the coroner's office.
Police Officer Sara Faden said authorities have ruled out foul play. Detectives have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.
His death prompted many to speak of the positive influence he and his show had on pop culture, music and the black community.
''Soul Train'' began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.
It showcased such legendary artists as Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius, who was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was the first host and executive producer.
''There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity,'' he said in 2006, then added: ''I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.''
Chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television Debra Lee cited Cornelius as a personal role model. She said she used to finish her chores early on Saturday mornings so she could check out the latest music, fashions and dance moves on the show.
''He was such a pioneer in the black music space but also in the black business space,'' she said. ''He created the show in a very hostile environment. He made it a success and he made it a destination for African-Americans and lovers of our culture all over the country and all over the world.
''His reach is just amazing, and personally he was such a charming man,'' she continued, calling Cornelius ''a great interviewer who knew how to connect to artists'' and had ''the best voice in the world.''
Earvin ''Magic'' Johnson also cited Cornelius' business acumen.
And, Johnson added, ''Soul Train taught the world how to dance!''
Other entertainers and music fans also shared their thoughts about the show and its creator on Twitter, where both Cornelius and ''Soul Train'' were top topics Wednesday.
Singer-actor Ginuwine remembered the smooth-voiced producer as ''someone who paved the way for black music.''
''I still remember my first time on soul train,'' he wrote, ''what an experience.''
On his blog, music mogul Russell Simmons called Cornelius ''one of the greatest music legends there was.''
''Don Cornelius gave artists who had been segregated from most mainstream vehicles of expression a chance to perform in front of a huge national audience,'' Simmons wrote. ''It was a tremendous opportunity that changed their careers and the whole music industry. To win a Soul Train Music Award meant that the most sophisticated tastemakers in the world loved your work.''
''Soul Train,'' with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not, however, an immediate success for Cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble and cool manner.
Only a handful of stations initially were receptive.