Don is dead.
I read a few weeks ago in the New York Times that Don Cornelius had died by his own hand and found myself profoundly sad. He was found in his apartment with an apparent gun shot wound to his head. He was recently divorce, had trouble with the law and there were rumors of health problems. Some say Parkinsons, others say Alzheimers. Either way, it was all too much for Mr. Cornelius and took a gun and you know the rest.
But you probably read this story too. I wanted to tell you a different one, the one and only time I saw the man himself. Though not monumental, it was something I have always remembered.
I was at The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Mother's Day in 2002 having brunch with my mom. We had been traveling up and down the coast enjoying the sun and shopping our hearts out. I had decided that for mother's day we would splurge a bit and check out this historical hotel. (No sign of Balushi's ghost or any Marilyn sightings though.)
We sat in a booth near the back patio and enjoyed a lovely brunch when a lovely couple comes around the corner and sits in the booth next to ours. It was Don Corelius and his new Russian model and porn star wife Viktoria. I thought to myself, how cool! I never thought I would spot a television innovator, pop culture icon and advocate for social change at The Beverly Hills Hotel. And I have to say that I also patted myself on the back a little for even recognizing him, as I can't imagine most people under 40 knew of him.
As my mom and I finished our brunch, I noticed that a certain someone was looking my way. I leaned over to my mom and whispered, "I think Don Cornelius is staring at me..." I imagine I was a little his 'type' because I possessed some of the qualities his wife had. Red hair, tall, thin, pale. Perhaps he was just spacing out and was 'looking though' me, as sometimes people do.
After brunch, Mom and I toured the grounds, wandering around the various paths and hallways in and out of the hotel. We decided to have one more mimosa before we hit the spa so we went to the bar, where a very tall man squeezed past me (it was a bit crowded) and stood beside me, apologizing for brushing past me in that deep smooth voice that made the hairs on the back of neck stand up. I look up at him and smiled, "That's ok." I giggled internally and called my best friend who had no idea who I was talking about. And that was it.
I still joke that Don Cornelius hit on me at the Beverly Hills Hotel. People roll their eyes and laugh. That trip to L.A. as a young lady was a pretty strange trip in itself and that episode added to the strangeness. Perhaps that is why I'll always have a soft place for him. He helped contribute to my strange journey and I will always be grateful for that.
I very much recommend VH1's documentary on Don and his Soul Train for those who aren't familiar with the tremendous effect he had on music, fashion, dance and even civil rights, to a degree and helping launch the careers of countless superstars. Catch it if you can.