I heard the news via a Facebook post on my feed that Don Cornelius had died. I was immediately taken back to when I was about 10 or so and watching Soul Train in 1976 on a Saturday afternoon. American Bandstand was another one of my favorites and I used to love to watch them both. Dancing the afternoon away, watching the pretty girls in their cool outfits. Learning the Bus Stop and the Hustle and dancing down my own Soul Train Line in the living room of the house on Lincoln Street. I passed by the house on Lincoln street today and it is a sad and ugly house. When I lived there it was a soft pale yellow worn by the sun, with a beautiful green yard manicured perfectly. A white picket fence surrounding the back yard. A lot of memories in that little house, and Saturday afternoons were some of my favorite.
When I came home and heard that Don Cornelius had died from a self inflicted gunshot wound I was even sadder, until I heard it mentioned that there was talk of the onset of dementia. Then I understood why he may have died by is own hand. I have seen several of my family members succumb to Alzheimer's and watched the slow downward spiral of the person they were into a person they would not have wanted to become. My mother was one of them. She suffered from early onset Alzheimer's and that has got to be the cruelest kind of dementia there is. She should have been enjoying her grandchildren, not being taken care of by me and my family. When they informed us of her illness they told us that the type of Alzheimer's she had gave my older sister and I the 50-50 chance of getting it too. We have always kidded that we had oh maybe 20 or 10 good years left to live a life. I know to some of you that sounds morbid or sad, but the truth is, its true.
I have often told my children who vaguely remember their Grandma that if I ever got Alzheimer's I would want to go somewhere, a beautiful island and drink a big margarita and take some pills so that I never woke up. They laugh it off of course, and say "Mom you are not going to get Alzheimer's" but I am serious. I would not want them to give up their life to take care of me and damn it all if I would let them put me in a nursing home. I would not want some stranger wiping my ass, let alone my kids!
I saw the frustration, confusion and fear creep over my mothers beautiful face, and in the end her face was stoic and unemotional and just there. She was somewhere inside that body that betrayed her. I know she was, and when she passed away it was a relief and a comfort to know that she would not suffer anymore. To know that her soul was free.
There are days when I lose my keys or misplace something and waves of anxiety fill me. I wonder is this how it begins, is this how it will be? I don't want to know, in fact I don't want to live if that was to be a prognosis for me.
Is that how the legendary smooth as silk voice talent Don Cornelius felt? Perhaps he wanted to keep his dignity in some measure. I know there are those of you who will say, shooting yourself is not a dignified way out, but who are you to judge? To feel that you have lost your greatest power, ability, existence, to become a shell of the person you once were. Is that what hero's do live and overcome their illnesses? You don't overcome diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, and maybe shooting oneself is a slap in the face to those that live with those diseases, but just the same it all comes back to dignity, dying or living with it, is a choice that no one should have to worry about. Did Don Cornelius suffer from dementia, along with other stresses in his life, this may have been the final blow to a man like him.
Whatever the reason for his departure, he will forever be remembered as the man who brought the lifestyle and the culture of Soul music into homes everywhere.
I will remember this man as the man who taught me to dance and to love music..... that's how he would want to be remembered.