Cornelius is credited with introducing a host of black singers to mainstream U.S. audiences after creating TV programme Soul Train, which specialised in showcasing African-American musicians.
The show, which ran from 1971 to 2006, also featured performances from superstars including Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.
Cornelius was found dead from a gunshot wound at his home in Sherman Oaks, California on Wednesday (01Feb12). According to TMZ.com, cops are treating the tragedy as suicide.
News of his unexpected death stunned Hollywood, and tributes from stars including Taraji P. Henson and Nicki Minaj poured in on Twitter.com.
Henson told fans, "Just heard Don Cornelius was found dead in his apartment from a self-inflicted gun shot wound! Lord have mercy! RIP Don Cornelius!", while Minaj simply tweeted, "R.I.P. Mr. Cornelius."
R&B singer Monica adds, "Mr.Cornelius u (you) told me that few people possess that special something, well u were 1 of the few. U were beyond special."
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons writes, "So sad about Don Cornelius. RIP," while MC Hammer tweets, "It meant more to me to perform on Soul Train than to win a Grammy... Loved U So Much Don... Thank U RIP Don Cornelius."