By Kory Grow [RollingStone]
“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57,” his rep told Los Angeles TV station KTLA.
“Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson reports that on April 21st, 2016, at about 9:43 am, sheriff’s deputies responded to a medical call at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen,” the sheriff’s office wrote in a statement. “When deputies and medical personnel arrived, they found an unresponsive adult male in the elevator. First responders attempted to provide lifesaving CPR, but were unable to revive the victim. He was pronounced deceased at 10:07 am.
“The Carver County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death.” Star Tribune reports that the medical examiner has scheduled an autopsy for Friday.
He’d canceled some dates of his “Piano and a Microphone” tour in early April because of the flu, TMZ previously reported. A week ago, the singer was hospitalized after his private plane made an emergency landing after a show in Moline, Illinois. Varying reports said he was suffering dehydration and was getting over the flu. He was released after three hours and flew to Minneapolis, where he was recovering at home.
Over the course of nearly four decades, Prince became an icon of artistry and individuality. Few musicians defined and redefined pop, rock, R&B, funk, soul and nearly every other musical genre imaginable like Prince, who issued his debut album in 1978.
He embraced controversy, presenting himself as an androgynous sexaholic in his album art and lyrics, and challenged conservative music ideals in his first decade on albums like 1999, Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ the Times.
A singular force, he famously performed, produced and wrote nearly all of his own songs at the beginning of his career and would go on to build a music empire out of his home near Minneapolis as he expanded his musical vocabulary. Four of his albums topped the Billboard 200, and the RIAA awarded 20 of his LPs with gold, platinum and multiplatinum plaques.
At the peak of his career in the early Eighties, Prince embraced acting. He starred in the 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain and would go on to appear in 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, the latter two of which he also directed. Additionally, he wrote the screenplay for Graffiti Bridge.
He was also an iconoclast. He went against the grain of the music industry, renaming himself an unpronounceable symbol at a time when he was protesting his record contract and refusing to bow to emerging formats like online music streaming. He distributed albums to concertgoers along with their tickets when that was a novel concept, and he planned other tours at the spur of the moment, dubbing them “hit and run” shows.
Prince won several awards for his music in his lifetime. His first major trophy was a Grammy for his Purple Rain album in 1984; that same year, he also won a Grammy for writing “I Feel for You,” which Chaka Khan had made a hit. The next year, he took home an Oscar for the Purple Rain score in 1985. The following year he earned another Grammy for “Kiss,” and won two more in 2004 for the songs “Musicology” and “Call My Name,” both of his 2004 album Musicology. In 2007, he earned another for “Future Baby Mama,” off his Planet Earth LP. He won several MTV Music Video Awards dating back to the mid Eighties and he won a Golden Globe for “The Song of the Heart,” which appeared in Happy Feet.
Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7th, 1958 in Minneapolis. His father, John Nelson, was the leader of a jazz band in the area, and his mother, Mattie, was a vocalist for the ensemble. “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” his father once said. An autodidact, Prince began playing piano at age seven, guitar at 13 and drums the next year.
He joined a band called Grand Central, which eventually changed its name to Champagne, when he was 14. At age 18, he made a demo tape with an engineer named Chris Moon. When local businessman Owen Husney heard the tape in 1978, he helped negotiate Prince’s first recording contract, with Warner Bros. Records, which granted him unprecedented autonomy for a new signing, let alone an artist his age.
That same year, Prince earned his first hit, the lubriciously titled “Soft and Wet,” a song that would appear on his first album, that year’s For You. The single stalled at Number 92 on the Top 100 but reached Number 12 on the R&B chart. He flirted even more with overtly erotic innuendoes on his 1979 single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (sample lyric: “I wanna be the only one that makes you come [dramatic pause] running!”), which would become his breakthrough song. The track, which appeared on his self-titled sophomore LP, reached Number 11 on the Top 200 and topped the R&B chart. The album was home to a couple of other genre hits, including “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “Sexy Dancer,” and it established him as a hit maker.
When it came time to tour for Prince, the artist took a cue from Sly and the Family Stone and put together a band of musicians of different races and genders. Around this time, he would sometimes strip down to bikini underpants and do exercise routines onstage. By 1980, Prince was certified platinum.
Despite the pop success of Prince, the artist delved deeper into sexually explicit lyrics on his next two albums, 1980’s Dirty Mind and the following year’s Controversy. The former contained the hits “Uptown,” “Dirty Mind” and “Head,” but garnered controversy for the song “Sister,” which extolled the virtues of incest. The record also contained “When You Were Mine,” a song that Cyndi Lauper and Mitch Ryder would later cover. The latter album – which fully embraced its title – was the last of Prince’s early recordings to miss the Top 10, but it nevertheless was home to the hits “Controversy,” a song that toyed with people’s perceptions of him (“Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”) and “Let’s Work.”
Prince’s fifth album, the 1982 double-LP 1999, made him a superstar. It reached Number Nine thanks to the strength of a number of unique crossover singles: “Little Red Corvette” (a song in which Prince is sexually objectified by a woman), “1999” (which found him splitting lead vocals with his bandmates), the giddy “Delirious” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” The video for “Little Red Corvette” was also one of the first videos to break MTV’s race barrier, establishing him as a mainstream artist. The album would be certified quadruple platinum in 1999.
During the particularly productive time surrounding 1999, Prince also began writing and producing songs under the pseudonym Jamie Starr for two other groups, the local group the Time and a trio of women he assembled, Vanity 6. The Time scored R&B hits with “Cool” and “777-9311,” both of which Prince would perform at his own concerts for years to come. Meanwhile, Vanity 6 featured the artist’s girlfriend at the time, Denice Matthews, as its frontwoman. He’d initially suggested she take the stage name Vagina but changed it to Vanity after she refused. They earned a hit with “Nasty Girl,” another song he would sing at his own shows live. After his relationship with Vanity ended, he recruited Apollonia Kotero as their frontwoman and renamed the group Apollonia 6. Vanity, who later became born again and denounced her work with Prince, died earlier this year.
In 1984, Prince released his biggest-selling album, Purple Rain, a tie-in to the blockbuster movie of the same name, which came out the same year. The album has sold more than 13 million copies, with the quasi-autobiographical film featuring Prince, as the Kid, struggling on Minneapolis’ local music scene and competing with the Time as his home life falls apart.
The movie featured him performing several songs from the album live and created a perfect platform for him to launch a string of hit singles. The guitar-infused R&B song “When Droves Cry” and pop-rock masterpiece “Let’s Go Crazy,” both hit Number One, while the epic “Purple Rain” – which features one of Prince’s most lyrical guitar solos – reached Number Two. As detailed in Alan Light’s book Let’s Go Crazy, Prince was inspired to write the song from Bob Seger.
“He was really interested in why was Bob Seger such a big star, especially in the Midwest,” Light told NPR. “And Matt Fink, the keyboard player, remembers that he was talking to Prince and said, ‘Well, it’s these big ballads that Bob Seger writes. It’s these songs like “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Turn the Page.” And that’s what people love.’ And Prince went out to try to write that kind of arena-rock power ballad that resulted in ‘Purple Rain.'” The serenely New-Wave “I Would Die 4 U” would make it to Number Eight, while the mid-tempo pop sing-along “Take Me With U” made it to Number 25.
It was the first record to credit his backing band, the Revolution, and it set the stage for a major tour, for which Sheila E. opened. Prince produced her The Glamorous Life album in 1984.
Purple Rain also contained the deep cut “Darling Nikki,” an unusual song in which the titular character is a “sex fiend” who is caught masturbating. In Purple Rain, the movie, the song serves as a metaphor for the Kid’s frustration after he learns that Apollonia has begun working with the Time. In real life, it sparked its own controversy when the 11-year-old daughter of then-Senator Al Gore played the lascivious song at home horrifying her mother, Tipper Gore, who went on to form the Parents Music Resource Center in an effort to warn people about what she described as pornographic lyrics. It had little effect on Prince’s popularity, but the resultant group would inspire the record industry to begin voluntarily stickering albums with parental advisory warnings.
The following year, he declined the opportunity to take part in “We Are the World” but instead contributed his own “4 the Tears in Your Eyes” to the USA for Africa album. He also began working with another artist, Sheena Easton, writing her hit “Sugar Walls,” another song that would become a target of the PMRC.
Prince followed up the success of Purple Rain formally with 1985’s neo-psychedelic Around the World in a Day album (“Raspberry Beret,” “Pop Life”) and the following year’s Parade (“Kiss”). The latter served as the counterpart album to the artist’s second movie, 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon, which co-starred the Time’s Jerome Benton. The movie received negative reviews and stalled at the box office.
The artist took a rare break from touring after the release of Around the World in a Day. He used that time to open his own Paisley Park studio and launch a Paisley Park imprint with Warner Bros. The label signed the Family, Mazarati, Madhouse and Jill Jones, but none scored hits, though a song that he wrote for the Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” eventually became a hit for Sinéad O’Connor in 1990.
Prince closed out the Eighties in a typically oblique manner. He recorded and marketed an underground party record he dubbed The Black Album in 1987, but pulled it at the last second due to a crisis of conscience (or as the result of a bad ecstasy trip, depending on reports). The album would go on to become one of the most bootlegged LPs. It eventually got an official release in 1994 to help him sever a contentious contract with Warner Bros., but at the time he’d salvage only “When 2 R in Love” for what would become his next release, 1988’s Lovesexy. That album contained nine songs, but when the CD came out, he insisted they be included on a single track. That album nevertheless contained the hit “Alphabet Street.” In 1989, he put out his last Number One album for a number of years, Batman, which contained his first Number One single since “Kiss,” “Batdance.”
After the failure of Under the Cherry Moon, Prince fired the Revolution and recorded the hit album Sign ‘O’ the Times with a new, untitled band that featured Sheila E. The double-LP helped him regain his commercial footing, reaching Number Six on the Billboard 200 and going platinum. Like Purple Rain, its singles spanned a wide swath of styles: the bubbly yet pensive title track, the funky and percussive “U Got the Look” (featuring Sheena Easton), the pining “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and the sinewy “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Prince’s half-sister, Lorna Nelson, sued him, claiming he’d stolen her lyrics for “U Got the Look,” but lost the suit before the decade was up. He accompanied the album with a concert film and world tour.
The Nineties kicked off with another movie, Graffiti Bridge, that picked up the story of Purple Rain’s the Kid. Like Under the Cherry Moon, though, it was a critical and commercial failure. The album nevertheless scored him a hit with “Thieves in the Temple.” He rebooted in 1991 with a new backing band, the New Power Generation, and a sound that focused more on funk and elements of hip-hop. Diamonds and Pearls was a Number Three hit album, containing the sh-boogieing single “Cream” and more sexual “Get Off,” as well as the poppy title track. The next year, Warner Bros. made him a vice president and renewed his contract. He put out another record that year with a symbol, merging the signs for male and female, as its title. The LP, a Number Five hit, contained the hits “7,” “My Name Is Prince” and “Sexy M.F.”
He subsequently became known by a number of monikers, most popularly “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” by a confused public. In 1994, Warner Bros. dropped Paisley Park Records, and Prince released a single, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” on an independent label. Although Warner Bros. said it approved of the “experiment,” it marked the beginning of a public war between the singer and the label. He wrote “Slave” on his cheek and began giving the label compilations of recordings he’d stored in the vault to fulfill his contract.
“People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face,” he told Rolling Stone in 1996. “But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That’s where I was. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
By 1996, Prince ended his contract with Warner Bros. and struck up a distribution deal with EMI, which helped him put out the three-CD set Emancipation via his own NPG label. It contained two Top 40 singles, a cover of the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly Wow” and the pop-rock-leaning “The Holy River.” The album reached Number 11 on the Billboard 200 and went on to be certified double-platinum. That same year, he also lent a number of his hits to the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film Girl 6.
Toward the end of the decade, as the Internet became commonplace, Prince became one of the first artists to try selling CDs directly to fans. He offered up the three-disc compilation Crystal Ball, which collected songs that were never officially released, in 1998. It managed to reach Number 62 on the Billboard 200. Prince closed out the Nineties with Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic and a re-recording of “1999,” the latter of which failed to chart.
The next decade proved to be a time of experimentation for Prince, who returned to his birth name in 2000. He released the jazzy The Rainbow Children in 2001, which received mixed reviews, and One Nite Alone …, an album that found him performing only with piano on most tracks and featuring a Joni Mitchell cover (“A Case of U”), as an online-only release the following year. He followed that up with a rare live album, One Nite Alone … Live! Neither charted. He put out three records in 2003: the jazzy, instrumental-only albums Xpectation and N.E.W.S. and a funk-jazz live outing, C-Note.
Prince returned to pop music in 2004 with Musicology, an album that would earn him Grammys for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (“Call My Name”) and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance (“Musicology”). It also catapulted him back onto the album chart, bowing at Number Three, thanks to his idea of including copies of the CD with purchases of tickets to see him live. (Nielsen SoundScan subsequently changed the rules after the release, counting only albums sold in addition to ticket purchases as album sales.) The record would ultimately be certified double-platinum. He put out two other funky, R&B-inflected albums that year, The Chocolate Invasion and The Slaughterhouse, but neither charted.
That same year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After Alicia Keys inducted the musician, Prince appeared onstage to perform a breathtaking guitar solo during the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison.
As YouTube and streaming music became more prevalent, Prince subsequently became an outspoken voice against what he viewed as piracy. He would ask performances of his songs to be removed from the service. Despite this, his funky 2006 album 3121 was a Number One hit and was ultimately certified gold. His 2007 release, Planet Earth, reached Number Three and contained “Future Baby Mama,” which scored him a Grammy. His double-album release Lotusflow3r and MPLSound (which was bundled with Bria Valente’s Elixer) reached Number Two and went gold as an exclusive release for big-box retailer Target.
The prolific musician continued unusual record releases with the 2010 album 20Ten, which came out in Europe as a free release with the German edition of Rolling Stone and other publications. In recent years, he put out albums as companion pieces. The rock and funk–focused Plectrumelectrum, which found him fronting the otherwise all-girl trio 3rdEyeGirl, came out in 2014 along with the R&B solo LP Art Official Age, both of which charted in the Top 10. Last year, he issued HitnRun Phase One and HitnRun Phase Two, the latter of which came out only via Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal (the rare streaming service Prince approved of).
Prince rarely conducted in-depth interviews, especially in recent years, and kept his personal life private. Nevertheless, he was linked romantically to several women in his lifetime, including Kim Basinger, Madonna, Sheila E., Carmen Electra, Susanna Hoffs and several others. He was engaged to Susannah Melvoin, frontwoman for the Family and the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin, in 1985. But he did not marry until 1996, when he wed dancer Mayte Garcia. They had a son, Boy Gregory, that year but he died a week after his birth due to Pfeiffer syndrome. They divorced in 1999. He married another woman, Manuela Testolini, in 2001 and became a Jehovah’s Witness that year. His second marriage ended in 2006.
Earlier this year, he announced that he had begun work on his memoirs. “We’re starting right at the beginning from my first memory, and hopefully we can move all the way to the Super Bowl,” he told a crowd at a private concert in New York City last month. “We just started, we’re going as quick as we can, working tirelessly.” The book was tentatively titled The Beautiful Ones.
Prince’s last public appearance was a party at Paisley Park on Saturday. Star Tribune staff writer Sharyn Jackson reported that he was proud of a new purple guitar he’d just gotten. He addressed rumors of his poor health at the show. Jackson reported he said, “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”