“The Purple One” was found dead in an elevator at his Paisley Park complex on Thursday, April 21. Since the 1970’s, the musician Prince has produced music that seemed to simultaneously define and transcend genres. He has crafted pop, rock, R&B, soul, funk, hip hop, disco and jazz hits, and has touched fans of all ages with his energy, originality and enthusiasm. The New York Times wrote that Prince “was a man bursting with music—a wildly prolific songwriter, a virtuoso on guitars, keyboards and drums and a master architect” of music of all genres. President Obama described Prince as “a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. ‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said – and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative.”
In 1977, Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, signed with Warner Brothers Music, attracting label executives with his natural talents and original sound. In 1978, at just 19 years old, he released his first album For You. Although the album only reached No. 163 in U.S. charts, music labels decided to keep Prince on, choosing to invest in a super star to-be.
Prince continued to produce music over the following years as a decent but relatively unknown musician. Then, in 1982, Prince went top 10 in the U.S. for the first time with the release of his album 1999. Like Madonna, he bought into the music video ideology, using it as a platform to market himself as an artist and build up his image. In 1984, the release of Purple Rain turned him into the biggest and most exciting pop star in the world. In his time with Warner Bros, Prince released 17 albums.
In 1996, Prince split from Warner Brothers because “he didn’t want to be told what to do any more,” his publicist later told his biographer. He wanted to be able to release more music, more frequently. Warner refused to give in to the star’s demands for more freedom. In a controversial act of defiance, Prince began appearing in public with the word “slave” written across his face. He told Rolling Stone Magazine that people thought he “was a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on [his] face,” but he asked, “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.”
To fulfill his contract, Prince rapidly produced a series of albums of subpar material for Warner, confusing casual fans who didn’t understand that the decrease in quality of his music was based on employment discontent. His album Emancipation was released in late 1996, under EMI records. His more recent albums have mostly been released under his own New Power Generation (NPG) label.
For years, Prince has regularly put on huge, high energy performances, and eventually, they started to catch up with him. Prince started taking painkillers years ago, for his hips. Then, in the mid-2000s, he opted for hip surgery, after which he was prescribed even more pain medications. Even the musicians traveling with him on tour didn’t notice how much pain his hips were causing him, after what The New York Times calls “decades of high voltage performances, jumping onstage in platform heels.”
Prince, a vegan and a Jehovah’s Witness, publicly abstained from alcohol and marijuana use. Yet, he appears to have hidden a secret pill problem that had been bothering him for years, concealing his addiction from even his closest friends.
Prince’s former manager, and later president of Paisley Park Records, recalled, “There wasn’t a tour we did where he wasn’t sometimes performing in pain. He was that kind of old school, the show-must-go-on guy, so the idea of him medicating himself in order to perform isn’t strange to me.”
Prince’s career came to a sudden end on April 21, 2016.
On Friday, April 15, just days before his death, Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing 48 minutes away from his compound. He was on his way back from what would be his last two public performances, both on the same night at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, rescheduled from April 7, when he said he was “a little under the weather.” A fan recalled, “You would not believe that he was singing ill. He sounded true to his talents and it was an amazing performance.”
Prince was rushed to a hospital, where doctors administered a “save shot,” a response usually reserved for counteracting the effects of an opiate, reported TMZ. He was advised to stay in the hospital for the following 24 hours, but left after his request for a private room was rejected. Three hours after checking into the hospital, he was back on the jet, heading home. His publicist reported that he had the flu.
Two days later, Prince told his lawyer he was “doing perfect.” Three days after that, Prince’s representatives were searching for an addiction doctor.
In the month before he died, some of the star’s friends grew so concerned about Prince’s pill problem that they sought medical help from a doctor in California who specializes in treating those addicted to pain medications: Dr. Howard Kornfeld. Dr. Kornfield sent his son, Andrew, on an overnight flight to visit Prince at his home to discuss a plan of treatment and help stabilize the star’s condition. Dr. Kornfield manages a treatment center in Mill Valley, California, and hoped “to get him stabilized in Minnesota and convince him to come to Recovery Without Walls in Mill Valley.”
However, by the time the younger Kornfield arrived, he found Prince, unresponsive, in an elevator. He called 911. At 9:43 a.m., following an emergency call, Prince was found not breathing in an elevator at his house and estate, Paisley Park, Minnesota. Attempts to revive him failed, and he was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m.
Many believe Prince’s insistence on retaining his independence and freedom helped him to conceal his problem. Although many are still coming to terms with his sudden death and the new side of Prince it has revealed, the world will continue to mourn the passing of a true legend, whose legacy will continue to shape music and millions of lives for years to come.