Prince, the musician who helped define the latter half of the 20th century with his eclectic blend of funk and transgressive sexuality, died Thursday at Paisley Park, his Minnesota property. He was 57.
Prince was hospitalized on April 15, reportedly suffering from the flu. He performed a concert at Paisley Park the next day and informed listeners to “wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”
Born Prince Rogers Nelson, the artist (formerly and currently) known as Prince began his music career in the mid seventies in Minneapolis by playing guitar on an album for his cousin’s husband’s band, 94 East. He was signed to a management contract at the age of 17. His first album, For You, was released in 1978. He composed, wrote and played every instrument on every song but “Soft and Wet.”
His 1979 album Prince went platinum and achieved a No. 22 status on the Billboard Hot 200.
In 1982, Prince released 1999 , which solidified him as one of the most talented and prolific musicians of the eighties. Two years later, he would form his band The Revolution and release Purple Rain, both the album and the film, a semi-autobiographical retelling of Prince’s own upbringing. (It also co-starred his bands Morris Day and The Time and Apollonia of the Apollonia 6.) Purple Rain won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score.
Prince’s career was not without scandal. He had a public falling out with his protégé and ex-girlfriend Vanity (real name Denise Katrina Matthews), which led them to not speak for years. Always pushing the boundaries of representations of sexuality, he offended many—including Tipper Gore, who founded the Parents Music Resource Center after hearing his song “Darling Nikki.” He would later disband The Revolution, even firing the much beloved Wendy & Lisa (though they would appear again on the Revolution album Dream Factory.)
In 1985, Prince released Around the World in a Day, which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. A year later, he put out Parade, which reached No. 3. (The single “Kiss” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.) Sign o’ the Times, a concert film written and directed by Prince and intended to promote the album of the same name, was released in 1987 and faced a cool reception.
In 1993, following the release of multiple less popular albums and contention with his record label Warner Brothers, Prince changed his stage name to a symbol eventually called “The Love Symbol” and began referring to himself as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It was a strange time creatively, but it did lead to an excellent episode of Muppets Tonight.
Prince would again become prolific with the 1995 album The Gold Experience, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard R&B charts. In 1996, he was freed from his Warner Bros. contract and released the aptly titled album Emancipation on his own label, NPG Records. (He would sign with Arista Records in 1999). In 2000, he once again began performing as Prince and, a year later, would release The Rainbow Children. After that, he released 15 studio albums, including Musicology, Lotusflow3r, and HITnRUN, Phases One and Two. He would ultimately return to his old label, Warner Brothers.
Since 2001, Prince has been a devout Jehovah’s Witness (even witnessing door to door in Minneapolis). In 2008, during an unrecorded interview with the New Yorker, he told writer Claire Hoffman that he was against gay marriage. Via The Guardian:
The rumors of him being anti-gay have been around for a while. There’s a dramatic bit in Alex Hahn’s book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince where it details the time in 2000 where Prince was in talks to reform his Revolution band. He apparently told guitarist Wendy Melvoin (who was once involved in a same-sex relationship) through his drummer Bobby Z to hold a press conference denouncing her lifestyle.
Who knows if this is true? What we do know is that the Revolution never reformed but Wendy and Lisa did play with Prince at the Brits in 2006 and have appeared on his most recent album Planet Earth. Recently, when Wendy joined him onstage he introduced her as his best friend. When I spoke to Wendy and Lisa earlier this year, they still have a lot of love and affection for Prince with Lisa calling him “like a brother”.
Over the course of his career, Prince managed to become an almost mythological figure, with many celebrities sharing stories of their strange Prince encounters:
In a 2004 episode of The Chapelle Show, comedian Charlie Murphy detailed a bizarre evening spent playing basketball and eating pancakes with Prince.
Kevin Smith has a story that hints that “His Royal Badness” has 50 or more unreleased music videos.
And the tales go on.
While he dated many high-profile women (including Vanity, Sheila E. and Madonna), Prince was only married twice. He wed Mayte Garcia on Valentine’s Day 1996, when she was 22. The pair had a son who sadly died a week after being born. They divorced in 1999.
Of their divorce, Garcia, who met Prince when she was only 16 years old, told The Mirror, “I’m now screwed for life because my first relationship was the most bizarre relationship ever and I’m not normal any more. I’ve kind of been spoiled and I guess I am kind of screwed-up now.” (She also insists that they did not become romantically involved until she turned 18.) Prince married his second wife, Manuela Testolini, in 2001; they divorced in 2006.
The passing of Prince will be mourned globally. While not all of us can celebrate his life by dancing the whole night at First Avenue and 7th St Entry, the Minneapolis venues made famous by Prince, we’ll all be dancing there in spirit.
Image via Getty.