Iconic musician Prince - one of the most popular, inventive and influential recording artists of his generation - died Thursday morning at his suburban Minnesota compound.
“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,” publicist Yvette Noel-Schure said in a statement. “There are no further details as to the cause of death at this time.”
The Carver County’s Sheriff’s Office said the musician was found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park Studios. Medical personnel tried CPR, but couldn’t revive the singer, who was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. Central. The Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the death with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office.
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“Today, the world lost a creative icon,” President Barack Obama said in a statement, noting that “few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all.”
The president added: “ ‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said - and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder or more creative.”
An eccentric, eclectic and electrifying singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and arranger, Prince became one of pop music’s leading stars in the 1980s - a towering figure who found enormous critical and commercial success by blending R&B and rock to make a relentlessly funky and soulful stew.
His epochal 1984 album, “Purple Rain,” featuring a string of hit singles including “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” sold more than 13 million copies, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and is regarded as one of the greatest recordings of the decade.
“Perhaps more than any other artist, Prince called the tune for pop music in the Eighties,” Rolling Stone declared.
The Minnesota native was inducted in 2004 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which noted that when Prince first arrived on the scene in the 1970s, “it didn’t take long for him to upend the music world with his startling music and arresting demeanor. He rewrote the rulebook, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music in the Eighties.”
“Prince made dance music that rocked and rock music that had a bristling, funky backbone. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative. His colorful image and revolutionary music made Prince a figure comparable in paradigm-shifting impact to Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton.”
Prince was reportedly hospitalized after his plane made an emergency landing Friday. According to TMZ, the entertainer had been battling the flu; the Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing two sources close to the artist, reported that he was back home by Friday evening.
The following evening, Prince held a party at Paisley Park; he posted a photo early Sunday morning, showing a scene from the compound in Chanhassen, southwest of Minneapolis.
Making a brief appearance at that party, Prince played “Chopsticks” on a purple Yamaha piano and showed off a new purple guitar, the Star Tribune reported.
“I have to leave it in the case or I’ll be tempted to play it,” Prince said of the guitar. “I can’t play the guitar at all these days, so I can keep my mind on this (piano) and get better.”
Regarding his health scare, the newspaper reported, Prince said: “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”
Fans and musicians mourn
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman - former members of Prince’s band, the Revolution - said in a statement that they were “completely shocked and devestated by the sudden loss of our brother, artist and friend, Prince. ... We offer our love, support, and condolences to our extended family, friends and all fans of our sweet Prince.”
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow referred to Prince - a seven-time Grammy winner - as “one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time.”
“Never one to conform, he redefined and forever changed our musical landscape,” Portnow said in a statement. “Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever. We have lost a true innovator and our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, collaborators, and all who have been impacted by his incredible work.”
Soon after news emerged of his death, fans gathered to mourn and leave flowers outside Prince’s Paisley Park compound as well as the storied First Avenue music venue in Minneapolis, where he filmed “Purple Rain.”
Fans stood outside the nightclub, touching a golden star etched with the late musician’s name.
‘Music is what keeps me awake’
Prince, the son of a jazz musician, was born Prince Rogers Nelson in June 1958. His debut album, “For You,” was released in 1978; one year later came “Prince,” an album that contained “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” his first hit.
That pair of albums “unveiled a budding genius and one-man band,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said.
In the early 1980s, Prince released “1999.”
Then, in 1984, came “Purple Rain,” which “elevated Prince from cult hero to superstar,” the Rock Hall said.
Prince wrote the songs on that album, and was also credited like so, according to All Music: “Arranger, Bass, Composer, Guitar, Keyboards, Primary Artist, Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background).”
“No other pop star could match the range of his talents, which included not just singing and dancing but also composing, producing, and playing many, many instruments,” Rolling Stone noted. “In fact, Prince played nearly all the instruments on his first five albums, and has produced himself since signing with Warner Bros. at age 21.”
“There’s not a person around who can stay awake as long as I can,” Prince said in a 1985 interview. “Music is what keeps me awake.”
Despite his iconic public persona, Prince was known for being a deeply private individual.
When speaking to journalists, The Post reported in a 2004 profile, Prince forbid his voice from being recorded and refused to answer questions about his private life.
He enjoyed massive success, but his personal life was marked by trauma: The 1996 death of his 1-week-old son from a rare bone disease; a subsequent divorce from his first wife, a former backup dancer named Mayte Garcia; the passing of both of his parents. Prince never wanted to discuss any of it.
Even in 2004, after nearly two decades in the public spotlight, the musician was keenly aware that he’d reached pinnacles that would be difficult to continue topping.
“Once you’ve done anything, to do it again ain’t no big deal, you feel me?” Prince told The Washington Post. “I was on the cover of Rolling Stone with Vanity, I was on the cover of Rolling Stone when I didn’t even do an interview, when I wouldn’t talk to them. Once you’ve done something like that it’s like, OK, what’s the next thing?”
“Times were different back then,” Prince explained. “I wouldn’t stand out today if I was brand-new and came like that. But see, back then nobody else was doing that, and I knew that would get me over. I didn’t dress like anybody, I didn’t look like anybody, I didn’t sound like anybody. We still try to do that. Why do what everybody else is doing?
“Bowie and Madonna, even if it wasn’t good, we still talk about it because it was something new. That’s a beautiful word.”
A dispute and a symbol
Prince called himself by many names during his decades-long career, for artistic and legal reasons: Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, Paisley Park, Alexander Nevermind and Christopher (or Christopher Tracy).
He famously feuded with Warner Bros. Records, the label he had signed with as a teenager.
In the 1990s, he wrote “slave” on his face in protest and changed his name to a symbol - an unpronounceable glyph known as the “Love Symbol.” Born Prince Rogers Nelson, the artist has called himself by many names during his decades-long career, for artistic and legal reasons. Among them are:
During this period, he was often referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”
“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.”
He would eventually come to an agreement with Warner Bros.; in 2014, the label announced a deal with the artist.
Musicians who worked with Prince came away stunned by his near-maniacal work ethic and rare energy. He was known for only needing about three hours of sleep a night. After finishing multi-hour shows on tour, he would peel off to a local club and continue playing until nearly dawn. It’s one reason, he said, that he handled so many of the instruments on so many of his albums - he’s the only guy up at 5 a.m. recording.
“The curse part of it is that it physically drains you,” Prince told The Post in 2004, “when you try to do everything that comes into your head. Like right now, I could write a song. If I go over there,” he said, gesturing toward the instruments, “and start noodling around, I’ll write a song. Because I hear stuff all the time. I can make something out of nothing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.