Legendary Music Icon Prince Passes Away at 57
Prince, the legendary and innovative musician and actor, has died at age 57. A rep for the singer confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
"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."
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. He'd canceled some dates of his "Piano and a Microphone" tour in early April because of the flu, TMZ previously reported.
Over the course of nearly four decades, Prince became an icon of artistry and individuality. Few artists defined and redefined pop, rock, R&B, funk, soul and nearly every musical genre imaginable like Prince, who issued his debut album in 1978.
He embraced controversy, presenting himself as an androgynous sex fiend 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. He also wrote the screenplay for Graffiti Bridge.
He was also an iconoclast. He went against the grain of the music industry, renaming himself as 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 7, 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 that year's For You, his first album. 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. The album 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 scored 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 film 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. 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.
The album also contained "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 song and prompted her mother, Tipper Gore, 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 Africa" 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.
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.
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 bad ecstasy trip, depending on reports), paving the way to become one of the most bootlegged LPs of is era. 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, "Batdance," since "Kiss."
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 changed his name to that single and 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.