Prince, performing in 1985, in his superstardom heyday. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives
Prince was the soundtrack of our lives, the inspiration for a generation of musicians. He was one of us. He was all of us.
And now he’s gone.
Hailed worldwide as a versatile musical genius, Prince Rogers Nelson died Thursday morning at his Paisley Park recording studio complex in Chanhassen. He was 57.
After a frantic 911 call from an unidentified man who said Prince appeared to be dead and that the people at the scene were “distraught,” emergency responders found the musician, unresponsive, in an elevator, the Carver County Sheriff’s Office reported. He was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. They performed CPR but were unable to revive him.
The cause of death was not known. An autopsy will be conducted Friday by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County.
The news stunned fans from the Twin Cities to the nation’s capital, spreading around the globe within minutes. Mourners from President Obama to Mick Jagger paid respects and shared their sentiments, many awash in purple.
All day and well into the night, Minnesotans poured onto streets and into clubs to remember him. They huddled and cried in the rain outside his studio and at the First Avenue music club in Minneapolis, sharing stories about their personal encounters with the international superstar who still called Minnesota home.
Late into the night, thousands filled the streets outside First Avenue, hugging, weeping, laughing, and dancing and singing. Local artists, including Lizzo and Chastity Brown, performed covers of his song with the crowd singing along. Around 11 p.m., people clustered near the doors of the club, where an all-night dance party was about to begin.
“Prince was a child of our city, and his love of his hometown permeated many of his songs,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said. “Our pride in his accomplishments permeates our love of Minneapolis. … Prince never left us, and we never left him.”
Condolences flooded social media, and at evening Amy Schumer and Mumford & Sons shows in the Twin Cities, spoken and musical tributes were offered. Legislators paused for a moment of silence at a hearing. Sports teams and corporations turned their social media pages purple. Maplewood-based 3M turned its logo purple and added a tear. Buildings and structures from the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River to Duluth’s Enger Tower were bathed in purple light Thursday night.
“Our hearts are broken,” First Avenue said on Facebook. “Prince was the Patron Saint of First Avenue. He grew up on this stage, and then commanded it, and he united our city.”
At the club, where Prince not only filmed the movie “Purple Rain,” but recorded the song of the same name and several more in concert, his influence on other musicians was still apparent. He was so closely tied to the club, many fans believed (erroneously) that he owned it.
Nate Kranz, the club’s general manager, recalled Prince’s last show there — on July 7, 2007 — coming together at the last minute. Prince often called the venue to ask if he could perform, Kranz said, and told them he was interested in putting on a late-night show just a few days before.
“I think he felt very comfortable here, in a way that he could try out new music,” he said. “He could come down and do his thing in front of an appreciative audience.”
As Kranz worked to put together the evening’s tribute, he said wryly, “In perfect Prince fashion, [it’s] very short notice and hectic.”
The news of Prince’s death came less than a week after his private plane made an emergency landing early last Friday in Illinois as he was returning to the Twin Cities from two shows in Atlanta.
Afterward, a source close to Prince told the Star Tribune that the musician was dehydrated on the flight home. Prince himself sought to clarify the situation on Saturday, saying, “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”
Publicist Martin Keller, who covered Prince as a journalist from the time the artist was 17, called him a “great inspiration for African-American kids anywhere, growing up in a broken home, pursuing what you want to do, becoming successful at it, building a wide world following.”
Keller said Prince was a “severe introvert” who grew from barely getting words out early in his career to becoming more articulate and media-friendly as he got older.
“Minnesota has never produced anyone like him and is not likely to again,” Keller said. “You just don’t get that in one artist.”
Growing up in Minneapolis
The son of a social worker mother and jazz pianist father, Prince Rogers Nelson grew up playing music at home. His father, John Nelson, led the Prince Rogers Trio. His mother, Mattie Shaw, sang, as does his younger sister, Tyka Nelson.
Prince formed his first band with friends at age 13 and over time became the driving force behind the “Minneapolis sound,” a hybrid mix of funk, rock, pop and new wave.
He became known for shunning interviews, creating his own mystique and controlling his image with a team of stylists, publicists and lawyers. Even after becoming a global superstar, he stayed close to home, recording at Paisley Park and appearing often at late-night concerts and dance parties there.
Born on June 7, 1958, Prince had a thing for the number 7. On 7/7/7, he held three concerts at three venues in downtown Minneapolis, telling the crowd at one show, “Minneapolis, I am home.”
He married Mayte Garcia in 1996, and the two had a son who died at one week old of a rare birth defect. The couple later divorced. Prince was married again in 2001, to Manuela Testolini. Their marriage lasted until 2006.
Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. In 2003, an Eden Prairie woman told Star Tribune columnist C.J. that she was stunned when Prince and former Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham knocked on her door. Prince introduced himself as Prince Nelson and spent 25 minutes at the woman’s house talking about his faith.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and three years later played the halftime show for the Super Bowl. His performance is considered one of the best in the game’s history.
Signed to a Warner Bros. deal in 1977, Prince famously battled with the company for control of his music. A year or so after signing a $100 million deal in 1992, he started writing “slave” on his cheek to protest his lack of ownership of his master recordings. He eventually abandoned the label and, since the record company owned his name, performed using a glyph of his own making that mashed up the symbols for male and female. He started calling himself “Prince” again in 2000.
Prince started the band 3rdEyeGirl in 2012 and in recent years was more forthcoming and available to his fans, concerned with his legacy and teaching others. He announced plans in March to write a memoir that he planned to call “The Beautiful Ones.”
Fans pay tribute
By midday Thursday, officials had closed a stretch of the road outside Paisley Park after traffic backed up on nearby Hwy. 5 as more mourners trickled in with purple flowers.
Many stood outside in the rain, tearfully admiring a bright rainbow. The sun came out as more fans arrived and laid flowers along the fence.
Jodee Murphy, 45, stood with her friend, Laura Carlson, 48. Murphy said she experienced her first kiss to the song “Raspberry Beret.” Of Prince’s death, she said, “I felt like part of my youth died.”
Condolences and Twitter eulogies poured in from everyone from U.S. senators to celebrities ranging from Questlove to MC Hammer to Justin Timberlake.
Obama’s Facebook page called Prince “one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time … a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.”
Gov. Mark Dayton said Prince’s “tremendous talent was matched only by his generosity and commitment to improving his community … [his] contributions to the betterment of our state will be remembered for years to come.”
Broadway star and recent Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda echoed one of Prince’s famous opening lines: “Dearly beloved: We are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called Life …”
Perhaps nowhere was the mourning more personal than in north Minneapolis, Prince’s old stomping grounds.
Robin Crockett, 54, lives in the brown brick home off Plymouth and Russell Avenues N. where Prince lived in the 1970s, when he was in high school. She bought it in 2007.
Crockett had known Prince since she was 10. She and others often huddled in the home’s basement to watch him practice. “He’d sit without his guitar plugged in,” she said. “Just him and his guitar.”
On Thursday, fans stopped by her house to take photos or drop off a flower.
“This has just been horrible,” she said, tearing up. “We were on the map because he was there.”
Staff writers Neal Justin, Jon Bream, John Reinan, Matt McKinney, Beatrice Dupuy, Karen Zamora, Jennifer Brooks, Emma Nelson, Kelly Smith and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.