(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Elahe Izadi, Peter Holley, J. Freedom du Lac, Lindsey Bever, Sarah Larimer · NATIONAL, ENTERTAINMENT · Apr 22, 2016 – 5:25 PM
New details surrounding the circumstances of Prince’s death were released by authorities on Friday, but it could be several days before the iconic musician’s cause of death is determined.
Staff members who worked at Prince’s suburban Minnesota complex had been unable to reach him on Thursday morning, Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson said at a news conference. They went to Paisley Park to check on him and discovered his body inside an elevator.
Prince – one of the most popular, inventive and influential recording artists of his generation – was found dead Thursday morning at Paisley Park studios, at the age of 57.
He was last seen alive around 8 p.m., Wednesday when he was dropped off at Paisley Park by an acquaintance, Olson said, adding that him being alone at Paisley Park that evening wouldn’t have been unusual.
“To us, he is a community member and a good neighbor. To his family, he is a loved one,” Olson said. “In life, he was a very private person. We are going to continue to respect his privacy and his dignity and hope that you do as well.”
It’s still unclear when exactly Prince died; officials said the information is pending.
“There were no obvious signs of trauma on his body,” Olson said. “We have no reason to believe it’s a suicide.”
But officials declined to comment on reports on Prince’s health, saying the investigation was ongoing.
Olson said there have been no calls for service through the sheriff’s office “involving Prince” in the past year. “We are talking to people close to him, gathering medical records and taking a look at those,” Olson said.
Yvette Noel-Schure, publicist of the legendary artist – whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson – said Thursday that there were “no further details as to the cause” of his death.
The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office – the coroner of record for Minnesota’s Carver County – said it received the singer’s body Thursday night in Ramsey, about 35 miles north of Prince’s compound. Dr. A. Quinn Strobl, the chief medical examiner, began the autopsy at 9 a.m. local time and concluded it at 1 p.m.
“As part of a complete exam, relevant information regarding Mr. Nelson’s medical and social history will be gathered,” the medical examiner’s office said in a statement.
The medical examiner’s office is running a toxicology exam, and while full results from the autopsy will likely take week’s, the sheriff’s office could release preliminary results sooner, medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Martha Weaver said Friday.
Olson said his office plans to file a search warrant in order to process the scene at Paisley Park, something he said was “normal protocol.”
“Today, the world lost a creative icon,” President Obama said in a statement Thursday, 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 Rogers Nelson became one of popular 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, soulful and sensual 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 rule book, 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.”
At about 9:45 a.m. local time Thursday, deputies responded to a “medical call” at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, where they found Prince unresponsive in an elevator, according to a statement from the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.
Emergency personnel performed CPR but were not able to revive him, authorities said, and Prince was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:07 a.m.
The Carver County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office.
Carver County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kamerud told the Associated Press that it’s too early in the investigation to speculate about what led to Prince’s death, adding that foul play “is neither suspected nor not suspected.”
Prince was reportedly hospitalized after his plane made an emergency landing April 15. 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 that evening.
The following night, 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.”
Thursday night, the Carver County Sheriff’s Office released a transcript of a 911 call in which an unidentified man told a dispatcher that he needed help with an unconscious person at Paisley Park.
“So yea, um, the person is dead here,” the man said.
Throughout the call, the dispatcher kept asking the man to find the address of the home.
“I’m working on it, I’m working on it,” he replied.
“OK, do we know how the person died?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” the man said.
Moments later, he alerted the authorities to their location.
“Paisley Park,” he said.
“You’re at Paisley Park; OK, that’s in Chanhassen,” the dispatcher said. “Are you with the person who’s . . .”
“Yes,” the man interrupted, “it’s Prince.”
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 star etched with the late musician’s name.
By mid-afternoon, well over 100 fans and neighbors were milling around on a small grassy hill in front of Paisley Park, where the sun broke through after a morning of rain showers. Some attached flowers and purple balloons to a metal fence surrounding the compound. Others stared at the large white building in disbelief. It was a peaceful and somber scene that many described as surreal.
“It’s like with anyone you love. I think I thought I had more time,” said Griffin Woodworth, 43, of Richfield, Minnesota, who drove to Paisley Park after hearing the news this morning.
Choked by tears, he spoke of the many happy memories he’d had seeing Prince perform inside the compound’s walls, including the time a shower of plastic glitter fell from the ceiling. Two years later, he was still finding glitter in his car. “It’s nice to be together with people here, but it’s never going to be the same,” he said. “I wish I was standing in line, like always.”
“His tremendous talent was matched only by his generosity and commitment to improving his community,” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. “Minnesotans and our nation mourn the loss of a great artist today; one who has left an unforgettable mark on music history, and whose contributions to the betterment of our state will be remembered for years to come.”
Purple lights will shine on the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis as a tribute, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced.
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman – former members of Prince’s band, the Revolution – said in a statement that they were “completely shocked and [devastated] 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.”
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.
“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 one-week-old son from a rare bone disease; a subsequent divorce from his first wife, a former backup dancer named Mayte Garcia; the deaths 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 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.”
Prince 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.
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.”
– – –
Emily Sohn from Chanhassen, Minnesota, contributed to this post.