Prince, one of the most inventive and influential musicians of modern times with hits including “Little Red Corvette,” ‘'Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry,” was found dead at his home on Thursday in suburban Minneapolis. He was 57.
His publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, told The Associated Press that the superstar “died at his home this morning at Paisley Park.” The local sheriff said deputies found Prince unresponsive in an elevator late Thursday morning after being summoned to his home, but that first-responders couldn’t revive him.
No details about what may have caused his death have been released. Prince postponed a concert in Atlanta on April 7, after coming down with the flu, and he apologized to fans during a makeup concert last week.
President Barack Obama released a statement Thursday saying he and his wife “joined millions of fans from around the world” in mourning Prince’s sudden death.
“Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent,” said Obama, for whom Prince was a White House guest last year. “ ‘A strong spirit transcends rules,' Prince once said – and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative.”
The dazzlingly talented and charismatic singer, songwriter, arranger and instrumentalist drew upon musicians ranging from James Brown to Jimi Hendrix to the Beatles, creating a widely imitated blend of rock, funk and soul.
The Minneapolis native broke through in the late 1970s with the hits “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and soared over the following decade with such albums as “1999” and “Purple Rain.” The title song from “1999” includes one of the most quoted refrains of popular culture: “Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.”
Born Prince Rogers Nelson, he stood just 5 feet, 2 inches – yet made a powerful visual impact at the dawn of MTV, from his wispy moustache and tall pompadour to his colorful and suggestive outfits.
He was equally powerful musically, summoning original and compelling sounds at will, whether playing guitar in a flamboyant style that drew on Jimi Hendrix, switching his vocals from a nasally scream to an erotic falsetto, or turning out album after album of stunningly original material. Among his other notable releases: “Sign O' the Times,” ‘'Graffiti Bridge” and “The Black Album.”
He was also fiercely protective of his independence, battling his record company over control of his material – and even his name, for a time insisting that he be called “TAFKAP,” or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and identified with a key-like symbol. Prince once wrote “slave” on his face in protest of not owning his work and famously fought and then departed his label, Warner Bros., before returning a few years ago.
“What’s happening now is the position that I’ve always wanted to be in,” Prince told the AP in 2014. “I was just trying to get here.”
In 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame, which hailed him as a musical and social trailblazer.
“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,” reads the Hall’s dedication. “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.”
Music was in his blood. Prince’s father played in a jazz band in Minneapolis, under the name “Prince Rogers,” and his mother was the singer. The precocious young Prince taught himself to play the piano at age 7, the guitar at 13 and the drums at 14. In 1978, the year he turned 20, Prince debuted with the album “For You.” It was a declaration, if nothing else, that he could do anything: He wrote and sang the material, and served as his own one-man band on guitar, bass, drums, synthesizers, chimes and assorted other instruments.
Rarely lacking in confidence, Prince effortlessly absorbed the music of others and made it sound like Prince, whether the James Brown guitar riff on “Kiss” or the Beatle-esque, psychedelic pop of “Raspberry Beret.” He also proved a source of hits for others, from Sinead O'Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” to Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine” to “Manic Monday” for the Bangles.
Prince had been touring and recording right up until his death, releasing four albums in the last 18 months, including two on the Tidal streaming service last year. He performed in Atlanta last week as part of his “Piano and a Microphone” tour, a stripped-down show that has featured a mix of his hits like “Purple Rain” or “Little Red Corvette,” and some B-sides from his extensive library.
Prince debuted the intimate format at his Paisley Park studios in January, treating fans to a performance that was personal and both playful and emotional at times.
The musician had seemed to be shedding his reclusive reputation. He hosted several late-night jam sessions where he serenaded Madonna, celebrated the Minnesota Lynx’s WNBA championship and showcased his latest protege, singer Judith Hill.
Ever surprising, he announced on stage in New York City last month that he was writing his memoir. “The Beautiful Ones” was expected to be released in the fall of 2017 by publishing house Spiegel & Grau.
The publishing house has not yet commented on status of the book, but a press release about the memoir said: “Prince will take readers on an unconventional and poetic journey through his life and creative work.” It says the book will include stories about Prince’s music and “the family that shaped him and the people, places, and ideas that fired his creative imagination.”
A small group of fans quickly gathered in the rain Thursday outside Paisley Park, his home and music studio, where Prince’s gold records are on the walls and the purple motorcycle he rode in his 1984 breakout movie, “Purple Rain,” is on display. The sprawling white, stone building is surrounded by a fence in Chanhassen, about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
Steven Scott, 32, of Eden Prairie, said he was at Paisley Park last Saturday for Prince’s dance party. He called Prince “a beautiful person” whose message was that people should love one another.
“He brought people together for the right reasons,” Scott said.
Moody and Italie reported from New York. Associated Press writers David Bauder in New York, Paul Newberry in Atlanta, and Steve Karnowski in Chanhassen also contributed to this report.