Good night sweet prince and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2. But the bard could easily be talking about the other Prince. The music world’s purple Prince. The one found dead just the other day in an elevator at his recording studio and home in Minneapolis. That Prince also happened to be very intriguing, enigmatic, supremely talented but incredibly private. An air of mystery now hanging over him in death as it did in life.
And following his death the worldwide well of public grief has been tapped and turned on. Gushing is a better description. There are tributes everywhere you look. Video clips of him playing. People speaking in hushed tones about their experiences of working with him, playing with him. But even if you didn’t know him personally you couldn’t help but admire Prince. He could play any musical instrument you care to name. Not just well but with sublime perfection. There was a staged arrogance about him but it was never obnoxious. There are plenty of good stories doing the rounds to illustrate the point. The one I like was when Rolling Stone magazine took him off the list of the world’s top 100 guitarists. Prince took it very badly. He wanted to make a point in public so he managed to wiggle his way on stage during a music award tribute to the late George Harrison. He was one among a posse of musical royalty. Just the audience he wanted. And the tune, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ became the perfect vehicle for a perfectionist. Prince fittingly played the final solo. He made his point.
No one was like him. No one will ever be like him. He played being the individual extremely well. His cockiness was just self-confidence. He knew he was good and what bits that weren’t he simply worked on until they were. You have to admire people with that strength of character.
There is no doubt he was eccentric. Publicist Alan Edwards recalls the first time he did business with Prince in 1991 with bemused clarity. “I got a call from Rogers & Cowan in America, the PR firm, asking if I would like to work with him,” says the veteran publicist, whose clients included David Bowie, the Who and Michael Jackson.
“I was flown out to Minneapolis and picked up by a chauffeur. It was flat and cold and it was the middle of winter. We drove for miles and miles through the snow, then suddenly Paisley Park [Prince’s recording studio and headquarters] pops up. I was shown up to a suspended room – just hanging in the air, with a glass floor and everything – in the middle. I sit there. No one even offers me a cup of coffee. A button is pushed and an album starts playing. It was Diamonds and Pearls, and I had a sense I was being watched. So I put on a lot of foot-tapping.
“At the end, the receptionist comes and gets me and says the car’s outside. I’d come halfway around the world and no one had spoken to me. I get in the car, and we’re driving along. The driver, this cool African American guy, says to me: ‘What did you think of the album? What about this track?’ I was being questioned forensically, so I guessed it was being taped, or played back to his highness. I got back to London, and three days later I was hired to work on Prince.”
From all accounts he was a lover of life and loved his own which only makes his death all the more mysterious. There is talk of drugs and a possible overdose. But those closest to him say he wasn’t a recreational drug user and he took a dim view of people who were. But he did have medical problems. He needed a hip operation and his religious beliefs only presented an added complication. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion opposed to blood transfusions. If the reports are true, Prince was in a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort.
Again, unconfirmed reports suggest he was taking the narcotic painkiller Percocet. He had to be hospitalised only days before he died after taking an overdose. It has been widely reported that Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing so he could seek medical assistance for “flu” or “flu-like” symptoms. At the time Prince’s publicist said the singer was suffering from the flu, but details have surfaced in US media that the catalyst for that emergency was actually concern for Prince’s condition after taking a dose of Percocet on his way home from a recent concert in Atlanta.
This is a drug which has a very bad reputation for misuse. Percocet, has several other trade names including Endocet. It’s a combination of paracetamol and the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone. Percocet’s generic name is ‘acetaminophen and oxycodone’. In 2009, a US federal advisory panel voted to recommend a ban on Percocet because of its damaging impact on the liver, and the high incidence of accidental overdoses involving the drug. The panel reported that “more than 400 people die and 42,000 are hospitalised every year” in the United States from overdoses of Percocet.
Authorities have all but ruled out suicide and say there were no “obvious signs of trauma” to his body. A post mortem examination has already been conducted. Authorities said all information regarding Prince’s “medical and social history” will be gathered and that anything considered relevant will be “taken into consideration”.
The autopsy and toxicology results will take weeks to finalise but the sheriff’s office could release preliminary results much sooner. It would be extraordinary but, given the character of the man, not all that surprising if his religious beliefs were somehow indirectly linked to his premature death at the age of 57. He was and is and will always be an enigma. When asked as a black man did he think that white people understood his music he replied: “ No, of course they don’t. White people are very good at categorising things – and if you tell them anything they’ll remember it, write books about it. But understand? You have to live a life to understand it. Tourists just pass through.”
He certainly lived a life but it was all too brief. He once said this about himself: “I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”
Of course he was different. Of course we will miss him. He was a rare jewel and one that truly sparkled. And now that bright light has been extinguished and the world seems a slightly duller place. Unfortunately people like him don’t come along often enough. His passing is very sad. Personally I don’t think it overly sentimental to repurpose Bill Shakespeare’s words:
Good night Sweet Prince.