Prince, the iconic musician behind hits like “Little Red Corvette,” “Kiss“ and ”When Doves Cry,“ has died of unknown causes at his estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis. He was 57.
“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57,” his publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, said in a statement provided to CBS. “There are no further details as to the cause of death at this time.”
Across four decades and almost 40 studio albums, Prince was one of pop’s most prolific and fearless innovators, pushing the boundaries of genre, sexuality and artistic independence—and selling million records while doing so. Beloved for his distinct falsetto, his eccentric fashion sense and his fondness for unconventional spellings and capitalizations, Prince won seven Grammys awards across his career and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he was eligible.
A talented multi-instrumentalist, Prince was only 19-years-old when he signed to Warner Bros. Records in in 1977. His earliest records mixed pop, R&B, funk, rock, disco and new wave while gaining attention for their erotic subject matter: on 1980’s Dirty Mind, he wrote about incest (“Sister”) and illicit encounters with brides-to-be (“Head”). 1981’s Controversy lived up to its name with song titles like “Sexuality” and “Jack U Off,“ but it was 1984’s “Darling Nikki,” which referenced masturbation, that reportedly motivated Tipper Gore to co-found the Parents Music Resource Center and institute parental advisory stickers. “We’ve all used shock value to sell things,” Prince told EW in 2004. “I used shock to get attention. But back when I was doing the freaky songs in the freaky outfits, we were exploring ideas. I wanted my band to be multiracial, male and female, to reflect society. The song ‘Sexuality’ was about education and literacy. ‘P Control’ and ‘Sexy MF’ were about respect for women. Go and listen to the verses. All people focus on is the hooks.”
Prince released some of his most influential and commercially successful records in the early 1980s. 1999, released in 1982, cemented his signature sound of synthesizer-heavy dance-music, while 1984’s Purple Rain spawned No. 1 singles like “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” and saw Prince flex his creative vision beyond music: the album was the soundtrack to a film of the same name, in which he made his big screen debut. Since 1978, Prince has accumulated nearly 50 Hot 100 singles.
He was a prolific recording artist, never letting more than a few years pass between new studio albums, even when he was embroiled in one of the most famous artist-label clashes in pop history. In 1993, during a contractual dispute with Warner Bros. Records, he appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his face. That year, he also famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol—the love symbol, as he called it—which prompted media to refer to him as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Looking back on this period, he told EW in 2004, that his concerns were with “the system,” not the people who run it. “When I realized that, that’s when I took the word slave off my face,” he said. “I realized that they are as much slaves as I am.”
He continued to push for creative control and artistic freedom for decades to come, even after he returned to using his name in 2000. In 2014, he re-signed with Warner Bros. after an 18-year separation to release a 30th-anniversary edition of Purple Rain and regain ownership of his old recordings. He released his 38th and 39th studio albums, HITnRUN Phase One and HITnRUN Phase Two, last fall on Jay Z’s streaming service TIDAL. Those releases may have come as a surprise: Prince famously went after online pirates of his music, though he did launch an online music service, called the NPG Music Club, in 2001. “The system is old and it doesn’t work anymore,” he told EW last year about his decision to work with TIDAL. “Jay allowed us to pick the artwork, design the page, choose the related content. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to do that when it’s your music, your creation?”
Even as he became an international icon, Prince never strayed far from his hometown. In the late ’80s, he built a 55,000-square foot estate and recording studio called Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., where he famously held late-night concerts even into his final days. During a 2015 visit, Entertainment Weekly critic Leah Greenblatt described the complex as resembling the inside of “the bottle of a genie who is very fond of high-end recording equipment, plush velvet, and every iteration of the color purple.”
Though his private life was often a mystery, Prince announced last month that he planned to publish a memoir in 2017 with the working title of The Beautiful Ones. He was married twice, to Mayte Garcia from 1996 to 1998 and then to Manuela Testolini from 2001 to 2006. He became a Jehova’s witness in 2001 and participated in the evangelizing door to door. Apart from a reported bout with the flu a week before his death, Prince appeared healthy to outsiders: he did not drink and stuck to a vegan diet.
Prince didn’t like to have his interviews tape-recorded, which means direct quotes from him are few and far between. When asked during his 2004 interview with EW about a recent standing ovation, he said, “What I was thinking in that moment was, without any real sacrifice, there’s no reward.’” he said. “You’ve read the magazines, the gossips. I’m not supposed to be here. But here I am.”