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Prince dead: Kathleen Schmidt of 21 Nights remembers the star

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, Atria Books

In 2008, Kathleen Schmidt, now V.P. of Marketing & PR for Running Press, worked with Prince, who died Thursday at his home in Paisley Park, on his book, 21 Nights, a coffee table book touting photography, poetry, music, and lyrics. Here, in her own words, she shares memories from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I was working for Atria Books at the time, and he came out with a coffee table book called 21 Nights. We threw a big party at his mansion in Los Angeles — his way of mingling was to play a show. We had a stage set up in his backyard behind the pool. I got there first, and it was kind of a funny moment, because I was walking through the foyer of this big mansion, all these huge, bulky security guards around. I’m going through the foyer like nobody’s business, and I go out into this stone patio, and Prince is standing right there. We both kind of looked at each other, and I said, “Hi.” And he said, “Hi.” And we both turned away at the same time.

But then people started arriving, and it was crazy because it was a mix of book publishing people, and then on the other side of it you had people like Sylvester Stallone and Eddie Murphy. It was the night that Charlie Sheen had gotten married to Brooke Mueller, and he lived in the same gated community and they crashed the party. The one gossip item that came out of it was that Diddy and Cameron Diaz hooked up at that party, and I saw it with my own two eyes.

[The party] was like nothing I had ever been to. But you know he was a very gracious host. He would have his personal chef make you anything you wanted. The thing that shocks me about this [his death], is that he was super, super into being healthy. I mean, he was a night owl, so he was never out in the sun. He didn’t drink, he didn’t do drugs. If you saw him in person, he didn’t age at all.

Whenever you were around him, he was totally gracious. If he liked you, he would always like you. He would always remember your name. He was not a fan of electronic communication, so he did not use email. If he needed to communicate with you, he would tell someone to tell someone to email you. So like, go through two people, and then you’d get an email. He had someone around all the time to communicate with people for him. And it wasn’t because he thought he was above all that — he’s just really, really shy.

But he always did everything he was supposed to do, too. If he promised to do something, he would do it. I put on a concert on the rooftop of the Gansevoort Hotel in New York for him, and he’d say, “I’ll take care of getting the candles.” An ex-coworker of mine and I were just texting each other, reminiscing over the time we had to go at a crazy hour and find a specific kind of Japanese dessert and a specific kind of candle. At the time, you’re like grumbling about it, but that’s what he wanted, so that’s what you’re going to go get. And he was very gracious, and a very nice person. He was just kind of eccentric.

The thing was, you liked him, so you did things for him. You also liked the people he surrounded himself with, because they were all really great, really nice people. His personal assistant was so nice, and his security guys were so nice — protective of him, but if you were in their circle, totally great people to work with. 

I think he was drawn to people who were not interested in his fame, who were there because they were people he trusted, people who understood him and the way he worked. He really collected people, and the people he collected were people who would just do stuff for him, because they liked him so much. The people around him, like his personal assistant at the time, knew when to scold him. She was tough — she’d be like, “No. That’s not happening.”

One day, he felt like taking a ride, and he was like, “Come for a ride!” I was like, “Oh god, maybe he has a driver or something?” Nope: It was a Lamborghini, and it had his symbol stitched in the seats, and we went for a ride up through Mulholland Drive. He put on some old R&B music, and we didn’t talk. It was like half an hour or so. I think he just wanted to get out, you know? You wouldn’t see him doing much during the day — at night, that’s when he really came alive. This was a rare during-the-day kind of thing — I think he just wanted fresh air.

He’s a really magical performer, but also just a magical person to be around. You kind of felt like he was immortal. I think what surprised me most about him was how humble he was. He definitely had that superstar persona when he was dressed for a show or whatever, but otherwise he was just a person.

I’m picturing him in his kitchen right now, and he had on these loose black pants — I don’t know what you’d call them. Leisurewear? — and a long-sleeved, very light sweater-type thing that was orange. It worked for him! He never, ever, ever wore jeans. Never. I actually asked him once, “Do you own a pair of jeans?” And he said, “No.” He didn’t say why, and I didn’t ask why.

He loved Chanel. One time, his assistant called and was like, “Can we get $25,000 worth of Chanel clothes on your credit card?” And I was like, “Uh, no?” It was my corporate card, but it was under my name so I had to get the bill paid, and I was like, “No!” She was like, “But we’re not going to keep them. I’m buying them, and he’s going to try them on, and he’s only going to keep like two things.” I’m like, “No, no, no.” So it was possible to say no to him. And that was fine — I don’t think he wanted me to get fired.

At the Gansevoort show, which was much more intimate [than the one in his backyard in Los Angeles], I was about four feet away from the stage, and it was amazing. I got there, and he was out on the roof, and he had his white guitar, and he was dressed for the show and everything, and I just stood there for a second and stared at him. I was like, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment. I’m never going to experience this again.” That show was amazing, though. It was a private show, maybe 100 people were there, maybe. It was one of the best moments of my life: hearing him do “Purple Rain” from four feet away from you, you know that you’re somewhere special, and it’s a really special moment, and magical. 

I always wondered if he ever slept, because he’s so prolific. He lived to write music. He would spend hours and hours and hours writing music. I can’t even imagine how much has not been released that he probably recorded. He was a creative soul — I think his way of communicating was definitely through his art. You don’t come across someone like that more than once in a lifetime, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I got to be around him for as long as I did.

As told to Isabella Biedenharn.

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