breaking! Kobe Bryant Dead at 41: Athletes & Hollywood Pay Tribute

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Prince's artistic output was so prolific that most people's attempts to absorb it all right this minute, in the wake of his untimely death, will surely prove futile.

Having the sort of presence that he had in the music industry for almost 40 years, during which he released an almost unheard-of 37 studio albums, toured incessantly and established quirky behaviors such as refusing to let journalists audio-record their interviews, a mythical aura was bound to take shape around the man. An aura that inevitably preceded him wherever he went.

Even in life, the legend of the man dwarfed the man himself—and not just because he stood at a diminutive 5-foot-2, his penchant for high-heeled boots more than a sartorial preference. In 2008, a New Yorker writer described his famously deep voice as being that "of a much larger man."

Prince, American Idol

Ray Mickshaw/WireImage

And he wasn't legendary just for being a pop [insert countless hyphenates] star either. He was a fashion trailblazer, his flamboyant yet dapper style one of his trademarks, and his rather beautiful, immaculately groomed face and hair made him immensely appealing to both men and women.

You could almost say that the catch-all term of something or someone being "everything" applied expressly to Prince.

But at the center of the myth was a man, who, as we were cruelly reminded today, was only human, with all the complications and tragic inevitability that entails.

Prince's life existed in layers (as so many people's tend to do, really), the magnetic performer and impeccable dresser being the outer layer, while it was the music coursing through his veins that formed the inner core.

As with so many celebrities, millions knew of Prince but a relative few actually knew him—and as tends to be the case with many an artistic genius, to know him wasn't necessarily to understand him. But Prince had a persona from the start.

"He was very quiet. Very low-key," Prince's former high school basketball coach and P.E. teacher Al Nuness told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007. "He was so shy you couldn't believe it to see him perform in front of people."

Prince revealed in 2009 on Tavis Smiley that he was born with Epilepsy and suffered from seizures as a boy.

"I've never spoken about this before but I was born epileptic and I used to have seizures when I was young and my mother and father didn't know what to do or how to handle it, but they did the best they could with what little they had," the seven-time Grammy winner said. "My mother told me one day, I walked in to her, and said, ‘Mom, I'm not gonna be sick anymore' and she said, ‘Why?' and I said, ‘Because an angel told me so.' Now, I don't remember saying it, that's just what she told me, and from that point on I've been having to deal with a lot of things—getting teased a lot in school and you know, early in my career, I tried to compensate for that by being as flashy as I could and as noisy as I could."

Even as a teenager, Prince rocked an Afro and 1970s-chic open shirts, "baggies," platforms and a choker. He was short but known for his prowess on the basketball court, as well as on the piano and guitar. And he packed a wallop of self-assuredness in his small frame.

"I was born here, unfortunately," he reportedly told his school newspaper in 1976, when he was about 18. "I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they're good. I really feel that if we would have lived in Los Angeles or New York or some other big city, we would have gotten over by now."

Prince, Concert

NPG Records

Well, he got over by 1978, when he released his debut album, For You, followed a year later by his self-titled sophomore effort.

While he was linked with a litany of high-profile women throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, including Madonna, Kim Basinger, Carmen Electra (he bestowed Tara Leigh Patrick with the name we all know her by) and Purple Rain costar Apollonia, Prince didn't settle down until 1996 when he married backup dancer and singer Mayte Garcia on Valentine's Day at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in his hometown.

Prince, Mayte Garcia


Their one child together, son Boy Gregory, was born with Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which bones in the skull prematurely fuse together, impeding further growth of a child's skull. The baby was born Oct. 16, 1996, and died Oct. 23—and neither Prince nor Mayte acknowledged the birth or death at the time.

"It really grounds you, it makes you realize that things you thought were important aren't really. That's what it meant to me," Prince said, seemingly about becoming a dad, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on Nov. 21, 1996, taped at his Paisley Park estate. (His marriage to Mayte also occurred a few years after he first decided he wanted to be known by an unpronounceable symbol, which was popularly translated into "The Artist formerly known as Prince)."

When asked about the rumors that the baby, of course nowhere to be seen, had health problems, he cryptically said, "Well, our family exists. We're just beginning it...and we've got many kids to have, a long way to go."

Prince even showed Oprah a decorated playroom, saying, "It's all good. Never mind what you hear."

That was not to be. Prince and Mayte formally divorced in 2000. In a 2006 interview, Mayte described her ex as "a bit controlling," and one Prince biographer claimed that even when they were married, Mayte wasn't allowed to call her husband on the phone.

A year later he married Manuela Testolini, an employee at his charitable foundation.

Also in 2001, after learning more about the faith from Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, Prince became a Jehovah's Witness, the faith Michael Jackson was brought up in before religious criticism of his Thriller album prompted him to break from the church.

In a joint interview with Graham on a Dutch TV show, Prince was asked how he would describe his ultimate destination in life.

"I would say complete oneness with the spirit of God and knowledge of the truth," the singer said. "Larry and I, he's been so kind as to help me with a lot of things that I didn't quite have a firm grip on. There's a lot of temptation out in the world, it can confuse you and get you wrapped up in something and keep you from the truth. But with a loving brother like that by your side, usually you do all right."

After leading a relatively private life together, Testolini filed for divorce in July 2006.

"Deciding to end the marriage was a very difficult decision for Ms. Nelson," Testolini's attorney said in a statement at the time. "She is seeking a cooperative resolution of this case and hopes the proceeding will be resolved quickly and respectfully. Ms. Nelson continues to be focused on her charitable work and her business, which remain her top priority."

Prince, Manuela Testolini


Prince's lawyer told People, meanwhile, that the divorce wasn't "something that he wanted. He didn't counter sue. He is just trying to get it resolved." 

After his divorce, Prince temporarily relocated to Los Angeles in early 2008.

"I wanted to be around people, connected to people, for work," he told The New Yorker that November. "You know, it's all about religion. That's what unites people here. They all have the same religion, so I wanted to sit down with them, to understand the way they see things, how they read Scripture."

He said that he didn't view becoming a Jehovah's Witness as a "conversion" after being raised Seventh-Day Adventist.

Prince explained, "More, you know, it's a realization. It's like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix." He would attend meetings the local Kingdom Hall and even knock on doors occasionally to proselytize. "Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they're really cool about it," he said.

That's doesn't surprise us.

Some of Prince's comments in that very interview would come off later as being at cross purposes with the type of freedom, if not outright hedonistic abandon, he had always seemed to preach from the stage.

"So here's how it is: you've got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this," he reportedly gestured to a Bible. "But there's the problem of interpretation, and you've got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here [the Bible], but it doesn't. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you've got blue, you've got the Democrats, and they're, like, 'You can do whatever you want.' Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right."

Again gesturing to his Bible, he added, "God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, 'Enough.'"

The limp Prince later developed (and that prompted him to start using a walking stick, albeit a fabulous one) was said to be from bad hips that he refused to have operated on unless he could have a bloodless procedure, because Jehovah's Witnesses don't accept blood transfusions. (Nor do they vote in elections.)


Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Asked in an interview in 2004 if he was the same man he was when he was first starting out, he said, "Nah, I don't think so. I'm constantly evolving. Trying to work on my whole being, to better myself and the world around me."

He said the Bible "definitely" helped him with his music, "as well as every aspect of my life. Once you can clean out the cobwebs, so to speak, then you're going to see everything a bit more clearly."

"I'm just a loyal guitar-playing man, trying to get my thing together," he demurely described himself to Matt Lauer in 2004.

Asked if there was an absence of spirituality among some of the newer artists of the day, Prince said, "The record industry, they tend to promote things that are more salacious and hit-driven, I guess, to use a term…I kind of wish we got back to the days where the music was more like the soul music of the 60s and 70s—Alicia Keys, I dig. I think she's kind of putting it out there… It's a reality show nowadays." (After they performed together at the Grammys, Prince also described Beyoncé as "so very talented," another one of the few nuggets of praise he dished out to contemporary artists in recent years.)

Beyonce, Prince

M. Caulfield/WireImage

And though it was easy for fans to separate his musical offerings from his religious beliefs, considering his sensual, vibrant performances and the ever-experimental recordings that sprang from a studio that had also produced some of the sexiest songs of all time. But listening to Prince's reflections on religion through the years, it sounds as though his creative and spiritual inspiration were inextricably linked for him later in life.

"Awards are wonderful, but all praise and glory is due to the true god, Jehovah," Prince said in an acceptance speech at the 2005 NAACP Music Awards. And in 2010 at the BET Awards, accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, he told his adoring audience, "I was pretty wild in my younger days and you don't have to do what I did. You don't have to make any of the mistakes I made. The future's in your hands now and the world is really yours."

ESC: Prince Style, Nikki Reed

Kevin Mazur/Wire Image

A passing of the torch that seems eerie now in its foresight.

What we always knew, though, is that Prince's music remained unequivocally his own throughout his life, the only provably divine touch coming from the man himself.

We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies. For more information on cookies including how to manage your consent visit our Cookie Policy.