Inside Prince's Private World: The Man Behind the Legend From Those Who Knew Him

Legendary singer and performer was found dead at age 57

By Melanie Bromley Apr 22, 2016 12:00 PMTags
Prince, 2007AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

You'll read a lot about Prince over the next few days, about his music, his iconic fashion style and his immeasurable impact on the world of entertainment. 

But there's another side of Prince you won't hear as much about, the real man behind the larger than life superstar image. A man who was wickedly funny, was often introverted and could sometimes be a recluse. 

When news broke yesterday that the 57-year-old had been found in the elevator at his beloved Paisley Park, I immediately contacted a handful of people who knew him best over the years. Some would speak on the record, others preferred to remain anonymous, but all were in a state of shock, unable to comprehend how a man who inspired generations could suddenly be gone.

By all accounts, Prince was fiercely ambitious, certainly a visionary and not afraid to be provocative. He loved to shake things up, refused to be defined and radiated an air of mystique. But underneath the confidence lurked a man who could also be extremely shy and protective. Getting to know him was difficult at first, as music producer, Simon Fields, can attest. (Fields worked with Prince from 1979 and throughout the 80s on some of his most iconic music videos.)

"I remember for the first year I worked with him he barely spoke to me," Fields laughs.  "And then after a year, everything changed and he was like a best mate." Once Fields broke down his barriers, he discovered Prince had a very mischievous side, "He was such a funny guy. He loved to tease. He had a wonderful sense of humor."

Another friend of Prince, who preferred to speak off record, described a more elusive character. 

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"We spent a considerable amount of time together over 30 years and yet I can count on one hand the times I conversed with him in depth.

"He was a very quiet guy when he wasn't on stage. He could be reserved and liked to keep himself to himself. But when he was performing, he was a different person. It's almost as if you would press the switch and turn the Prince persona on. He was the greatest guy; we are all broken up over the news. 

"From a young age he knew the specific image and vision he wanted for himself. He yearned to be a star. And he made his dream a reality. He wanted the big bodyguard, he wanted a limo, he wanted the dream. And he did it all."

But with fame and money came a transformation of the boy who had written his first song at the age of seven. And so occurred a blurring of the lines between Prince the superstar and his childhood identity, Prince Rogers Nelson.

Continues the friend, "He became the image. And in the end I think he found it hard to distinguish himself. He couldn't separate from that and I do think that caused problems for him. He almost had that Howard Hughes thing. The more famous he became, the further and further it would take him away from the person he was before he became famous. I am not sure if anyone really knew the real Prince, we all loved him, but I don't know how much we really knew him."

Minneapolis was Prince's haven. Positioning himself away from Hollywood gave Prince security. He didn't live at Paisley Park, despite numerous reports, but instead had a house a couple of miles away. Although he would sometimes spend nights at the recording studio, he had a bed there in case he needed to sleep over.

But, as one insider explains, it also encouraged his isolation and cut him off. "Having Paisley Park both protected him from the outside world but it also distanced him from reality."

Jeff Kravitz/AMA2015/FilmMagic

For some people in his inner circle, it was a place where Prince could be himself without the magnifying glass that massive fame had brought him. Fields recalls one particular night he spent there. "A terrible storm had come in and it was getting worse and worse and it looked like it was going to develop into a tornado," he says. "We decided to spend the night in the vault underneath the studio. It was where the tapes were kept.  We were down there from like 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. and we just sat on the floor and talked. We discussed music and life and design. Just ordinary things. He was a regular person."

There were few people I spoke to that had the chance to experience that kind of closeness with the Grammy singer recently.

In his final years his entourage was smaller than it had been at the height of his stardom. He had a couple of assistants, a manager and, of course, bodyguards. There wasn't a huge entourage of friends hanging around.

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"He didn't have many friends. He wasn't buddy-buddy with a lot of people. I do think he had lonely days. It's inevitable if you can't live a normal life. He could never really ever be anonymous, no matter where he went. He could never just be himself. In a way, he just became too famous."

The people who worked for him adored him. "It was like being around the biggest boss and icon all at the same time. Everyone who worked for him knew him and respected him; they all believed in him and worshipped him. He was just so capable, he was always right, and he really was."

Another friend, Michael Kronick of Startifacts, who handled Prince's memorabilia described working with him, "He was like the best CEO you could ever meet. He knew how to do every person's job. He could tell the drummer that he wasn't doing a good job and could do better. He could tell the producer that he wasn't doing a good job and could do better. And he was right. He was a genius. Everyone knew he knew their jobs better than they did. He was made to make music. He lived for his work. He was a genius.

"And he had this smile, it's the smile that your dad or your teacher would give you. It was all you needed to say that you've done a good job. That would be enough."

I ask Fields how he thinks Prince would want to be remembered, away from the music accolades, the awards, and the praise, who was he really as a person?

"He was such a kind and sweet guy. He was enigmatic. I remember in London once. I went to a small venue to see him perform. I hadn't seen him in a while and he stopped halfway through his performance to come up and shake my hand. He just made the people around him feel special."

Tune into E! News tonight for more on Prince's tragic passing at 7 p.m. & 11 p.m.

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