Prince Dead at 57: A Summary of Everything We Know So Far About his Death

As the entire universe knows by now, Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park studio complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota, which is about 20 miles outside of Minneapolis. Police were called to the building to investigate a fatality–a male and female made the 911 call (transcript here) after which the dispatcher sent out the message “male down, not breathing”–at 9:43 CDT Thursday morning (April 21).

https://youtu.be/B2XTXtqPJNw

He was found fully-clothed and unresponsive in the elevator of the studio. Paramedics pronounced him dead at 10:07 am. (Narcan, a drug given to people suffering opiate overdoses, was not administered. The significance of the mention of Narcan in official reports will be obvious in the coming paragraphs.)

His publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure delivered the news:  “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.”

The last anyone saw him was around 8pm Wednesday after which he went to PP alone. He was found Thursday morning after no one could reach him by phone when he missed a holistic medicine appointment.

UPDATE: Will Smith apparently talked to him by phone sometime Wednesday night/Thursday morning. He may have been the last person to speak to Prince.

How could this happen? What happened?

When he played the two Toronto shows on Good Friday–two sets in one night with 60-ish songs–he looked and sounded great: the usual giant dollops of showmanship, musical wizardry and enthusiasm. No one I’ve talked who was either at the show or worked the gig said that there was anything unusual about Prince that night.

There is now a lot of attention on the events of last Friday (April 15) after the 57-year-old’s private plane–a Falcon 900, a three-engined business jet capable of flying at 51,000 feet–made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois, at 1:35am after Prince began feeling unwell following shows in Atlanta (see the setlist of the final show here).

He reportedly left the stage briefly during the first show and coughed a bit during the second. Otherwise, it was a normal Prince show–which is to say, electric. It should be noted that the two Atlanta shows were make-up dates for a couple that he had canceled earlier because of illness.

After the emergency landing–the plane descended from about 45,000 feet in just 17 minutes, a pretty extreme approach vector–the official story was that Prince had nothing more than the flu. A source said the health emergency was a case of  dehydration, that’s all.

Or was there? If it was just the flu, why land in Moline with such haste with just 48 minutes to go before the flight reached Minneapolis?

Given he was seen riding his bike around the neighbourhood Saturday afternoon and threw a dance party at PP that night, it appeared that the health emergency–whatever it was–was over. Reports from the party say he looked a little unwell, but considering what he’d been through over the past couple of days, no one gave it much thought. His appearance was subdued by Prince standards, but hey, he still showed up. He didn’t sing, but he told the crowd “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.” Meanwhile, two shows scheduled for St. Louis earlier this week were canceled.

But back to Moline: TMZ, citing multiple sources in Moline, say Prince was rushed to the hospital where he received a “save shot.”

UPDATE: The pilot radioed ahead for an ambulance during that rapid descent, saying that he had an “unresponsive male” onboard. The shot was apparently administered at soon as the plane landed at Quad Cities International Airport.

A shot for what? It could have been something as simple as a B-12 shot as a boost to the system, a common (and healthy) quick fix for someone who is ill with certain issues (exhaustion, dehydration, etc.) After all, the man had just played two intense shows. A 5′ 2″ 57-year-old man getting ill at the end of cold and flu season after exerting himself? I can buy that.

Could have been an allergic reaction that sent him into anaphylactic shock? Possibly.

Or, as some speculate, could this have been a Pulp Fiction-style shot to counteract the effects of opiates?  A shot of Narcan, for example?

I don’t believe that for a second. Prince was a fit, health-conscious vegan who had sworn off drugs as a kid. In his forty year career, there’s never, ever been any drug stories about the man. Not. One. He didn’t even drink.

UPDATE: I was thinking of heroin or coke, not prescription drugs. I should have thought of that.

Whatever the case, doctors in Moline advised that he should remain for observation for at least 24 hours. But when Prince couldn’t be assured a private room, the decision was made to fly on to Minneapolis after just three hours, even though it’s said that Prince “was not doing well.” (Authorities in Minnesota have asked for those Moline hospital records.)

UPDATE: Prince once revealed he was born with epilepsy and had seizures as a child. No ones if his epilepsy followed him into adulthood.

UPDATE: Prince was taken to a Minneapolis hospital Wednesday and was seen by a doctor. Why?

Then TMZ had this report of Prince’s four recent visits to a local Walgreens drug store where employees felt that something was wrong. His last visit was Wednesday evening (April 20) around 7pm, looking “frail and nervous” and pacing about. That’s was about 15 hours before he died.

During these visits, it’s said that prescriptions were filled. Could this be a clue?

Various reports say that Prince was suffering from pain in his hips due to irreparable damage caused by jumping around on high heels during the Purple Rain era. It was for the resulting pain that he was allegedly prescribed Percocet, an opiate painkiller. Although he had some kind of corrective surgery in 2009 or 2010, it was far from the hip replacements he required. That surgery would have required blood transfusions, something his Jehovah’s Witness beliefs prevented. His hips continued to cause him problems, hence the cane he often carried and, allegedly, the Percocet. Some theorize that as a result, Prince became addicted to these opiate painkillers.

Was the emergency landing in Moline Percocet related, a painkiller overdose? That is a possible explanation for the “save shot.”

Authorities have so far refused to say if any prescription drugs were removed from the premises. They did obtain a search warrant.

Other questions: Maybe he really was suffering from the flu last weekend and ran into complications. That’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Was he suffering from something that his Jehovah’s Witness faith prevented him from treating with modern medicine? Might he have passed out and hit his head? Or was it just plain old natural causes–heart attack, aneurysm, whatever. Aretha Franklin wonders if it was Zika virus.

We’ll have to wait for the results of the four-hour autopsy which was conducted Friday (April 22) by Dr. A. Quinn Strobl of the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County. All anyone was willing to say at this point was (a) there were no external indications of foul play; (b) it was not a suicide. It will be weeks before the full results are published.

The body was released to the family for a funeral and burial. Prince was cremated around 3pm on Friday at the First Memorial Western Chapel in Minneapolis. The final resting place of those ashes will remain a secret. A memorial event was held Saturday at Paisley Park. (Plenty of pictures from the event can be found here.)

The tributes will flood in for weeks. Meanwhile, 2016 can just fuck off.

UPDATE: According to this 2015 academic study, the most common age of death for performers this decade is…57.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Prince Dead at 57: A Summary of Everything We Know So Far About his Death

  • April 21, 2016 at 11:57 pm
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    It’s mildly agitating that people on social media are still talking about Bernie Sanders, promoting their shows, and wishing each other Happy Birthday. The whole world should just STOP and declare this a day of mourning

    Reply
  • April 22, 2016 at 9:41 am
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    It’s pretty easy and sadly common to accidentally overdose on acetaminophen/paracetamol. Ache-y and flu-y but not wanting to take the downtime, maybe he just lost track of how much he’d been taking and over did it.

    Reply
  • April 24, 2016 at 3:11 am
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    Oh shit, the 57 club.

    Reply
  • April 25, 2016 at 12:09 pm
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    It used to be the 27 club (Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain)…

    Reply

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