He cherished his privacy. He always kept us from seeing what he didn’t want us to see, what he didn’t want us to know, what he didn’t want us to hear.
We didn’t know the name of his deceased newborn son. Or about his movie script for then-teen heartthrobs New Kids on the Block, or even the excruciating hip pain that forced him to surgery.
We never knew how much he was hurting or how dependent he’d become on painkillers.
We certainly didn’t have a clue — and maybe he didn’t either — that trying to ease the pain would bring his demise.
Prince’s abiding desire to shield himself from the outside world in life may also have played a part in his death, keeping those who knew and cared for him the most from getting him the help he needed.
But, as with so much else with Prince Rogers Nelson, we’ll never know.
We lack full closure about the 57-year-old Minneapolis music icon’s death on April 21, 2016, from an accidental opioid overdose even though Carver County, state and federal authorities ended their investigation Thursday with no criminal charges.
Now we’re left with so many questions that may never have answers:
How and where did he score that counterfeit fatal fentanyl? Why didn’t one of his associates stay with the obviously ill Prince on the night before he was found dead? Could the people who knew about Prince’s drug issues have done more to help him? Why are his heirs feuding over his estate? And who’s running the estate anyway? Couldn’t he have left a will?
“It’s really sad. He didn’t get the justice that he deserved,” said Prince fan Sara Savoy of Prior Lake. “I feel the police didn’t take it seriously enough. They didn’t lock down Paisley Park right away. They didn’t even take his computer. They don’t have enough information to really know what happened.
“There’s never going to be closure. That’s never going to be a word we’re able to use when it comes to Prince.”
In hindsight, it should come as no surprise. The Purple One was always a man and a musician of mystery.
He relished being enigmatic. He purposely confused things from the get-go of his career.
When releasing his debut album in 1978, he agreed to let his manager lie about Prince’s age to make the then-20-year-old seem like a teen prodigy.
In early interviews, Prince himself muddied the story, talking about his heritage as “the son of a half-black father and an Italian mother.”
Prince told his first manager, Owen Husney, that he didn’t do normal.
Prince told Warner Bros. “Don’t make me black,” meaning he didn’t want his music marketed to only R&B radio stations because he felt he was making music for all formats and audiences.
Prince told the Star Tribune in 1978 that he’d stop granting interviews. “There’ll be a time when I won’t do any interviews,” he promised in the first one he gave without a handler sitting next to him. “I know they’re important right now cause people won’t know what’s on my mind.”
Did we ever?
Prince knew. He had a vision. He had a plan. He had it all mapped out before we could even ask if Prince was his real name. The multiracial coed band, the music-filled movies, the high-heeled boots. He envisioned a utopian Uptown, a world in which race or sexual orientation didn’t matter, where dance, music, sex and romance were all you needed.
A dreamer with a hyperactive mind he couldn’t shut off, he told us what he thought in his songs, not in interviews, which, as promised, were few and far between. What he didn’t tell the world was what he wanted to do with what he left behind after his death.
Actually, he had already sketched some plans for turning his Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen into a museum, something he’d planned to do when he was still alive. His staff had already worked on some displays.
But he left no guidance on what to do with all the unreleased music and concert videos in Paisley’s vaunted vault. Or the houses he’d purchased for some of his staffers and band members to live in. Or the vacant land he owned. Or the money that would continue to roll in from music royalties.
Why didn’t a forward-thinking force worth more than $100 million write a will? Or did he, in typical Princely break-new-ground fashion, record a will and stash it in the vault? He certainly knew about wills and the consequences of not having one.
“My dad had no will,” said Sharon Nelson, 78, Prince’s oldest surviving sibling. “Prince took over the estate [in 2001] and he divided it up.”
But John L. Nelson, Prince’s father, had children. A whole lot of them. Prince was survived by neither children nor a wife.
Even though he married and divorced twice, he was a singular soul. He thought of his millions of fans around the world as family. But, they, like his siblings, were never truly close to him.
If he had someone close to him, it was probably Kirk Johnson, his sometimes drummer, ubiquitous aide-de-camp, a Paisley Park manager and best man at Prince’s first wedding.
It was Johnson who carried his unconscious boss off the private plane in Moline, Ill., in the early morning hours of April 15, 2016, after Prince overdosed on painkillers while flying home from two concert performances in Atlanta.
It was Johnson who obtained prescriptions in his name even though the drugs were for Prince.
It was Johnson who dropped off Prince after a visit to the doctor on the night before the superstar died.
Many have been asking: Why didn’t Johnson or someone else stay with Prince that night when he was clearly not well?
Nothing in the investigative reports addresses that question. And Johnson is not talking. He’s a loyal soldier. A personal fitness trainer in addition to his Paisley duties, he’s likely to take his Prince secrets to his grave.
Johnson’s unwavering loyalty and intractable silence were necessary to ensure Prince’s privacy. The longtime friend didn’t even reveal anything of major consequence to investigators, except perhaps that he didn’t become aware of Prince’s drug issues until a week before his death.
Carver County officers also spoke with bassist Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone fame, who was Prince’s “spiritual brother.” They’d bonded as musicians, and Graham introduced Prince to spirituality via the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith.
Graham, who had moved to Chanhassen from California because of Prince, met with his famous friend on April 18, 2016, just days before his death. When investigators asked Graham if Prince would have disclosed any health concerns to him, the bass player said “no” because Prince was a private person. If there was “a problem or an issue,” Graham told authorities, Prince wouldn’t want Graham to know.
Savoy, who was a regular at Paisley Park events since 2012, said she and other fans noticed in 2015 that Prince had lost weight and looked ill.
“He couldn’t reach out and ask for help because he didn’t know if someone was going to sell his story or sell pictures of him,” said Savoy, who in tribute to Prince’s often-anonymous philanthropic ways packed meals Saturday morning for Feed My Starving Children, an organization to which Prince quietly donated money.
“The fact that he didn’t have anyone he could trust is ultimately what killed him.”
Now, it’s up to his heirs, their attorneys and a court-appointed administrator in California to sort out his estate. The six surviving siblings have split into two feuding factions — pretty much the ones who share the same mother as Prince (Tyka Nelson, Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson) vs. the ones who share just the same father with him (Sharon, Norrine and Johnny Nelson).
The siblings may have stood onstage together Friday at Target Center for the Prince: Live on the Big Screen concert, but they’re fighting in court over how to handle Prince’s estate and which adviser should be in charge. Tyka Nelson, who occasionally attended Prince events at Paisley, may have spent the most time with him, but no one in Prince’s inner circle would have characterized them as tight. Moreover, these estranged siblings were almost strangers to one another when Prince died.
“I didn’t know Tyka, Omarr or Alfred at all,” said Sharon Nelson, who has lived in New York for decades and temporarily moved back to the Twin Cities to deal with the estate. “And I hadn’t seen some of the others in 50 years.”
Call it distance, dysfunction or privacy. Maybe Prince preferred it that way.
He could communicate and unite magnificently with music but not so much in real life. Ultimately, that don’t-show-a-weakness solitary lifestyle may have cost him his life.
“It must have been so lonely to be him,” said fan Savoy, who used to exchange messages with Prince on Twitter. “There are millions of people around the world that love him, and he didn’t have anyone that he could trust.”