Prince, legendary Purple Rain singer, dead at age 57

Prince, the superstar singer-songwriter known for his incredible musicianship and a cavalcade of award-winning hits, has died at the age of 57, according to his publicist.

Authorities responded to medical emergency call from singer's home recording studio

Prince, the superstar American singer-songwriter known for his incredible musicianship, diverse appeal across multiple genres and cavalcade of award-winning hits, has died at age 57.

Prince "died at his home this morning at Paisley Park," according to his publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure. 

Deputies responded to a medical call about 9:43 a.m. local time, according to Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson. 

A transcript of the 911 call from Prince's suburban Minneapolis compound shows confusion as an unidentified caller struggles to give the dispatcher the proper address.

The caller said he was at "Prince's house" but first placed it in Minneapolis. Another person at the compound eventually gave the correct address in the suburb of Chanhassen.

The caller first says he has "someone who is unconscious" before saying "the person is dead here."

Prince dead at 57

8 years ago
Duration 4:45
Authorities responded to medical emergency call from singer's home recording studio

As the dispatcher identifies the address as Paisley Park and begins to ask a question, the caller interrupts to say, "Yes, it's Prince."

When deputies and medical personnel arrived, they found Prince unresponsive in the elevator.

Medical personnel tried CPR, but couldn't revive the singer, who was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m.

Sheriff's officials in Minnesota say it's too early to say whether foul play was involved.

Carver County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Jason Kamerud says foul play "is neither suspected nor not suspected."

Kamerud tells The Associated Press that it's simply too early in the investigation.

The Midwest Medical Examiners Office in Ramsey, Minnesota, tweeted that it has received Prince's body. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday.

By nightfall, thousands had gathered outside First Avenue in Minneapolis, the venue Prince earned raves at locally with his performances, and then helped make famous internationally as it served as the house club in his 1984 movie Purple Rain. Fans sang the title track to that movie and accompanying album on Thursday night, in a party expected to last through the hours.

In the twin city of Saint Paul, Mumford and Sons included a version of his Nothing Compares To U in their set at Xcel Energy Center.

'A true innovator'

The head of the organization behind the Grammys hailed the singer as "a true innovator" and "one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time."

"Never one to conform, he redefined and forever changed our musical landscape. Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever," Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, said in a statement.

"Today, the world lost a creative icon," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement.

"Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.

"'A strong spirit transcends rules,' Prince once said — and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative."

CBC correspondent Adrienne Arsenault described Prince as being "the sort of talent who crafted like Mozart and moved like James Brown."

Radio and TV host George Stroumboulopoulos noted Prince's openness to diversity. "His bands were gender diverse, they were ethnically diverse … all the equality you talk about, we talk about, it was in Prince's bands. It was in Prince's music."

The singer postponed several shows in Atlanta earlier this month amid reports he had been battling a nagging flu for several weeks, but delighted fans — including singer Janelle Monae — at a rescheduled performance.

Last Friday, Prince was rushed to an Illinois hospital with his private plane making an emergency landing so he could get treatment. He was released hours later. The next day, he was seen by fans riding his bicycle around his neighbourhood and hosted a "dance party" at Paisley Park.

Prolific hitmaker

Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, the award-winning artist was known for such hits as Purple Rain, Kiss, Little Red Corvette, The Beautiful Ones, Raspberry Beret, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Diamonds and Pearls and The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.

Music legend Prince was 57 when he died at his Paisley Park home studio in suburban Minneapolis. (Nousha Salimi/Associated Press)

Prince himself drew inspiration from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone's Larry Graham. Artists as diverse as Justin Timberlake, Darius Rucker, Questlove, Chromeo and Bruno Mars have been inspired by his music.

The son of a jazz pianist and signed to his first record contract as a teenager, Prince released his debut album For You in 1978. From the start, he was a prolific recording artist, releasing an album a year for the next few years – albums that courted controversy for his mix of explicit sex, eroticism and religion.

The boundary-stretching artist made his name internationally with the albums 1999 and his film-album project Purple Rain, which cemented his status as one of the musical icons of the 1980s. 

He drew fans from all quarters for his impressive talent and singular musical style, which fused elements of funk, soul, jazz, rock and pop into chart-topping hit after hit. 

An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, he continued to write, compose, arrange, produce, perform and record music over the years, experimenting with different sounds nearly every time. He also mentored a host of musicians, from Sheila E to Judith Hill.

On the side, the celebrated and versatile songwriter penned tracks for a wide range of artists, from Madonna to Sinead O'Connor, the Bangles and M.C. Hammer.  Tom Jones, Chaka Khan and Alicia Keys are just a few of the singers who count Prince covers among their best-known or signature songs.

The film Purple Rain, based on Prince's concept, was a huge success at the box office, but subsequent efforts Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge were flops. Prince's unique charisma on stage didn't quite translate to leading man status on the big screen, most critics agreed, not unlike the case of fellow Minnesota legend Bob Dylan's movie efforts.

Noted perfectionist, outspoken artist

Prince waged a high-profile contract battle with his record company Warner Bros. over control of his material and even his name — famously changing it to a symbol and performing as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince for some time.

The noted perfectionist, who was fiercely protective of his music, even went so far as scrawling the word "slave" on his face in protest. He and Warner Bros. would eventually bury the hatchet, with a 2014 deal returning him ownership of his master recordings.

CBC's Shad remembers Prince

8 years ago
Duration 3:30
The rapper and CBC radio host on the influence of the American music icon, who died Thursday

Prince was a fierce and early opponent of digital music distribution and sales, arguing that artists aren't appropriately compensated, and even declared the internet to be "completely over" in 2010.

"What I meant was that the Internet was over for anyone who wants to get paid, and I was right about that," he told the U.K.'s Guardian in November.

"Tell me a musician who's got rich off digital sales...Apple's doing pretty good though, right?"

A handwritten note is attached to a makeshift memorial outside Paisley Park, Prince's longtime Minneapolis home. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

After some quieter career years of late, he stepped back into the spotlight and dazzled a new generation of fans with a high-octane 2004 Grammy Awards performance alongside pop singer Beyoncé — one that helped boost his album Musicology and the subsequent tour. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year.

Just three years later, his gig as the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show headliner proved that a rainstorm couldn't dampen his larger-than-life stage presence, ferocious guitar solos and immense talent. It's often cited among the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.

Along with seven Grammy wins over his career, Prince also earned an Oscar for Purple Rain's film score, a Golden Globe for the title song to 2006's Happy Feet and a raft of music industry honours. 

He had been set to publish a memoir entitled The Beautiful Ones in fall 2017.

Special relationship with Toronto 

Prince held a special relationship with Toronto, a city he returned to often to play both official and impromptu shows.

Prince plays intimate show in Toronto in 1997

8 years ago
Duration 1:01
John Northcott reports on Prince's performance at the 'Warehouse'

During his marriage to Torontonian Manuela Testolini, he briefly lived in the city and occasionally popped up around town, the avid basketball fan seen at Raptors games or picking up a DJ'ing gig in a local nightclub. The couple divorced in 2006. (He was previously married to backup dancer Mayte Garcia.)

Donna Grantis, who plays guitar in Prince's recent all-female backup band 3rd Eye Girl, was based in Toronto as a studio musician when she was discovered by his team.

Earlier in his career, Prince formed an all-female group centred around Denise Matthews of Niagara Falls, Ont.; they would be known as Vanity 6. When Matthews died in February, he dedicated Little Red Corvette to her at an Australian stop on his Piano and a Microphone tour.

Just a few weeks later, Prince made his way back to Toronto on the same tour, which also included a stop in Montreal in late March.

In Toronto, he played two shows in one night — performing nearly 60 songs across the two, differing setlists — and later ventured out to a club to celebrate afterwards. 

"He's up there with Michael Jackson and up there with James Brown. The interesting thing about Prince was that he was able to straddle a whole bunch of different genres," radio host and music critic Alan Cross told CBC News.

In the years to come, it will be interesting to see what Prince's estate discovers in the prolific and innovative artist's archives at Paisley Park, Cross added. 

Flowers hang from the fence outside Paisley Park, where Prince was found dead Thursday. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

"What kind of music did he make that was never released? We know that Prince spent hours and hours and hours working on his own in his studio, just fiddling with ideas and the stuff that didn't meet his standards was shelved and put away. But that stuff still exists. So it's going to be an interesting archeological dig in the years to come."

Retailers report that sales of Prince's music have soared since news broke of the pop star's death earlier Thursday afternoon.


Jessica Wong

Senior digital writer

Based in Toronto, Jessica Wong covers Canadian education stories for CBC News. She previously covered arts and entertainment news, both national and international, and has been a digital journalist for CBC since 2001. You can reach her at Jessica.Wong@cbc.ca.

With files from The Associated Press