Prince: 12 things we've learned since his death

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, The star's hits included Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret and Diamonds and Pearls

This Friday, it will be one year since Prince died, after taking an accidental overdose of painkillers.

His death robbed the world of a true original: A pocket-sized virtuoso who broke musical rules and defied genres, apparently without breaking a sweat.

President Obama called his death a "remarkable loss", and revealed he listened to Purple Rain to "just to get warmed up" in the morning.

The star was famously private, rarely giving interviews, and even serving non-disclosure agreements on former bandmates and collaborators.

Since his death, however, fans have been afforded the occasional glimpse into his life - some funny, some enlightening, all of them elevating his status as a visionary, and a musical genius.

Here are 12 things we've learned in the last 12 months.

There was a swear box at Paisley Park

Image source, Getty Images

With songs like Erotic City and Sexy Dancer, Prince became known as a rampant sex machine - but he was also a devoutly religious vegan, who became a Jehovah's Witness in 2003.

After that, he excised swear words from his music (Sexy MF was never played live again) and kept a "cuss bucket" in his recording studio.

"He didn't want to dishonour the faith," said his friend James Lundstrom. "He wasn't joking. You had to pay in cash in the bucket. He would charge you between three and 10 dollars per swear word.

"Once I bumped my knee and I said, 'damn'. He said, 'What did you say?'"

On one occasion, Lundstrom recalled, a foul-mouthed musician stuffed a handful of hundred dollar bills in the swear jar as a down-payment for the rest of the day.

An obscure song called Comeback was played at his funeral

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Prince with his first wife, Mayte Garcia

Prince was cremated at a private ceremony for family and close friends on Saturday, 23 April.

Among the songs played at the service was Comeback, an acoustic lament the star originally recorded in 1996 for his son, Ahmir, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and died seven days later.

Released on the fanclub-only album The Truth, the song's lyrics were equally apt for Prince's funeral.

"If you ever lose someone dear to you / Never say the words 'they're gone' / They'll come back."

Prince is wearing a wig in Purple Rain

Image source, Steve Parke
Image caption, A portrait of Prince from Steve Parke's new book, Picturing Prince

Prince's former art director Steve Parke recently published a book featuring the intimate, behind-the-scenes photographs he took of the star during his time at Paisley Park.

He also recounts the time Prince invited him to watch a montage of old performances he was preparing for the American Music Awards. When a scene from Purple Rain appeared, the star bellowed, "Look at that wig!" and burst out laughing.

Parke later asked Prince's hair stylist Earl Jones about the comment. He explained the star had had to reshoot a few scenes after the filming wrapped - but he had already cut his hair and bleached it blond - necessitating the bouffant hairpiece.

Jones added that Prince had reacted so badly to the bleach that his hair started breaking off, so he had to let it grow out, and dye it back to black.

"The hairstyle in Raspberry Beret was literally all I could do with it."

He had a vicious mean streak

Image source, PA

It's no secret that Prince was a perfectionist - but some of the stories that emerged after his death highlighted the star's ruthless attitude towards his bandmates.

"He did like to push the band with fear," said Michael B Nelson, who played trombone for the New Power Generation.

One night, months into 1993's Act I tour, Nelson missed a high B during his solo on a song called The Flow.

"The next day, [Prince] came by and said, 'You're gonna play that solo right tonight?'" he told Rolling Stone. "I said, 'I'll do my best.' And he says, 'Uh, you did your best last night.' And he walks away."

That night, when it came to the solo, Prince walked up to him with his "golden gun" microphone (pictured above) and held it to his head.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God.' And he kept doing it. And it was like a week of him doing this, and I'm freaking out. It wasn't showbiz at that point. It was, 'Don't you ever do that again'."

His final shopping spree included CDs by Stevie Wonder, and a cup of coffee

Image source, Instagram / Prince Live The Best
Image caption, Prince was pictured riding his bicycle through Minneapolis shortly before his death

Five days before his death, Prince celebrated Record Store Day by cycling to his local record store and snapping up a few bargains.

According to Bob Fuchs, the manager of Electric Fetus, the star bought six CDs:

  1. Stevie Wonder - Talking Book
  2. Chambers Brothers - The Time Has Come
  3. Joni Mitchell - Hejira
  4. Swan Silvertones - Inspirational Gospel Classics
  5. Missing Persons - The Best Of Missing Persons
  6. Santana - Santana IV

Prince then set off on his bike, waving to fans at a nearby hair salon before visiting a local coffee store. According to barista, Alya Al-Hilwani, he preferred a mocha, with no whipped cream.

He secretly bought the Purple Rain house


In summer 2015, the Minneapolis house that featured as Prince's childhood home in the film Purple Rain went up for sale. It turns out that Prince bought it himself.

Minnesota Public Radio checked property records and discovered the owner of the 1913 house, at 3420 Snelling Avenue, Minneapolis, was NPG Music Publishing - one of Prince's companies.

The initial asking price was just $110,000, but Prince paid $117,000 in cash to secure the property.

After his death, Prince's estate put it up for sale, saying "the costs of repair and ongoing maintenance" were such that keeping hold of the house was "not in the Estate's best interest".

Prince outsold Adele and Drake last year

Image source, PA

Incredibly, Prince was the biggest-selling artist in the US last year, in terms of album sales. He shifted more than 2.2 million albums in the months after his death, partly because his music was unavailable on the major streaming platrforms.

He was the only artist to sell more than one million digital and physical albums in 2016; and sold a total of 5.4 million digital songs, putting him ahead of Drake and Adele.

When his music finally became available on Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Google Play this February, it was streamed 17 million times in one week - with Purple Rain alone racking up 1 million plays.

He travelled under the name Peter Bravestrong

Image source, PA
Image caption, Prince had many aliases - most famously changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol in the 1990s

Prince had many aliases as a songwriter - Alexander Nevermind, Joey Coco and Jamie Starr, to name but a few.

But unsealed court documents show, released earlier this week, show that the star, an intensely private person, travelled under the name Peter Bravestrong to help conceal his identity.

That name was on a luggage tag he used while travelling to Atlanta for what proved to be his final concert.

The suitcase was found at Paisley Park after his death, and contained several prescription bottles in the name of Kirk Johnson, a personal friend and employee since the 1980s. (It also contained handwritten lyrics for U Got the Look, according to investigators.)

US authorities are still investigating how Prince obtained the prescription medications which killed him.

He cooked a lot of eggs

Image source, AFP
Image caption, As well as, presumably, Raspberry Sorbet

As bandmates and friends lined up to pay tribute to Prince, they all seemed to have one memory in common: Eggs.

"Prince did the cooking. Scrambled eggs," singer Jill Jones told GQ magazine. "He put curry and a little bit of cheddar cheese in them. It was really good, actually.

"You know, he barely ate. I was always starving around him. I was always freaking hungry."

"Prince was never an eater," agreed Cat Glover, who joined him on the Sign O The Times and Lovesexy tours. "He would usually smell his food. Literally. I never really seen Prince eat. I've seen him make pancakes - he made me pancakes, he made me eggs. But he's not the type of person that eats a lot.

"Yeah, he has made me scrambled eggs," said dancer Misty Copeland. "Breakfast was his forte. He liked to use a lot of seasoning. They were delicious."

It's worth noting that Prince himself did not carry an eggy whiff.

"Ever since I've known Prince, I've attached a smell to him, which is lavender," Madonna once said. "He reeks of it."

He destroyed a windmill

Image source,

One of the other properties put up for sale by Prince's estate was a huge, 160-acre estate near Lake Ann in Chanhassen, which was valued at almost $14 million.

It once contained a yellow three-story mansion-style house, complete with a home studio, where portions of Sign O' the Times and The Black Album were recorded.

"There were a couple of summer nights where we could hear music coming through the woods," Juli Gempler, who lived next door, told ABC News after his death. "Nice and loud. It was good. It was really cool."

The property even had its own windmill - also bright yellow - where Prince presumably spent many a happy hour milling organic flour before baking a nice batch loaf.

Sadly, though, he had the house and the windmill torn down in the 1990s. Satellite images now show the property as a vast expanse of green fields and woodland, except for a lone tennis court.

We'll be hearing new Prince music for the rest of our lives

Image source, Getty Images

Shortly after Prince's death, the legendary "vault" that contained his archive of concert recordings, unreleased songs and rehearsal tapes was drilled open.

According to the singer's former recording engineer Susan Rodgers, who started the vault for Prince during the 1980s, the facility was almost full when she left in 1987, with songs in there that pre-date his legendary Purple Rain album.

"We used to do two songs a day, and he just put them away," added his friend and engineer David Z. In fact, there's so much music waiting to be released, "it probably won't be tapped out in our lifetime," said former Paisley Park employee Scott LeGere.

The first release came last year, when the 1999-era track Moonbeam Levels was unearthed for the compilation Prince 4Ever.

This June, an expanded version of Purple Rain is due, containing "two incredible albums of previously unreleased Prince music and two complete concert films," according to Warner Bros Records. A leaked tracklist suggests fans will finally get to hear studio versions of the much-bootlegged songs Electric Intercourse and Possessed, amongst others.

Prince's estate has also signed a $30m deal with Universal Music to release non-Warner Bros material - which will hopefully include fan favourites like Extraloveable, Wonderful Ass, Lisa, Train, Rebirth of the Flesh and Big Tall Wall.

There is some speculation that the star didn't maintain his vault to archival standards, and that some of the tapes may have deteriorated. Furthermore, the process of cataloguing the material hadn't even begun by the start of this year.

He never rehearsed that solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Image source, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

One of the most widely-circulated links after Prince's death was a video of his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

It sees Prince joining an all-star version of the Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, backed by Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and George Harrison's son, Dhani. He keeps to the sidelines until the final two minutes, when he steps forward to deliver one of the most breathtaking guitar solos you've ever seen, full of fluttering high notes and ringing harmonics.

Amazingly, Prince never rehearsed this moment with the band. At a run-through the night before it was Jeff Lynne's guitarist, Marc Mann, who took the solo.

"Prince doesn't say anything, just starts strumming, plays a few leads here and there, but for the most part, nothing memorable," recalled Joel Gallen, who directed the ceremony.

But when the big moment came, Prince stole the show. At one point, he turned to face Petty and Harrison, then fell backwards into the audience - while still playing - before strutting off stage, throwing his guitar into the air before the song ended.

"You see me nodding at him, to say, 'Go on, go on,'" Petty told the New York Times. "I remember I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a 'This is going great!' kind of look.

"He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of 'something really big's going down here.'"

Prince later claimed he had never even heard the song before it was sent to him to learn for the performance.

Picturing Prince - An Intimate Portrait by Steve Parke is out now, published by Cassell Illustrated.

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