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How Did Prince Die?

If you’ve landed on this article because you’re investigating the passing of your gerbil and you suspect foul play, sadly, you’re in the wrong place. This article is about Prince the man, the legend, the Artist! Yes, I’m talking about the incredibly prolific singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter. The same Prince who won seven Grammy Awards and starred in one of the best music films of all time.

Prince was born on June 7th, 1958, and passed away on April 21st, 2016, at the age of 57. How did Prince die? Not a whole lot is publicly known about Prince’s death. However, the official cause of death is given as accidental fentanyl overdose. So let’s dig a little deeper to find out more about the death of Prince, and the spectacular life of this multi-talented superstar.

What’s In a Name?

How Did Prince Die?

First, let’s be very clear about who we’re talking about here. Prince was this star’s real name. He was born Prince Rogers Nelson. “Prince Rogers” was one of his father’s stage names when he performed as a pianist. His mother, Mattie Della, was also a musician who performed as a jazz singer, so this set Prince on the path to musical royalty.

As an incredibly prolific songwriter…

Prince often wrote for other artists. He often did so under pseudonyms such as Christopher, Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, and Alexander Nevermind. When he traveled, Prince often used the alias Peter Bravestrong to keep a low profile. But, in 1993, due to a conflict with Warner Bros., his label, Prince officially changed his name to the symbol, aka the “Love Symbol.”

He did this to mess with the label as a reaction to them trying to stifle his creative output. But, because the symbol was a symbol and not a word, he was usually referred to in the media as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince,” TAFKAP,” or simply “The Artist.”

In the year 2000, Prince’s contract with Warner Bros. was up, and he returned to using his original name. And he continued to use this name on most of his creative output until the time of his death.

How Did Prince Die?

Prince Die

In 2016, Prince was in the midst of his Piano & A Microphone Tour, a stripped-down show with only him singing and playing piano. However, the final tour dates were canceled as Prince was reported to be ill at the beginning of April.

He saw a doctor back in Minneapolis and then played what would be Prince’s last show on April 14th in Atlanta. From there, he was flying back to Minneapolis when his plane was suddenly diverted for a medical emergency. He was treated at a hospital in Illinois and then continued to Minneapolis.

Later reports said that he had collapsed on the plane and was given two injections of Naloxone, also known as Narcan. This medication is used to treat opioid overdose, and that should have been a warning sign for his friends and family.

It was for one of his aides…

Kirk Johnston, who referred him to Dr. Michael Schulenberg, a Minneapolis doctor who treated him for influenza and later discovered opioids in his bloodstream. Dr. Schulenberg didn’t intervene, a fact that resulted in him being sued by Prince’s family. However, Johnston contacted Dr. Howard Kornfeld for help in what he realized could be an opioid addiction. This all happened the day before his death.

However, the next day it was Dr. Kornfeld’s son who called for an ambulance at about 9:00 a.m. on April 21st. Paramedics found Prince in an elevator at his house at Paisley Park and tried without success to resuscitate him. Though he was declared dead at 10:07 a.m., he likely died about six hours earlier. The cause of Prince’s death was given as “accidental fentanyl overdose.”

Why accidental?

After all, it sounds like Prince may have been suffering from an opioid addiction before his death. Friends report that he was in a lot of discomfort and had needed a double hip replacement surgery since 2005. However, he never got the surgery, and it’s possible that the pain increased and caused him to take pain medications.

After his death, hundreds of pain pills were found around Prince’s house, but one bottle of pills was found to be the culprit. While labeled Vicodin and looking like those mixed hydrocodone and acetaminophen tablets, they weren’t. A study found that these counterfeit pills contained fentanyl, a dangerous opioid at least 50 times as potent as morphine.

Vicodin alone contains opioids…

And it could have resulted in the start of an addiction. However, where the counterfeit pills came from and whether Prince knew they were far more potent was never determined.

It’s possible that the star obtained the counterfeit pills from drug dealers intentionally. Not to get his hands on fentanyl, but to simply get a hold of Vicodin without raising anyone’s awareness that he was addicted. This has never been determined, and that’s why Prince’s death has been ruled an accidental overdose.

After Prince’s Death

The star’s death was tragic, and no one expected his career to end any time soon. After all, this was an artist who had been in the spotlight since the mid-70s and had shown no signs of slowing down. He was still putting out an album almost every year, on average.

He also penned songs for many other performers and produced a host of videos and unreleased tracks that were held in the “Vault” under his house. His engineer claims that Prince put away about two songs a day, meaning that there could be thousands of Prince recordings left to be discovered.

Prince left no will behind and was unmarried, and had no (known) children at the time of his death. For that reason, his estate was divided between his sister and five other half-brothers and sister. They also cremated his body and kept the ashes in an urn at Paisley Park.

Prince was remembered by millions and was praised as a cultural icon…

His fans paid tribute to his memory, especially with memorials in purple, a tribute to his Purple Rain movie and album of the same title. In Minneapolis, the city where he started his career, Prince had been honored with a star on the side of the First Avenue club, where mourners laid flowers and covered his star in gold leaf.

His contribution to music had spanned decades. So, when Prince died, people returned to many of his early works. Sales of Prince’s music increased by 42,000x immediately after his death. And he actually sold 4.1 million albums in a single week.

That’s amazing for any living artist!

The other thing that Prince’s death did was to truly draw attention to what has been termed “America’s opioid epidemic.” One estimate attributes over 450,000 deaths to opioid use between 1999-2016, which is a huge number and as many as the casualties of the Iraq War.

Like Prince may have done, many people start on opioids for pain relief and then become addicted. Since Prince’s death, policy changes have led to better restrictions on these medications and also more funding for opioid addiction treatment. If you or someone you know needs help with opioid addiction, you can find help here.

Prince’s Unbelievable Career

The artist we know and love as Prince did so much during his lifetime, it’s not possible to include everything in one short article. So, I’ll try to aim for the highlights of Prince’s career, and even then, there are so many.

Musical prodigy…

He could sing as a tenor but also had a far-reaching falsetto which he featured in many of his songs. Furthermore, it may have been this falsetto that allowed him to become so popular when he did.

While best known as a singer, he also shredded the guitar, battered the drums, and sizzled on the keyboards. For many of his recordings, Prince played all the instruments himself rather than using his backing bands or studio musicians. Even on his first album, he laid down the tracks for 27 different instruments all by himself. If you want something right, I guess.

In his lifetime…

Prince released 39 studio albums, starting with his first album, 1978’s For You, and his last pair, 2015’s HITnRUN Phase One and Phase Two. The best known Prince albums are no doubt 1984’s Purple Rain and 1987’s Sign o’ the Times. He also released two albums with his band, Madhouse, three with the New Power Generation, and one more with the NPG Orchestra.

Prince was also a monster in the charts. He got at least one song in the Top 40 every year from 1979 to 1999. He had the biggest charting success of any artist in the 80s and was the #10 charter in the 90s.

With the singles “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984), “When Doves Cry” (1984), “Kiss” (1986), “Batdance” (1989), and “Cream” (1991), Prince had five #1 hit songs on the Billboard charts in the USA. In total, he claimed 15 #1 songs worldwide.

If you want something even more extraordinary, consider this…

In the early 80s, Prince threatened to leave his manager if he didn’t get a contract to star in a feature-length film. Since no studio would touch the project, Prince and his manager produced the film themselves. This was Purple Rain, a sort-of-true story about Prince’s career and fame.

As a music-heavy Rock film, Prince wrote the soundtrack, which he released as his album Purple Rain in 1984. The Academy Award-winning album sold 13 million copies; the movie made 10x its budget, and the singles “When Doves Cry” and Let’s Go Crazy” went to #1.

So, Prince had the #1 movie, album, and single in the US all at the same time. No other singer, not Michael Jackson or Beyoncé, has ever done the same since, and only Elvis and the Beatles had done it before him.

Throughout his career…

Prince sold over 150 million albums, making him one of the biggest musical acts ever. He won a total of seven Grammy Awards, not to mention seven Brit Awards, six American Music Awards, as well as an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also added to the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2016, the year of his death, and posthumously to the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in 2022. This is one heck of a long list for a single artist, which makes it appropriate that he was once known as The Artist.

Prince the Man

Prince the Man

Prince clearly directed himself towards fame and fortune from an early age. And when he achieved it, he worked to keep his private life as private as he could, even if that included a possible addiction to opioids.

But, some details about his life in and out of the public eye are known, and many will surprise you. Now that we have an answer to the question, “How did Prince die?”, let’s explore some of the amazing things Prince did when alive.

Prince wrote his first song at age 7…

With a pianist/composer father and a professional singer mother, Prince was set up from childhood to become a musician. He composed his first song on his dad’s piano when he was seven, calling it “Funk Machine.” That was in 1965 when the godfather of funk and Prince’s childhood idol, James Brown, was at the peak of his fame.

Prince studied dance…

And not just any dance. When he was in junior high school, Prince received training in classical ballet with the Minnesota Dance Theatre. So, if you think his moves are smooth in his videos, now you know where he got them from.

Prince was a Seventh-Day Adventist, then a Jehovah’s Witness…

Both of his parents belonged to the evangelical Seventh-Day Adventist church, and Prince was mostly brought up with those teachings. But, in 2001, he claims a spiritual awakening made him change denominations to become a Jehovah’s Witness.

From that point on, he lived a more religious life and even stopped swearing in his music. Anyone who did curse at his home was forced to pay into a “Swear Bucket.”

Prince was a vegetarian…

He stopped eating red meat in 1987, became a pescetarian (still ate fish) in the 2000s, and even went vegan for a while. Just before his death, he described himself as a vegetarian, often consuming eggs but no meat.

Prince was married twice…

Despite cultivating a very androgynous look, Prince became a sex symbol and had relationships with many women. Prince’s first marriage was to dancer and singer Mayte Garcia in 1996. They had a child who died in infancy, and that tragedy caused them to divorce in 2000.

From 2001-2006, he was married to businesswoman Manuela Testolini. But, after that, he never re-married or had any more children.

Prince has put out three albums since his death…

The “Vault” under Prince’s house holds so much material that it will take decades to release it all, if that is even possible. So far, his estate has put out Piano and a Microphone 1983 (2018), Originals (2019), and Welcome 2 America (2021). And we should expect a whole lot more to come.

Interested in the Deaths of Other Famous Musicians?

If so, check out our thoughts on How Did Bob Marley DieHow Did Taylor Hawkins DieHow Did Eazy-E DieHow Did Avicii Die, and How Did Mac Miller Die for more info, insight, and analysis.

How Did Prince Die? – Final Thoughts

Despite his incredible talent and songwriting skills, and massive success as a musician and actor, Prince was still human. Like all of us, he had his struggles, both mental and physical. And it’s possible that these struggles led him tragically into the dangerous world of opioid addiction.

Prince was found in his home on April 21st, 2016. The coroner ruled that Prince died of a fentanyl overdose. And counterfeit Vicodin pills containing the dangerous drug fentanyl were found nearby. So, his death was considered an accidental overdose. This terrible tragedy brought this gifted artist’s life to too early an end, and he will be mourned and missed for generations to come.

Until next time, let the music play, and happy listening.

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