On April 21, 2016, the world gasped as the news whipped its way around the globe: The man born Prince Rogers Nelson and known simply as Prince had been found dead at his Chanhassen home. He was only 57 years old.
It was hard to believe someone like Prince, a man who had been singing about the afterlife since the late 1970s, could actually die. It felt like we had been cheated. How could such a supernatural performer and superhuman artist end up being a mere mortal? Prince wasn’t supposed to die; he was supposed to keep making music into his old age then dissipate into the ether like a cherry bomb, pluming into a cloud of purple contrails and smoke, and wafting his way up toward the heavens.
When he was alive, we here in Minnesota couldn’t get enough of him — where he was headed, what he was tweeting about, what he was doing out at his Paisley Park studio. We couldn’t help but fixate on our biggest celebrity export, especially because he continued to keep his roots firmly planted in the North.
Now that he is gone, the love for Prince is everywhere. His hometown of Minneapolis literally glowed purple, its citizens flooding into the streets around the venue he made famous, First Avenue, to dance, cry and shake the city’s foundation with his music. An unending stream of fans and neighbors made the pilgrimage to Paisley Park to plaster the gates with purple flowers, balloons, guitars, teddy bears, hand-knit purple raindrops and scrawled love letters — everyone paying tribute in their own way.
We may never fully understand who Prince Rogers Nelson was or what this loss means, but we do know his legacy. A lifelong musician, he got his start performing music in junior high and never stopped, releasing an endless torrent of albums and topping the Billboard charts at several points in his career. He performed on every stage imaginable, from American Bandstand to the Grammys to the Super Bowl halftime show. He turned the industry on its ear with his views on copyright law and his insistence on maintaining ownership of his art. He subverted all our preconceived notions about race, sex, gender and genre. He kept us on our toes, and his aloofness and unpredictability only further stoked the intrigue.
And above all, we know that he was an uncompromising artist. He was a tender, shy man and a larger-than-life enigma. He was, quite simply, Prince.