After being briefly hospitalized in Illinois last week, 57-year-old Grammy and Oscar winning singer songwriter legend, Prince, was found dead at his Paisley Park compound in Minneapolis.
“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57,” the artists U.K. publicist Anna Meacham confirmed in a statement. “There are no further details as to the cause of death at this time.” Police have since announced that they will be investigating.
The loss is tragic, leaving behind a human legacy not many could ever live up to. On top of his many achievements, however, Prince was an icon who inspired belonging and understanding ahead of his time in sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born a Prince, literally – his father coined him with the ever-so regal, yet ever-so appropriate title when he was born, telling A Current Affair in 1991, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.” He did just that.
In the artist’s 35-plus year long career, he released 39 solo studio albums, won seven Grammys and an Oscar, earned 30 different nominations and was declared one the of the greatest musical talents of his generation. His most notable album, Purple Rain (1984), blew the music world’s mind with hit singles When Doves Cry, Lets Go Crazy, and Purple Rain – there were over 13 million copies sold in the United States. His music was undeniably sexually-driven and gender-fluid, sparking huge controversy and respect in his industry and worldwide, at a time when both topics were still taboo. Insanely talented, his voice was renowned for its varying octaves until the day he died. According to the liner notes on his debut album, For You (1978), Prince produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording.
Beyond his unbelievable talent for a genre of music he refused to categorize, “The Purple One” was flamboyant in his style and performance, and if not most importantly, completely beloved for his recognition of gender fluidity and toe curling sexuality in his music. When it came to his brazen pansexuality, he was a fashion peacock. In an era of ‘70s sexual declaration and enjoyment, Prince remained an enigma. Although his dress and music were dripping with sexual innuendo, his own sexual status has forever remained a mystery. Ultimately, with his personal refusal to define his sexuality way ahead of its time, he encouraged and inspired the world to live without labels, too.
Throughout his life, Prince would openly exonerate the fluidity of gender through both his lyrics and behavior, inviting many to assume. He would tell interviewers that he was straight, or sometimes he would ask them why it mattered – it remained unknown until his death. The point he made in this sexual ambiguity, however, was simple: it really didn’t matter. Prince, as an artist and a person, was more than his defined sexuality, and this is a lesson he has left with the world, a true role model.
In the wake of his death, artist Frank Ocean has released a touching statement discussing how Prince helped him to come to terms with his own sexuality: “He was a straight black man who played his first televised set in bikini bottoms and knee high heeled boots, epic,” he wrote on his Tumblr. “He made me feel more comfortable with how I identify sexually simply by his display of freedom from and irreverence for obviously archaic ideas like gender conformity.”
The boundary-breaking music Prince created saw him go to extreme lengths to protect his intellectual property, an example being his change of name to the un-pronounced ‘Love Symbol’ when he fell out with Warner Bros. Entertainment over distribution. The ‘Love Symbol’ was yet another representation of his gender-fluidity. His choice to include elements of both Mars and Venus (male or female) design features in his symbol note the role he played and believed in on behalf of the gender-neutral community. Today, similar signs are used to represent the transgender community. “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m something that you’ll never understand,” a lyric on Prince’s 1984 song I Would Die 4 U.
As he grew older, however, his vision clouded. By the 2000s he had changed his name back to Prince, and had become a Jehovah’s Witness. In an interview with The New Yorker in 2008, when asked for his thoughts on gay marriage and abortion he “tapped his Bible” and said, “God came to Earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’” At the end of the day, this was only a speed-bump in his advocacy for sexual expression. Prince’s sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity made way for future artists to unapologetically explore and express their sexuality in all forms.
According to Frank Ocean, The Purple Prince was “a vanguard and genius by every metric I know of, who affected many in a way that will outrun oblivion for a long while. I’m proud to be a Prince fan(stan) for life.” So are we all.