On April 21, 2016, Prince died at age 57 in his native Minnesota. The restlessly creative, immeasurably talented, genre-blurring artist was an icon of rock, pop, R&B, funk and dance.
Without a doubt, his influence will be felt on the world for decades to come. In honor of the Purple One's impact, we're remembering the many eclectic moments, songs, albums and anecdotes that constitute Prince's life, legend and legacy.
Prince Makes His Billboard Chart Debut
Recorded in 1977, Prince released his debut album, For You, in the spring of 1978. While impressive in the respect that wrote, composed and played every instrument on the album, there wasn't anything about the 33-minute LP to indicate the breadth of his genius quite yet. Regardless, the single "Soft and Wet" gave him his first Billboard chart appearance on Nov. 4, 1978 at No. 96 on the Hot 100 (it peaked at No. 92 that same month).
Dave Chappelle Does Prince
Another Prince-related clip from the Strib archives, looking back at his hooping days at Bryant Junior High. pic.twitter.com/LrIQZ3LhSg
With his second album, 1979's self-titled Prince, Prince earned his first No. 1 hit on a Billboard chart thanks to the effervescent, deceptively simple "I Wanna Be Your Lover." It hit No. 1 on the chart now known as Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs on Dec. 1, 1979. Prince, the album, became his first platinum LP.
Pranking Apollonia in 'Purple Rain'
The most memorable non-music moment of the Purple Rain film is undoubtedly when Prince pranks Apollonia. During the outdoor scene, he orders her to "purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka" as a matter of initiation. Naturally, she hops into the lake they're standing next to. The only problem, which she learns as he speeds away on his purple motorcycle, is that the freezing lake she jumped into naked wasn't Lake Minnetonka.
'1999' Drops in 1982
While Dirty Mind was his first masterpiece, 1999 demonstrated the staggering breadth of his musical abilities. From hard funk to party pop to sensual R&B to sexual metaphor-laden balladry to mechanical synths to dancefloor anthems, 1999 found Prince doing -- and excelling at -- practically every musical style pertaining to after-hour pleasures.
'Sign O' the Times' Drops in 1987
Whether he's daring to address AIDS before it was a safe topic for pop stars to tackle or experimenting with the then-nascent genre of hip-hop or confirming his peerless ability to write a heart-melting, pant-dropping ballad (see: "Adore"), Prince's 1987 double album Sign O' the Times confirmed he was one of pop, rock and R&B's all-time greats.
Beyonce & Prince Hit the Grammys Together
Almost as if christening Beyonce's ascendant solo career, Prince took the stage with her at the 2004 Grammys to perform "Purple Rain," "Baby I'm a Star," "Crazy in Love" and "Let's Go Crazy." Recalling the experience in a 2011 interview, even the almighty Beyonce admitted she was "terrified" to work with Prince.
Prince Wins an Academy Award
'Dirty Mind' Drops in 1980
With Prince's third album, Dirty Mind, he came into his own as a creative genius, solidified the Minneapolis sound (which would have a massive impact on the '80s) and delivered his first start-to-finish classic with a unified sonic vision. “Uptown,” “Head,” “When You Were Mine” and the title track are all immortal.
Prince Addresses "Baltimore"
Politics were never the focus of Prince's music, but they regularly crop up throughout his catalog. Most recently, Prince -- inspired partly by the Black Lives Matter movement -- released "Baltimore," the rare protest song that doesn't shy away from the harsh truth (he mentions Michael Brown and Freddie Gray by name) but still attempts to maintain a hopeful tone for the future.
The Love Symbol
Jokes about "the artist formerly known as Prince" followed him the rest of his life after he changed his stage name to the unpronounceable Love Symbol (created by melding the symbols for male and female gender) in 1993. Still, you have to give him props for the sheer brassiness of that move; you also have to give him credit for wisely abandoning that whim and returning to "Prince" later on.
Working With Morris Day & The Time
Prince worked with a number of other acts throughout his life, fostering careers and outright creating new bands. His greatest creative success as a mentor was with Morris Day and The Time. While they appeared opposite Prince in Purple Rain (and later Graffiti Bridge) as his villainous, ridiculous rivals, in real life, they delivered multiple '80s funk classics, from their 1981 eponymous debut to 1982's What Time Is It? to 1984's Ice Cream Castles. While the Time were a ferocious live band -- Prince once called them “the only [opening act] that scared me” -- most of the instruments on their albums were played by Prince and Morris Day.
'The Black Album' Debacle
The story behind Prince's legendary 1987 LP The Black Album is as good as the music itself. Confounding his record company by insisting on releasing the album while the Sign O’ the Times LP was still being promoted, Prince abruptly changed his mind and found himself repelled by the album’s negativity -- and ordered Warner Bros. to recall and destroy all copies of the album as it was about to be shipped to stores. (He agreed to shoulder the cost.) The label complied and Prince embarked on the far more positive Lovesexy project.
In the music video for “Alphabet St.” from LoveSexy, his first album after The Black Album kerfuffle, the video can be paused at 0:27 right after Prince is shown holding a cane. You can see the words, "Don't buy The Black Album. I'm sorry" running vertically across the screen.
'The Black Album' Drops... Sort Of
After endless bootlegging, The Black Album finally came out in 1994 in a limited edition CD, cassette, and promotional-only vinyl run. Regardless, original copies of The Black Album have survived and fetch hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Prince Teams With Madonna
On her 1989 album Like a Prayer, Madonna teamed with Prince for the slow-grinding funk jam "Love Song" which, despite the title, "is not a long song" (according to the chorus). Rarely do two musical legends record together at the height of their powers.
Prince's Less-Famous Contribution to 'Like a Prayer'
Fans of both artists know that Madonna and Prince duetted on "Love Song" from her 1989 classic Like a Prayer, but his additional contributions to the LP are less famous -- but no less essential. The fuzzy, chaotic guitar that opens "Like a Prayer" (and thus the album) just before the noise of a slamming door comes courtesy Prince. There is also, according to legend, a Prince-produced version of the song.
Prince Stays Enigmatic on "Controversy"
The title track to his 1981 album Controversy found Prince teasing, embracing and laughing off the rumors his breakout album Dirty Mind started. As with all things Prince (and anyone who knows how to court public curiosity), Prince asks more questions than he answers on this semi-autobiographical song. But when the result is arguably the most perfect marriage of synthpop and funk ever, who needs answers?
Prince Owns the Super Bowl
We're not saying Prince had the greatest Super Bowl halftime performance of all-time simply because he recently died -- we're saying it because it's 100 percent true. After all, it was Prince playing "Purple Rain" in the rain. What could be better than that?
Rock Hall Induction
Prince received a much-deserved Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2004 alongside Bob Seger and the late George Harrison, among others. During the ceremony, Prince delivered a scorching, reflective guitar solo playing the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that is arguably the greatest live moment during Rock Hall history. If you don’t think Prince is one of the greatest guitar players of all time, just watch it.
Prince had an awkward relationship with the Internet -- he said it was “over” in 2010, but later clarified his remark to say he meant it was “over for anyone who wants to get paid.” Regardless, his first few tweets were classic Prince. The second simply read "Prince's 2nd tweet," and the third was a photo of a plate blanketed in pepper with the caption, "Did eye add 2 much pepper?" It didn't really make that much sense, but then again, that was the appeal of Prince's offbeat sense of humor.
Slave 4 Warner Bros.
During his very public legal battle with Warner Bros., Prince appeared in public with the word "slave" written across his face to protest what he felt was the label holding him artistically hostage. Some thought it was genius commentary, others thought it was ridiculous, but everyone in 1993 was talking about it.
A Tribe Called Prince
Prince lent a hand — and his guitar — to a 2008 Q-Tip show at Las Vegas’ House of Blues. During a rendition of the Tribe Called Quest MC’s 1999 hit “Vivrant Thing,” Prince strutted in and grabbed the guitar from one of the band members onstage to riff alongside Tip. In Purple One fashion, he vanished as quickly as he appeared after his impromptu cameo.
Prince Goes 'New Girl'
Prince’s love for Fox's New Girl landed him his very own episode. For Season 3’s 14th episode, simply titled “Prince,” actress Zooey Deschanel came face to face with the musical enigma and had the same freak-out reaction any mortal being would.
Black Lives Matter Shout-Out at Grammys
Dressed in a shimmery orange suit, Prince presented the album of the year at the 57th Grammy Awards in 2015 with a subtle but impactful message: "Like books and black lives, albums still matter. Tonight and always.”
Prince on 'The Arsenio Hall Show'
Purple Rain Tour
Thanks to the quality of the Purple Rain album, Prince’s North American Purple Rain Tour was already set to be his best tour ever. But with protege (and lover) Sheila E. as his opener on the trek, and contributions from members of the Time and Apollonia 6, it became the stuff of legends.
When He Sued His Fans
Not every decision Prince made was wise. The iconoclast decided to sue some of his most devoted fans to the tune of $1 million each in 2014 after several of them posted Prince music videos or bootlegs online, despite his team issuing cease-and-desist orders. Sure, they went against his wishes, but isn’t their only real crime loving Prince too much? And of that, aren’t we all guilty?
That Time Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson Jammed Together
'Pretty Woman,' Ugly Vocals
In her breakout role in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts hilariously (and terribly) sang Prince’s “Kiss” in the bathtub while Richard Gere attempted to have a phone conversation.
All the Moments He Scrapped In-the-Works Albums
While we know there will never be another new Prince album, fans can at least hold out hope that some of the genius' shelved albums (Dream Factory and the Camille project, for instance) will see official release. [Here's our detailed breakdown of some of his most legendary unreleased material.]
'LoveSexy' Drops in 1988
Prince had a habit of following flawless albums with mixed-bag affairs. Controversy succeeded Dirty Mind, Around the World in a Day came after Purple Rain, and LoveSexy trailed Sign O' The Times. Regardless, LoveSexy featured the classics "Alphabet St." and "Glam Slam" and gave us Prince's most memorable album cover ever.
Prince Gets Off Everyone at 1991 VMAs
Even as his dancers simulated sex amidst a backdrop of burning Rome, Prince remained the star at the 1991 MTV VMAs by performing in assless chaps. He and the New Power Generation were there to promote new single “Gett Off,” but Prince’s ass emerged as the breakout star of the night.
"When Doves Cry" Is Prince's First No. 1
Prince earned his first No. 1 on the Hot 100 when “When Doves Cry” topped the chart on July 7, 1984. Answering a question no one had ever thought to ask, Prince used an iconic synth riff to demonstrate the sound of avian tears on this intricately composed, unusually complex No. 1 hit.
Let's Go No. 1
Opening with a mellow, cheeky church organ that soon gives way to a guitar riff that would make Judas Priest jealous, Prince embarks on a pop-gospel-rock dancefloor jam that culminates with one of the most brain-shredding guitar solos of the '80s. A No. 1 hit, the song’s lyrics -- "instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby" -- served as a perfect reality check for the myopic self-centeredness of Reagan's suburban America.
"Kiss" Goes No. 1
It's a testament to Prince's powers that for as familiar as "Kiss" is on the radio (and on dancefloors), it's never quite lost the punch contained within that one sprightly funk riff. It helps that his screamed-to-the-ceiling falsetto on the chorus is exactly the kind of Little Richard-esque insanity that few rockers can nail, though many have tried. In April 1986, "Kiss" became his third Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
The "Cream" Video
'Purple Rain' Goes No. 1 on Billboard 200
What can you say about Purple Rain that hasn't been said before? Not only was it one of the most flawless, rewarding and impressive albums of the '80s, it was also one of the decade's biggest. The soundtrack to his film reigned at No. 1 for 24 weeks on the Billboard 200.
'Around the World In a Day' Drops in 1985
While hardly as strong as predecessor Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day features two of his most immaculate pop compositions: "Raspberry Beret" and "Pop Life," both of which demand obsessive listening. The psychedelic-inflected pop album was his second No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Prince Meets Batman
After Adam West's camp king Batman but before Christopher Nolan's brooding Dark Knight, Tim Burton split the difference between the two extremes with his 1989 film. For the accompanying soundtrack, Prince created music that helped underline the menace of Gotham with the inherent absurdity of a man in a bat costume. In addition to the soundtrack topping the Billboard 200, “Batdance” was an improbable No. 1 hit.
'Batman' Spurs "Partyman"
Prince also created "Partyman” for Batman, a single that gave us 1) that scene in the movie where Jack Nicholson awkwardly attempts to dance to a Prince song and 2) a music video featuring Prince in Joker makeup. In hindsight, it's hard to say which was weirder.
Prince at the 2013 BBMAs
Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae introduced Prince, recipient of Billboard’s Icon Award, at the 2013 BBMAs. In lieu of an acceptance speech, Prince opted to let his music speak, performing a scorching mashup of “Let’s Go Crazy” with “FixUrLifeUp.” After Prince’s passing, Badu mentioned that moment in her tribute poem to Prince.
The Magic "Manic Monday"
Beyond his own smashes, Prince wrote the pure-pop "Manic Monday," which became the Bangles' debut Hot 100 hit, reaching No. 2 on April 19, 1986 (30 years and two days before his passing). Prince recorded the song in 1984 as a duet for the band Apollonia 6's self-titled set; after pulling it, he offered it to the Bangles under the pseudonym "Christopher," aka, a character he played in the 1986 movie Under the Cherry Moon. That year, Prince played the song live twice: Once during a guest spot in L.A. with the Bangles, and in Europe on his final tour with the Revolution -- with Wendy singing lead.
"Nothing Compares 2 U"
"Nothing Compares 2 U" was originally written for The Family, one of many Prince svengali acts, featuring former Time members Paul Peterson and Jellybean Johnson, along with future Prince bandmembers Eric Leeds and Mico Weaver, as well as Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister (and Prince paramour) Susannah. Their 1985 album went nowhere and the group split up after one show, but the song became a global smash when revived five years later by Sinead O’Connor. The song did even better than "Manic," crowning the Hot 100 for four weeks in 1990, beginning its reign (in a sad coincidence) on April 21, 1990, exactly 26 years before Prince died. Prince soon reclaimed the song, performing it on his 1990 Nude tour and frequently throughout the following years -- a 1992 live version, featuring singer/keyboardist Rosie Gaines, was released as a single from his Hits collection (and rose to No. 62 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 1994).
Kicking Kim Kardashian Off the Stage
When Prince Met Bob Marley
According to Gavin Edwards' book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?, Bob Marley's manager Don Taylor attempted to get the reggae icon and Prince to work together, but Prince's fashion offended Marley's machismo: '"When we called on Prince, he met us in this skimpy leopard g-string undergarment, which immediately aroused Bob’s Jamaican macho feelings, and so our stay was as brief as Prince’s g-string and Bob’s discomfort was shown all over his face," Taylor explained.
'Musicology' Drops in 2004
After a few years of hit-and-miss material, Prince returned to the music that inspired him -- party-starting funk -- for his 2004 LP Musicology, arguably his finest 21st century album. The title track finds him looking back on his catalog while extolling the virtues of live bands over DJs, singing atop one of the most irresistible funk riffs of his entire career. Another stunner is "Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance," the hilarious story of a sugar mama who "knew which fork to use, but she couldn't dance," and the hired arm candy who "hipped her to the funk in exchange for the finance."
'3121' Drops in 2006
Another late career gem is his album 3121. Not only did it become his first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, but it gave him his final appearance on the Hot 100 within his lifetime (the funky "Black Sweat" reached No. 60).
Men embracing sensuality on camera has become the norm in pop music these days, but back in the '80s, it was a huge risk in a culture obsessed with strict adherence to masculine, heterosexual norms. It started with Dirty Mind, but when Prince posed stomach-down on a bed for his 1999 album art, his eyes smoldering while his ass curved suggestively upward from beneath silky sheets, it was fearless and shocking. Nearly two decades later, Missy Elliott was still talking about its unequaled power on her 2002 album Under Construction.
Prince Explains Yanking Prince From the Internet
After years of his material being pulled off YouTube and other websites, Prince explained how he kept his music offline in a 2013 Billboard cover story. “I have a team of female black lawyers who keep an eye on such transgressions,” Prince told Billboard. “And you know they’re sharp.”
Explaining His Weird Relationship With the Media
Prince stopped doing interviews in the early ‘80s, and while he occasionally talked to the press in the following years, the relationship was always a prickly one. In a 2013 Billboard cover story, he explained why he refused to allow reporters to record their interviews with him: “Some in the past have taken my voice and sold it. I can't remember the incident that triggered it and it's probably best that I don't." So how does a reporter interviewing Prince ensure the accuracy of the quotes? Certainly not by note-taking, either. Prince told Billboard that a reporter taking notes is also a no-no, because “that would be just like texting."
Shutting Down Maroon 5
Like David Bowie, who wasn’t afraid to turn down collaborations, Prince wasn’t afraid to tell artists when they did wrong by his songs. Maroon 5 covered “Kiss” as a bonus track on Overexposed, but removed it from the deluxe edition when Prince didn’t approve.
Two Concurrent No. 1 Albums
In Oct. 2014, Prince earned two concurrent No. 1 debut albums when Art Official Age crowned Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and Prince & 3rdEyeGirl's Plectrumelectrum hit No. 1 on Top Rock Albums.
While most musicians and stars move away from their hometown when they hit it big, Prince never abandoned his beloved Minneapolis. Building his Xanadu-esque complex Paisley Park in Chanhassen, MN, Prince stayed close to his roots and frequently hosted parties, concerts and movie screenings in his abode.
Prince Fired Questlove
Questlove is basically the coolest musician DJ anyone can score for their party...unless you’re Prince. The Roots drummer revealed (via a hilarious animated clip) that the Purple One once fired him from a DJ gig at the last minute and replaced Questo’s music curation skills with a DVD of Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
As if “Darling Nikki” wasn't dirty enough on its own merits, Prince compulsively humped a speaker to the song’s orgiastic synth climax in the 1984 film Purple Rain.
Recording "Purple Rain"
Prince was so talented, and such an effective bandleader, that the iconic recording of "Purple Rain" we all know front-to-back is actually a live recording of the song. Even more impressive: It was the first time Prince and the Revolution had ever played the song on stage. Even more impressive: It was the Revolution's first show with Wendy Melvoin in the band. While Alan Light details some post-show edits they made to the song in his amazing book Let's Go Crazy, he says the LP version of the song is "98 percent" live.
Redecorating a Rental House
At one point, Prince rented a house from Chicago Bulls’ player Carlos Boozer and redecorated it to his particular tastes. Allow Boozer’s friend and former teammate Jay Williams to tell the story (as told to ESPN): "Supposedly, Prince changed the front gate to the Prince sign, he changed the master bedroom to a hair salon, he changed the streaming blue waters that led to the front door to purple water, he knocked out walls, he changed the molding on top of the ceiling. Booz was livid. So pissed off, so angry ... He put his Purple Rain stamp on it ... Booz was like, 'I was getting ready to go over there and beat this little man down.' And dude was just like 'Here, Boozer, here is a little check for about a million, it'll take care of everything, get it back the way you want it.' And Booz was like, 'This little man is cool as hell.'"
Reuniting With a Former Foe
After a very public battle with former label Warner Bros. in the ‘90s, Prince returned to the label in 2014, regaining ownership over classic titles like Dirty Mind and Purple Rain in the process. Warner Bros. and Prince’s NPG label teamed up to release Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age on Sept. 30, 2014.
In the mid ‘80s, Prince created his “Camille” character by speeding up his vocals. He even recorded an album he intended to release under his alter ego’s name, but as with so many Prince albums, the project was cancelled before it was released. Some of the reworked tracks would end up on Sign O' the Times.
It's a Minnesota Twins tradition for the veteran baseball players to make the rookies learn the lyrics to “Little Red Corvette.” After he died, the Twins blasted the song in the players’ clubhouse.
LL Cool J Samples Prince
Beyonce Sings Prince on "03 Bonnie & Clyde"
"Donald Trump (Black Version)"
Prince the Ventriloquist
In one beautifully bizarre scene from Purple Rain, Prince acted out a petulant disagreement with real-life Revolution bandmates Wendy & Lisa. Instead of arguing with them, he demonstrated his (fairly impressive) ventriloquism skills by ignoring Wendy & Lisa and talking to a weird little puppet instead.
The pull-out-poster included in Prince’s Controversy album shows the lithe young star posing nearly naked (he’s just wearing a Speedo) in the shower, dripping in water with a crucifix randomly affixed to the wall behind him. It’s Pure Prince: Sex, God and… well, those were pretty much his two big concerns in life.
Bob Seger Inspires "Purple Rain"
In Alan Light's wonderful book Let's Go Crazy, he details how Bob Seger inadvertently inspired Prince to write "Purple Rain." Prince was somewhat confounded by the success of Seger, leading his keyboardist, Matt Fink, to opine that Seger's success relied on his sing-along power ballads. Perhaps seeing that as a challenge, Prince wrote "Purple Rain" in that vein.
Joni Mitchell's Prince Story
This story from Joni Mitchell about her history with a pre-fame Prince, as told to New York Magazine, is priceless: "Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him -- he was a little Prince-ling. Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes."
Change of Faith
After friend and fellow funk legend Larry Graham helped bring Prince to identify as a Jehovah's Witness, Prince decided some material he'd written in the past -- including the iconic "Darling Nikki" -- was too dirty to perform in good conscience. Similarly, Prince kept a swear jar later in life and would fine those around him for taking the Lord's name in vain.
Helping Out Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks revealed that Prince showed up in the studio while she was recording her No. 5 Hot 100 hit "Stand Back" in the early '80s, put down about 25 minutes of "brilliant" work on synthesizer, and then walked out. According to Nicks, the song "belongs" to Prince.
Using a Golden Globe to Cover Up a Burn Mark
Prince earned a Golden Globe for his musical contribution to the CGI penguins movie Happy Feet, which he put to good use in the ensuing years. According to a former butler, Prince later placed the award strategically in a room to cover up "a burn mark from a candle." That's Midwest ingenuity.
As much as he stayed out of the public eye, Prince never stopped paying attention to music that mattered. A Kendrick Lamar fan, Prince almost sang on the studio version of To Pimp a Butterfly's “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. “We just ran out of time, it's as simple as that,” Lamar explained.
“Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)" Drops in 1981
“Gotta Stop (Messin’ About),” a 1981 non-album track released as a single in the U.K. and a b-side in the U.S., is Prince’s best ode to not getting any. For a man who could soundtrack the bedroom better than anyone, this song proved he was just as adept at distilling sexual frustration on wax.
"Erotic City" Drops in 1984
One of Prince’s best (and dirtiest) songs is actually a b-side. “Erotic City,” the b-side to “Let’s Go Crazy,” features the following memorable lyrics: “If we cannot make babies, maybe we can make some time / Thoughts of pretty you and me, Erotic City come alive / We can funk until the dawn, making love 'til cherry's gone.”
When Prince Met Dick Clark
Switching to Tidal
Never content to let his contentious relationship with the Internet cool off, Prince yanked his material from every streaming service, except from the artist-centric Tidal, in the summer of 2015.
Writing "Nasty Girl" for Vanity 6
In 1982, Prince gave one of his filthiest songs to Vanity 6, the girl group trio he formed in 1981 (the "6" refers to the number of breasts in the group. So...yeah). "Nasty Girl" features some of his most explicit songwriting: "It’s been a long time since I had a man that did it real good / If you ain’t scared, take it out / I’ll do it like a real live nasty girl should." Much like Prince and "Darling Nikki," vocalist Vanity would later distance herself from the song for religious reasons.
His Purple Motorcycle
The motorcycle, a recurrent symbol of masculine rebellion, was an essential part of the Purple Rain film. Whether he’s picking up his paramour and leaving his rival flailing in an alley or speeding down the highway while “Take Me With U” plays, its presence in the film is indelible.