By: Chris Heath (GQ Magazine)
Date: December 8, 2016
In the late ’70s, when Prince was still just a guy in Minneapolis whose parents named him Prince.Robert Whitman
Van Jones: He was patient with people around him who didn’t get it. Often Prince talked to people the way a sober person talks to a drunk person.
Shriver: Prince was a careful cat, you know. One time I remember seeing him out, and he had a lollipop. And that was a kind of fancy restaurant to be eating a lollipop. I was like, “Can I order that? Is that on the menu?” And he says, “No. I brought it with me.” I said, “Well, what about your buddies? Do I get one?” And he, like, rolled his eyes.
Van Jones: This dude was ridiculously hilarious. He would have been one of the most famous people in the world if he had never touched an instrument, just as a comedian. We would sit up and just laugh and laugh. You know, his particular kind of black comedic sensibility that you see with Kevin Hart or Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle. Prince was as funny as those guys, or funnier, easily. Because that sense of timing is so important for music or for sex or for comedy, and his comedic timing was just ridiculous.
Copeland: There was one Pee-wee Herman movie that he was obsessed with. It was silly, like him, and funny, and quirky—watching Pee-wee Herman dance he just thought was the funniest thing.
Khan: We had a great time during recording. We would go bowling at two in the morning. We’d see a movie at four in the morning. It was cuckoo.
Brianna Curiel: We went two times to the movies. One time was in Minnesota, and he rented out the whole theater and we saw a movie about space [Gravity]. He liked sitting all the way in the back on the top row. I fell asleep, because I always fall asleep.
Danielle Curiel: I had gotten Buncha Crunches, and I guess he had never heard of them or seen them, so I gave him some and he loved it. He made one of his faces. It was so funny—I gave him the bag, and the next day he sent me a picture of him on the floor with the Buncha Crunches, chocolate all over him.
Kandace Springs: The last time I went with him [to the movies], it was just me and him, the day before my birthday in January. His driver picks me up, and he said, “Let’s go and see Ride Along 2.” So he rented out the theater. It was like, the midnight showing. It was really not the best movie. Halfway through, we’re just, “This is so bad.” He turned and looked at me and goes, “Do you wanna leave?” I’m, “Yes, sure.”
Brianna Curiel: At Paisley Park, he would always have Finding Nemo playing, and he loved that movie. Actually, that’s my favorite movie, too. He would have loved to see Finding Dory.
“I want to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born in Minneapolis. My father taught me how to play the piano…. When I got a little older, I started doing things my way.” — Prince, onstage in Atlanta, April 14, 2016, a week before his death
Washington: He thought it was funny that I kept asking him questions. He thought it was endearing, like when I asked him, “What are you gonna do when you die? Are you going to have an album come out?” Like, if I was Prince, I would have this entire project set out, ready to go. He’s like, “Let’s not talk about such things.” In his mind, I guess, death is negative.
Freed: Everyone tried to talk to him about a will. He would just say, like, “I’m not planning on dying.”
Karlen: Three years ago, we had promised each other what we’d do, depending on who went first. He said, “Will you write just one thing for the hometown paper?” He suggested that. The agreement was, if I died first—I was sure, I was positive, he’d be like B. B. King and be playing at 93—he was gonna play an hour unannounced at my high school, St. Louis Park High School. And I knew he’d play three hours. I hadn’t written about him for decades. I stayed up two nights straight, which I’ve never done in my life. The piece was the hardest thing I ever wrote in my life.
Van Jones: He was really inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. He wrote this song “Baltimore” [sample lyric: Does anybody hear us pray / For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? / Peace is more than the absence of war]—he was in Baltimore within weeks of the upset there. Onstage he said something so profound that most people missed it. “To African-American young people who were there,” he said, “the next time I come to Baltimore, I wanna stay in a hotel owned by you.” He was saying: Don’t burn it down, build it up. Don’t just protest injustice, create justice. Create your own economy, create your own enterprises. That was his view. His response to Trayvon Martin was to say: “When black kids wear hoodies, people think they’re thugs—when white kids wear hoodies, they think, ‘There’s the next Mark Zuckerberg.'” Like, we need to create some black Mark Zuckerbergs. You’ve got to create a situation where, when a cop sees a black kid wearing a hoodie, they think, “Wow, that kid could be the next Mark Zuckerberg.” We have to create that. This guy’s such a genius. Everybody else is talking about racial injustice and Trayvon Martin, and Prince instead keys in on a fashion statement.
Washington: He was supposed to do something with Netﬂix, a reality show on Paisley Park. He’s, “Why don’t you help me?” I’m, “I’d love to, but you’d have to be in it.” And he’s, “No, no, no, I’m not in it.” I’m, “Why not? You’re so funny—why don’t you want anyone to see your sense of humor?” And he would shut it down: “Maya, I can’t be funny. I have to save the world.”
Van Jones: At the end, he was a true believer. And he didn’t believe in anything but God and music.
Jill Jones: The picture on Around the World in a Day, when he showed me the cover, he pointed out who everybody was. Jerome was the little old man with the cane. He told me Sheila was combined with Melvoin] with the violin. And he goes, “And this is you.” And it was the old maid crying, with a blue dress and these horrible boots. I’m still: Why was I always crying? I cried in Purple Rain, I cried in Graffiti Bridge, before he cut it out. He always had me crying, and I’m crying on the cover. And then he said, “I’m gonna know you until the very end of this—you’re gonna be here.” And I said, “Why aren’t you in the [picture]?” He said, “I’m up the ladder. I’m gone.”
Springs: The night of my birthday—that’s the last time I saw him—he took me to the Dakota club [to see Living Colour]. There was a huge full moon that night. Like a super moon, I guess. And he was, “Whoa.” So we actually went the other way to see if we could get a better view of the moon. But then the clouds got in the way—we couldn’t ﬁnd it. We’re like, driving in circles in the neighborhood just trying to ﬁnd it.
Tollefson: There’s an electronic gate at the front of [Paisley Park]—most of the time it was wide open. Now you’d just get a tweet—you’d know if there was a party because around 8 o’clock he’d start tweeting it out on his Twitter handle. Twenty years ago, you literally had to drive by Paisley, and if you saw the purple light going through the pyramid, that meant he was there.
Albert Magnoli (Director, editor, and co-writer, “Purple Rain”): I learned that the entire area of Minneapolis, before a storm, the skies would turn this amazing blue-purple before the rain came. It was a phenomenon. So for me, the concept of “purple rain” was very speciﬁc in terms of the feeling you get just before the clouds would open up and literally gush raindrops. Later on, when Prince and I were working at Paisley Park, we would go outside prior to a rainstorm and just stand in the ﬁeld, looking at the sky together. Waiting for the rain to drop. And those skies went purple.
Van Jones: Think about it: He grows up this poor black kid on a march to nowhere in a nowhere white town, and when the news announces “Prince has died”—there have been princes for 10,000 years, there must be princes in Saudi Arabia and Europe and Africa right now—nobody said “Prince who?” The color purple has been part of the universe since the Big Bang. Prince dies, they bathe global monuments in purple, nobody says, “Why?” I think from a racial point of view, from a class point of view, it’s such a profound achievement. You know, this guy is the one genius that every other genius says is a genius. And he was able to pull that off.
This story originally appeared in the December 2016 issue with the title “The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”