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Prince, iconic 'Purple Rain' musician, dead at 57: publicist

Prince, one of America's most influential and enigmatic rock musicians, had died, according to his publicist.
Prince performs in Los Angeles, Calif. circa 1985. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)
Prince performs in Los Angeles, Calif. circa 1985.

Prince, one of America's most influential and enigmatic rock musicians, has died, his publicist told NBC News.

The announcement Thursday afternoon came a few hours after authorities in Carver County, Minnesota, responded to Prince's Paisley Park estate in the city of Chanhassen, where rescue workers found him unconscious in an elevator. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:07 a.m., about 15 minutes after the personnel arrived, the Carver County Sheriff's Office said. The cause of death remains under investigation.

The 57-year-old Grammy-winning artist's death also came a week after his tour plane made an emergency landing in Illinois, where he was hospitalized with what was described as the flu. That illness followed him cancelling a pair of concerts in Atlanta. 

He tried to allay concerns about his health by announcing a dance party Saturday night at Paisley Park, where he briefly appeared, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Prince channeled the dance moves of James Brown, the guitar virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix and the theatricality of "Sgt. Peppers"-era Beatles.

But he was indisputably a singular figure in American music, mixing breakneck guitar solos, soaring falsettos, infectious melodies, provocative lyrics, acrobatic dance moves and outrageous costumes — which typically reflected his obsession with the color purple.

Music critic Jim Farber called Prince a "transcendent figure" who was able to get to the top of rock radio and MTV playlists as an African-American at a time when other black artists couldn't. "He's a star who sold millions and millions of records and yet he was uncompromising," Farber said.

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A statement from President Barack Obama after Prince's death read in part: "Today, the world lost a creative icon. Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince.

"'A strong spirit transcends rules,' Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative."‎

Prince was a tireless experimenter and innovator who spanned an array of genres and styles — R&B, pop, rock, funk, soul. He was also a notorious perfectionist, playing almost all the instruments on his studio recordings. He nurtured generations of pop stars, including many who also came from Minnesota and his hometown of Minneapolis. And he wrote a lot of songs made popular by others, including Chaka Khan ("I Feel for You"), Sheila E. ("The Glamorous Life") and the Bangles ("Manic Monday"). His "Nothing Compares 2 U" became a No. 1 hit for Sinead O'Connor in 1990.

He toured the world many times over, but was also reclusive, puzzling fans with offbeat antics and offending traditionalists with his mix of religious and sexual themes.

He also toyed with people's conceptions of him, often appearing sexually androgenous.

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The son of a jazz pianist, Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson in June 1958 in Minneapolis. His father, John Nelson, led a local jazz band and his mother Mattie was a singer for the group, according to Rolling Stone.

"I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do," his father once said, according to the magazine.

As a boy Prince explored music as a refuge from the fallout of his parents' divorce. He began playing the piano at 7 years old and guitar when he was 13, according to Rolling Stone; the drums soon followed. By high school, he was in a band with Morris Day, who was a key figure in Prince's Minneapolis creative circle.

Soon after graduation, he scored a record deal. His first album, "For You," was released in 1978, marking the start of a prodigious songwriting career in which he released 36 more albums over the following 37 years, ending with last year's "HITnRUN: Phase Two." Even then, the prolific pace could not keep up with his torrid speed; hundreds of recordings reportedly remain in his personal vaults.

Prince's first manager, Owen Husney, recalled the young musician living on his couch while he recorded demo tapes. "It is too much of a loss," Husney told KARE, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis. "A brilliant human being the likes of which we will never know."

Prince was a bona fide hit-maker from the start, but achieved superstardom in the 1980s, which saw the release of 1982's "1999," and, two years later, "Purple Rain," which sold millions and accompanied a film by the same name. His top hits of that era included "Little Red Corvette," ''Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry." He won seven Grammy Awards, along with an Academy Award for best original song score for "Purple Rain," and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 2007, he performed the halftime show at the Super Bowl in Miami, a 12-minute medley of hits and covers delivered in pouring rain.

RELATED: This can't be real': Fans, celebrities mourn Prince's death

Prince was a fiercely independent pop star, often fighting with his corporate bosses. In 1993, he made a head-scratching move to change his name to a glyph, the result of a dispute with Warner Bros. That lasted until 2000, forcing people to refer to him as "the artist formerly known as Prince." At another point he compared his relationship with Warner Bros. with slavery and refused to release a new album. He later set up his own label, NPG, and released a three-disc album he called "Emancipation."

"His battles with the record industry are legendary and unfortunately obscured how great his music was as his career progressed," Joe Levy, contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine and host of "Incoming" on Spotify, told NBC News.

Levy added: "He'll be best remembered for the music he made in the mid-1980s. This was music that crossed boundaries, racial boundaries, gender boundaries, and music boundaries."

In 2014, he announced his return to Warner Bros, a deal that granted him ownership of his old master recordings and set off the reissue of several of his early albums.

In the last two years of his life, Prince released four albums. In March, he appeared at a New York club to announce that he'd just signed a deal with Random House to write his memoir. He said it would be called "The Beautiful Ones," after a song from "Purple Rain."

''We're starting right at the beginning, from my first memory, and hopefully we can move all the way to the Super Bowl," he reportedly said.

Then he changed into dance clothes and delivered an hour-long concert.

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