Prince performing at the 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards.
R&B pioneer Prince, 57, was found dead in his Paisley Park home Thursday. The singer achieved massive commercial and critical success in the 1980s with a string of successful albums, including 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign o’ the Times. In 2001, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness, a small subset of the Christian faith with unique beliefs about Christian doctrine and secular life.
Prince was deeply religious even before his 2001 conversion. He believed that angelic visitation had previously helped him cope with childhood epilepsy, and one of his first Top 10 hits was the religiously inspired “I Would Die 4 U,” from his smash hit album and film Purple Rain. He began studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2000 on the encouragement of his friend and fellow musician Larry Graham. Prince described his transformation as more of a “realization” than a conversion, and compared it to Neo’s path in the Matrix movies.
Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, was a larger-than-life presence on any stage, but he was an extremely private person offstage.
Still, there are details about his personal life that are part of knowing the man as well as the musician.
Minneapolis-born Prince was married twice — first to Mayte Garcia, a professional dancer who toured with him.
Prince and Garcia married in 1996 and had a child, Boy Gregory, later that year.
But the child died shortly after he was born. Officials determined he died of Pfeiffer syndrome, a skeletal abnormality. But that wasn’t the couple’s only loss.
“We unfortunately lost two babies, so unless you have children, there’s no reason to speak to your ex-husband,” Garcia said on a radio show.
They divorced in 1999.
In 2001, Prince married Manuela Testolini, a former employee at his charitable foundation. They divorced in 2006.
Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness after years of religious conversations with his friend, musician Larry Graham.
Prince was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist in Minneapolis frequently attending services with his grandmother at Glendale Church, a historically African-American congregation in the city. “Both of his parents believed in the strict faith as did Bernadette Anderson, who took him in after he left home,” Touré writes in his book about Prince, I Would Die 4 U. Religion informed every part of his life: He told PBS that he informed his mother an angel told him he would no longer suffer from the epileptic seizures that plagued his early childhood.
Decades later, it took two years from Graham’s initial work with Prince before the Purple One converted. News of Prince’s conversion circulated in 2001 (the Associated Press was the first large outlet to report it, apparently based off an interview Prince gave to Gotham magazine), but people seemed to have a hard time believing the man who wrote songs like “Jack U Off” and “Sexy MF” was now a devout Jehovah’s Witness.
On Oct. 5, 2003, a couple in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, opened their door at 2 p.m. to find Prince standing on their doorstep, Bible in hand. Needless to say, they were shocked. Compounding their surprise: They were Jewish, it was Yom Kippur and the Vikings were playing.
Prince Rogers Nelson reportedly died at his home Thursday. He was 57 years old.