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Music icon Prince dead at 57
by Matthew Simonette
2016-04-21

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By Matt Simonette

Rock superstar Prince, whose music and work inspired many in the LGBT community—even as he courted controversy with them—died April 21. He was 57.

His body was found in an elevator his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota. An autopsy was performed on the singer, according to reports, but coroners said an official cause of death was likely not to be known for several weeks.

There had been reports that Prince—whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson—was in ill health after his jet made an emergency landing in Moline, Ilinois, on April 15. But he appeared in concert the following day.

The singer had numerous Grammys and bestselling albums to his credit. He won an Oscar for the title song to the 1984 film Purple Rain.

He cultivated a gender-bending look and performance style, especially early in his career, that sparked rumors about his sexuality, but Prince was linked romantically with numerous women, among them Kim Basinger, Vanity and Sheila E. He was married twice.

Columnist Michael Musto wrote about the sexual liberation inscribed in Prince's lyrics and performances for Vice.

"His pint-sized purple majesty was a froofy, frilly, unapologetic weirdo who pushed boundaries to the point where his relentlessness resulted in a panic stricken Tipper Gore launching parental warnings on his music," Musto wrote. "But that, of course, only made it even more desirable to the kids, who found ways to stand under the cherry moon and soak in the forbidden rays.

"I wasn't sure if he was straight, gay, bi, or even male or female—such was the fluid electricity of his persona, one that galvanized our puritanical country long before gender became everyday discourse, filling it with the throbbing sounds of passion while celebrating the fabulous freak, the defiant outsider, and the dark dandy."

But Prince and those around him denied that he was gay. In a 2009 interview with Out magazine, Prince's former Revolution bandmate, Lisa Coleman, who is a lesbian, said that the singer "was little and kinda prissy and everything. But he's so not gay."

Prince became a Jehovah's Witness in the early 2000's and irked some fans when seemingly homophobic remarks appeared in the media. In 2008, he seemed to denounce gay marriage in a New Yorker interview, but later maintained that he was misquoted. Many thought he also displayed mild gay panic on a 2014 episode of The Arsenio Hall Show.

But in the wake of his death, numerous individuals acknowledged their debts to Prince. Openly gay singer and songwriter Frank ocean said, "He was a straight Black man who played his first televised set in bikini bottoms and knee-high heeled boots, epic. 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, etc."

Sheila E. wrote on Twitter: "My heart is broken. There are no words. I love you!"

"I'm completely shocked and devastated by the sudden loss of our brother, artist and friend, Prince," wrote Coleman on the Facebook page she shares with Wendy Melvoin, her musical partner, who is also a lesbian and a former Revolution member. "Thank you to all the fans and supporters for your endless love, and for making such big dreams come true. We offer our love, support, and condolences to our extended family, friends and all fans of our sweet Prince."

Prince was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Michael Musto's column is at thump.vice.com/en_us/article/prince-rip-gay-icon-clubbing. Frank Ocean's remarks are at frankocean.tumblr.com/post/143175497681/im-not-even-gonna-say-rest-in-peace-because-its.


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