Prince: how did he die and what happened to his money? The big questions, a year after his death

Flowers lie on a T-shirt signed by fans of Prince at a makeshift memorial place created outside the Apollo Theater in New York
Flowers lie on a T-shirt signed by fans of Prince at a makeshift memorial place created outside the Apollo Theater in New York Credit: Andres Kudacki

A year to the day from his death, Prince Rogers Nelson remains a mysterious figure. The circumstances leading to his death from an overdose of powerful opioid painkiller fentanyl at 57 remain largely unexplained. Who provided the drugs has never been determined. And while he talked dirty on record, Prince's reputation among friends was one of clean living, bar the occasional glass of red wine.

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The anniversary of his death sees his Paisley Park estate open to the public as a museum, and a four-day $550 celebration of his life and legacy, featuring concerts with Prince’s bands and special guests. 

But the full details of his death could remain secret for up to 30 years.

How, exactly, did Prince die?

Prince died on April 21, 2016, in a lift in his Paisley Park home in Carver County, Minneapolis, from an overdose of a powerful opioid painkiller.

A one-page autopsy report recorded his death as an accident and said “The decedent self-administered fentanyl”.

Prince in 2015 Credit:  Matt Sayles

Many friends, relatives, and former girlfriends said they never saw him take drugs, although some – including his ex-wife – have said that in hindsight there were warning signs of his addiction.

There may have been other contributing factors that led to his death, but if so they could remain secret for a long time. Under Minnesota law the full autopsy report can be kept secret for up to 30 years unless the next of kin agree to release it. The question of who provided Prince with the drugs remains open, and the investigation is still active, according to Minnesota police.

How much money did Prince leave behind?

Prince’s wealth and assets were so vast that this is still being calculated. His estate has been valued at between $100 million and $300 million before taxes.

According to an asset inventory released by the Carver County District Court, he had a dozen properties in Carver and Hennepin, Minneapolis valued at $25 million. He had $110,000 in four bank accounts, unclaimed property, capital credits and cash. He also had 67 10-ounce gold bars valued at about $840,000. Then there are his companies, which held more than $6 million cash.

NPG Records had an estimated $6.8m in arbitration receivable. And there is a huge quantity of items that simply haven’t been valued yet, including instruments, jewellery, furnishings and vehicles, including the Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge motorbike. There’s also the contents of his music vault, which is thought to contain hundreds of unreleased tracks.

Who are the heirs?

It will almost certainly be his six siblings, led by full sibling Tyka Nelson and half siblings Omarr Baker, Alfred Jackson, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John R. Nelson, as outlined in court documents. Although nearly 30 claimants initially came forward, none was able to establish a DNA or familial link to Prince. The heirs will be officially certified at a hearing in May pending the outcome of appeals from other claimants.

Rumours of a will were never founded. “It is very unlikely that one will be found if it hasn't yet,” Alex Hahn, the co-author of biography The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988, told the Telegraph.

What’s in his vault – and will we ever hear it?

Nobody seems to know for sure. Prince himself said in an interview in 2014: “I have no idea. I don’t go back in time,” adding that a lot of it is unfinished and unmixed.

“We live in a singles-driven market but I come from the old school of making albums, and that’s what I like.”

But Prince biographer Alex Hahn told the Telegraph: “Our research indicates that there are in fact somewhere close to 1000 songs in the Vault. This works spans many eras, and a big issue will be adequately curating the work in a responsible way. That relates to the issue of the estate, which has become conflictual. Resolving those issues, and appointing someone that can thoughtfully consider the order in which material should be released is critical.”

Why was he taking fentanyl and where did the drugs come from?

Among the finds documented by investigators, according to unsealed court documents, were several bottles of opioid painkiller labelled with Prince’s longtime friend Kirk Johnson’s name, and many medications in vitamin pill bottles and envelopes. 

The pills carried markings suggesting they were weaker opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone; but an official close to the investigation revealed that at least some of them contained fentanyl. This would suggest they were counterfeit pills, from the black market. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, and counterfeit pills containing fentanyl have been linked to many overdoses in America.

Fans place flowers outside the Paisley Park residential compound Credit: AFP

A Recovery Without Walls pamphlet was also found by investigators. Prince had experienced a medical emergency six days prior, when he was rushed to hospital from his plane for overdose-style treatment. The day before he died, Prince representatives had called a California doctor from an opioid treatment centre, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

His ex-wife Mayte Garcia, who was married to him from 1996-2000, suggested in her memoir The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince that he was good at concealing his addiction from those close to him. She wrote: “In all the years we were together, I never actually saw Prince doing drugs.”

"Looking back, I can see it was something else. I didn't see it then. Maybe because I didn't want to."

What’s happened to Prince’s lavish home, Paisley Park?

Credit: Splash

Prince’s decadent home/studio complex in Minneapolis has been turned into a museum, with tiered ticketing granting different levels of access. Its doors opened in October 2016. 

What about his pet doves?

Majestic and Divinity remain at Paisley Park, and can be visited by fans, according to sister Tyka Nelson. “After he passed, they weren’t talking,” she told US show Today.

Who has the rights to stream Prince’s music?

There is a running dispute between the parent company of the Tidal streaming service, owned by Jay-Z, and Prince’s estate. In November a suit was filed on behalf of Prince Roger Nelson’s NPG Records claiming that Tidal was only given an exclusive license for newly recorded studio album Hit n Run – and had therefore committed copyright infringement by putting 15 Prince albums up on the service. Tidal said it had a proper license. Then, in February, it filed an Equity Term Sheet from July 19 2015 – a document which showed, it said, that Prince “became an equity owner of the company” in exchange for the streaming rights to his full catalogue of recordings.

This dispute is unlikely to be resolved quickly, and in the meantime, Prince’s estate moved to make his albums available to be streamed by Spotify, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, Pandora and others.

It’s unclear whether Prince – who fought publicly and doggedly against what he perceived as exploitation – would approve. In a 2014 interview, he said: “A lot of artists aren’t getting paid full scale for their art.  And the internet because of downloads and things like that is like a black hole.

“It’s not that it’s just about the money but it’s about justice and fairness.”

Although he did give away an album for free with the Mail on Sunday.

And the pancakes?

The famous Charlie Murphy Prince sketch – a true story of when Murphy played basketball with Prince and the Revolution – ends with the star serving pancakes. Prince responded by putting it on the cover of his single Breakfast Can Wait.

But the pancakes didn't start there. Prince is a well-documented fan of breakfasting at all hours. His ex-wife Mayte Garcia recalls the first time she went to Paisley Park in her memoir. It was the early stages of their relationship, and she was still a teenager. She slept in a separate bedroom.

“In the morning he made pancakes,” she writes.

 

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