Looking for clues to mystery of Prince's final days

Nasa paid tribute to Prince by tweeting a stunning picture of the Crab Nebula, lit up in purple, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Nasa paid tribute to Prince by tweeting a stunning picture of the Crab Nebula, lit up in purple, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.PHOTO: NASA

Music icon was found unresponsive aboard plane days before his death

MINNEAPOLIS • The 1988 Dassault Falcon 900 was about an hour into its flight from Atlanta in the wee hours of Friday, April 15, when the pilot made a distress call to air traffic controllers in Chicago.

There was a medical emergency on board. A male passenger was unresponsive. And so the controllers diverted the flight to Moline, Illinois, just 48 minutes from its intended destination of Minneapolis.

As it turned out, the flight was carrying the musical genius Prince who, a week later, would be found dead, collapsed in an elevator on the first floor of his suburban Minneapolis compound.

"We had an emergency unscheduled landing at 1.35am on April 15 for a medical emergency for an unresponsive person," said human resource manager Jo Johnson of the Quad Cities International Airport in Moline. It remained unclear what caused Prince, 57, to become unresponsive on the flight last week. His publicist had attributed it to "fighting the flu".

But officials investigating Prince's death said the plane's emergency landing, and what caused it, would be part of their inquiry.

A DEATH MOURNED BY MANY

This is a tragedy for all of us. To you, Prince Rogers Nelson was a celebrity. To us, he was a community member and a good neighbour.

MR JIM OLSON, the sheriff of Carver County, where Prince's estate, Paisley Park, was located. He said Prince was last seen alive at about 8pm on Wednesday when someone dropped him off at his estate.

Prince spent only a few hours at a Moline hospital before his jet flew home here, and he resumed life at his compound in nearby Carver County. Just days before his death, he attended a show at a jazz club and playfully showed off his new piano and guitar at a party at his studio.

As the authorities await the complete results of an autopsy performed on Friday, they said they would be reviewing pharmaceutical records to help understand Prince's medical history. They declined to comment on reports that he had been taking pain medication, saying the investigation was continuing.

"This is a tragedy for all of us," said Sheriff Jim Olson of Carver County, where Prince's estate, Paisley Park, was located in the town of Chanhassen. "To you, Prince Rogers Nelson was a celebrity. To us, he was a community member and a good neighbour."

  • Emergency call

  • Here is the transcript of the 911 emergency call after Prince was discovered unresponsive on Thursday at his compound in Minnesota. The call was received at 9:43am, according to the transcript provided by the Carver County Sheriff's Office.

    Dispatcher: 911, where is your emergency?

    Unidentified male: Hi there, um, what's the address, here? Yeah we need an ambulance right now.

    Dispatcher: OK.

    Unidentified male: We have someone who is unconscious.

    Dispatcher: OK, what's the address? Unidentified male: Um, we're at Prince's house.

    Dispatcher: OK, does anybody know the address? Is there any mail around that you could look at?

    Unidentified male: Yeah, yeah, OK, hold on.

    Dispatcher: OK, your cell phone's not going to tell me where you're at, so I need you to find me an address.

    Unidentified male: Yeah, we have um, yeah, we have um, so, yeah, um, the person is dead here.

    Dispatcher: OK, get me the address please.

    Unidentified male: OK, OK, I'm working on it.

    Dispatcher: Concentrate on that.

    Unidentified male: And the people are just distraught.

    Dispatcher: I understand that they are distraught, but...

    Unidentified male: I'm working on it, I'm working on it.

    Dispatcher: OK, do we know how the person died?

    Unidentified male: I don't know, I don't know.

    Dispatcher: OK.

    Unidentified male: Um, so we're, we're in Minneapolis, Minnesota and we are at the home of Prince.

    Dispatcher: OK, have you found an address yet?

    Unidentified female: 7801.

    Unidentified male: 7801.

    Dispatcher: 7801 what?

    Unidentified male: Paisley Park, we are at Paisley Park.

    Dispatcher: You're at Paisley Park, OK, that's in Chanhassen. Are you with the person who's...

    Unidentified male: Yes, it's Prince.

    Dispatcher: OK.

    Dispatcher: OK, stay on the line with me.

    The dispatcher then sends an ambulance to the address.

Prince was last seen alive at about 8pm on Wednesday when someone dropped him off at his estate, where he lived alone, Mr Olson said during the afternoon news conference. Unable to make contact with Prince on Thursday morning, Paisley Park staff members went looking for him in the sprawling compound. They found him unresponsive in an elevator and called 911 at 9.43am, he said. Medics could not resuscitate Prince, who was pronounced dead at 10.07am on Thursday.

Sheriff Olson said he was not sure how long Prince had remained collapsed in the elevator. There were no signs of injuries, and the death was not believed to be a homicide or a suicide. Officials said the body was released to Prince's family and it might be weeks before the autopsy details are released.

Many questions about Prince's health remain. Sheila E, a friend who collaborated with Prince, said on ABC's Good Morning America that the star did have hip problems from his performances onstage. He had said in interviews that he struggled with epilepsy as a child.

The mystery of the end of Prince's life left his supporters measuring their shock. As they wait for answers, fans around the world grieved and celebrated his life with the frenetic energy with which Prince lived it - with dance parties and widespread tributes, from social media posts to impromptu Broadway performances.

In his hometown, the famed First Avenue dance club held a free overnight dance party from Thursday into Friday, with more scheduled through the weekend. Makeshift memorials popped up outside of the club and in front of Paisley Park.

Close followers of Prince find it hard to believe that anything sinister could have played into his death. He was a Jehovah's Witness and an obsessively healthy eater. You couldn't drink, smoke or even curse at his Paisley parties.

Last Saturday, Prince stopped by Electric Fetus, a Minneapolis record store, and bought half a dozen CDs, said manager Bob Fuchs. Prince had been going there for 30 years, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. "Thanks for your support," Mr Fuchs recalled telling Prince. "He smiled and said 'Hello' and 'You're welcome'."

NEW YORK TIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Looking for clues to mystery of Prince's final days'. Print Edition | Subscribe