He was one of popular music’s last true mavericks — a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a bundle of contradictions.
He cultivated a sexually confrontational persona even as, offstage, he embraced reclusive eccentricity. He warred with the music industry while assembling a stable of proteges moulded in his own image.
Prince was many things at once yet ultimately remained unknowable and inscrutable — a blank space upon which fans projected their own sense of who they wished him to be.
Musically, he bestrode his era. Through the Eighties, nobody who could touch him for sheer, genre-bending creativity. Sex, soulfulness, politics and romance were interwoven on songs that dazzlingly blended pop, rock and r’n b.
He wrote the great power ballad of the decade in ‘Purple Rain’ and churned out perfectly formed gems such as ‘Little Red Corvette’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’ with apparent effortlessness.
Then, just as critics had dismissed him as a libido with a guitar, he floored the music world all over again with 1987’s Sign o’ The Times, a concept record that addressed head on the social and political travails of the late 20th century.
It was remarkable, a tour de force that arrived at a time when rock ‘n roll had forgotten that it was supposed to stand for something.
Prince was,in many ways, ill-suited to global celebrity. If the face he presented to the world was debauched with a vengeance, in private the singer was soft-spoken and intensely shy.
Indeed, for much of his career he lived a hermit existence, hidden his Paisley Park recording facility in his home town of Minneapolis, where he seemed to release music in an endless deluge (it was this desire to put out new material non-stop that eventually led to his notorious contract dispute with Warner Brothers records).
Those who met him recalled Prince as sensitive and generous and, though initially guarded, endlessly enthusiastic about music.
“He is actually a lovely man — a little bashful maybe” Brittany Howard of the band Alabama Shakes told me last year after her band was invited to perform at Paisley Park.
“He’s so charismatic,” British singer Lianne La Havas said to me, recalling the evening Prince rang her up while she in the pub with some friends. “When I was on the phone to him, I was in hysterics.”