When I was in magazine publishing, I had to write entire tribute issues to Princess Diana (sold over a million copies; I made $800 as a bonus only, because I was salaried) and JFK Jr. When Michael Jackson died, my boss decided not to do one because it would be distasteful, a decision he soon regretted when he realized every thrown-together tribute was making scads of cash.
Every time someone really, really famous dies, to this day I think, Man, we would've done a tribute to them.
Prince tributes are already clogging the newsstands, but Billboard, one of the most appropriate sources, is now out with theirs.
Just days ago, Prince—reportedly suffering from “the flu” for weeks—was cared for after his plane made an emergency landing. He had been resting at home ever since, until his body was apparently discovered early today.
Rumors are rampant across the Internet regarding the notoriously secretive icon's health status leading up to his shocking death, with some claiming it was an open secretly he was battling full-blown AIDS via the power of prayer, having gone off his medications. One thing that is for certain, Prince had become an avid Jehovah's Witness in recent years.
Prince's first five albums (Images via fair use)
One of the premier pop, rock and R&B artists of the '80s, Prince released two albums in the late '70s before exploding onto the scene with his album Dirty Mind (1980), now considered a classic. His work quickly became characterized by his virtuoso guitar skills (Jimi Hendrix was an obvious inspiration), his funky delivery and his frankly sexual lyrics, the latter of which became a problem for him with censors early on, and with Prince himself later, when he became sternly religious.
Purple Rain has sold more than 20 million albums (Image via fair use)
Over the years, he released some of the most successful and best-remembered albums in pop, including his masterpiece Purple Rain (1984), the soundtrack to his highly successful film of the same title. He won the Oscar for Best Original Song Score for the piece, beating out the Muppets and Christopher Cross. It was the '80s.
His other smash-hit albums included Controversy (1981), 1999 (1982), Around the World in a Day (1985), Parade (1986), Sign o' the Times (1987), Lovesexy (1988) and Graffiti Bridge (1990). An unreleased version of his The Black Album, meant as a follow-up to Sign o' the Times, was a collector's Holy Grail until it was commercially released in 1994.
A photo posted by PRINCE LIVE THE BEST (@princelivethebest) on
Prince was famously at odds with his record label, Warner Bros., for years, fighting for his right to control his own catalogue. To combat what he viewed as artistic slavery, he released albums very quickly in the '90s, changed his name from Prince to , controversially sued his own fans for illegally downloading his work, signed with Arista and would eventually release his own work on his own terms, though never with as much success or fanfare as he'd experienced in the '80s and early '90s.
The stage from his Atlanta show, just a week ago (Image by CeeLoGreen courtesy of mega-fan Michelle Havlichek Gerry—so glad she got to see his last show)
Like many other '80s acts, Prince's chart supremacy stalled prematurely, with the last Top 40 hit in his lifetime being a re-release of “1999” in 1998, and his last original release to go Top 40 being “The Holy River” in 1997. He was, however, able to make a dent with studio albums, releasing two in 2014 (both of which went Top 10) and another two in 2015.
Over the years, Prince has played the Super Bowl, won seven Grammys (and had two albums awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award), received many lifetime achievement acknowledgments and continued to play live shows until just before he died. Late last year, he gave a performance so intimate and so late hardly anyone was there to see it—though old flame Madonna, who was unabashedly influenced by and in awe of his talent, made the cut.
In February, Prince's protégée Vanity, aka Denise Matthews, also died at 57.
Prince's death, coming just three months after the sudden death of David Bowie—one of the other very few musicians often credibly referred to as being a genius—will hit music fans hard. It's also worth noting that while many huge stars of the '60s (Diana Ross, Paul McCartney) are still with us, how curious and unfortunate it is that most of the biggest music stars of the '80s have passed away (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince); I would venture to say that the only other pop stars (and Prince was of course categorizable in many other ways) of the '80s left standing are Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins and perhaps George Michael. Note: I'm not trying to start a hierarchy war. I know Janet Jackson, Hall & Oates, Bon Jovi and Lionel Richie were indelible parts of the '80s.
i'm absolutely heartbroken that Prince is gone. COMPLETELY devastated...i can't process this....
Front: Luis Camacho. Back (L-R): Ester Gould, Reijer Zwaan, Carlton Wilborn, Kevin Stea, Oliver Crumes, Slam Gauwloos. (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)
Strike a Pose, the touching documentary that catches us up on the lives of Madonna's dancers from her Blond Ambition World Tour and the ensuing warts-and-all documentary Truth or Dare, is currently playing the Tribeca Film Festival. This limited engagement was enough to score me some face time with five of the seven original dancers: Slam Gauwloos, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes and Kevin Stea (Gabriel Trupin died of AIDS in the mid-'90s and Jose Gutierez was doing another interview).
First, I thought I was getting them in a crowded round table session, so I only had a couple of questions prepared. After all, I'd once been in the same situation with Madonna and it had been a battle to get a word in edgewise. As I got into a cab, I received word I'd have them to myself. Gulp. Could I handle those guys? They seemed high-maintenance in Truth or Dare, holding their own in scenes alongside the planet's biggest superstar. On that topic, Slam later noted of Madonna, “She was not that insecure, you know? I think a lot of artists don’t do that because of their insecurities. She just was perfect at picking the good talent, putting it together, and just, in the end, it made her look better, too.” Kevin chimed in, “When you’re secure with yourself as a star, you want stars around you.”
I frantically dashed off some impressionistic questions. Lucky for me, I'd seen Strike a Pose as well as Truth or Dare and do know quite a bit about the subject matter, so even though I ultimately wound up sharing them with one other journalist, I was ready for these guys and wasn't too nervous that they'd gang up on me.
Making things easier, I found the boys—now men—to be extremely articulate, witty and forthcoming, as you might expect from the cast of Truth or Dare, which has been called the “grandmother of reality TV.” (I submit that Madonna might prefer “aunt.”)
If I dominated a bit, I hope the other writer can forgive me. After all, these were the guys who showed me it was okay to be gay, and who were in the position I most coveted 25 years ago: Madonna-adjacent.
As the film shows and as my life experience had already taught me, glamour is often an illusion, and reality is better anyway.
Keep reading for my talk with the guys, and with filmmakers Reijer Zwaan and Ester Gould ...
I somehow never realized that Donald Trump had such a close connection with Roy Cohn, the textbook-villainous, self-hating gay creep whose malevolence was balls-deep in the McCarthy hearings, and who has since been immortalized in Tony Kushner's Angels in America.
Politico's Michael Kruse contributes a trending-bait story on the bond, in which Trump's very first public political utterance—about Soviet missile proliferation—is attributed to Cohn's advice to bring it up in the course of a Washington Post interview about Trump's businesses:
In the formative years of Donald Trump’s career, when he went from a rich kid working for his real estate-developing father to a top-line dealmaker in his own right, Cohn was one of the most powerful influences and helpful contacts in Trump’s life.
Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals. Interviews with people who knew both men at the time say the relationship ran deeper than that—that Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.
Illuminating to realize Cohn was the architect of Trump's response to the feds when the Trumps were accused of racial discrimination at they Brooklyn and Queens rental properties.
Even more illuminating is this tidbit from the piece:
He elaborated in an interview in 2005. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told author Tim O’Brien. “He brutalized for you.”
Trump, in the end, turned some of that cold calculation on his teacher, severing his professional ties to Cohn when he learned his lawyer was dying of AIDS.
Sounds like they were the perfect couple of douchebags.