Prince turns 50: Highs and lows
Multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Prince is celebrating his 50th birthday on Saturday.
The star cherry-picked the best of rock, funk and blues to redefine pop music in the 1980s – but he has had a turbulent time in the spotlight.Use our interactive timeline to find out more.
Full name: Prince Rogers Nelson
Born: 7 June 1958, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Also known as: The Kid, The Purple Perv, The Minneapolis Midget, Alexander Nevermind, Christopher Tracy, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
Biggest hits: Little Red Corvette, Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.
Quotes: “Sex on a stick” (Kylie Minogue). “A dwarf who’s been dipped in a bucket of pubic hair” (Boy George).
According to legend, Prince is named after his father’s dog, perhaps triggering his identity crisis 40 years later.
His parents drift apart and separate when he is two years old, and the youngster chooses to live with his father. But he is thrown out of his family home aged 12 after allegedly being caught in bed with an older girl. He moves in with the family of his school friend, and future band member, Andre Anderson.
1978 – DEBUT ALBUM
Prince records his solo debut album, For You, for Warner Brothers. Despite a popular single, Soft And Wet, it only makes the lower end of the Billboard 200 album chart.
1980-82 – DIRTY MIND
Dirty Mind included songs such as When You Were Mine and Uptown
Third album Dirty Mind, containing songs about oral sex and incest, is a critical success but a commercial flop.
Fans include The Rolling Stones, who ask Prince to open two shows in Los Angeles for them. But the crowd do not appreciate the moustachioed musician’s sexually ambiguous look and boo him off stage.
A year later, in 1982, he scores his first mainstream success with ambitious double album 1999. It sells three million copies in the US, and sets the template for the Minneapolis sound – buzzing synths and funky drum machines wed together in a lascivious funk groove.
1984 – PURPLE RAIN
The Purple Rain album and tour were performed with Prince’s band, The Revolution
Purple Rain finally establishes Prince as a bona fide star, and sits at number one in the US for a staggering 24 weeks. The accompanying film – part-concert movie, part-autobiography – takes nearly $100m (£50.8m) at the box office.
Lyrically, the album is unusually restrained for the sex-obsessed singer. But the erotic fantasy of one song, Darling Nikki, enrages one mother, Tipper Gore, to such an extent that she forms the Parents Music Resource Center and gets explicit albums branded with “parental advisory” stickers.
The faux-psychedelia of seventh album Around The World In A Day disappoints, with the exception of pop classic Raspberry Beret. The 1986 follow-up, Parade, is more successful but the star’s new film, Under The Cherry Moon, bombs.
“For all those out there who can’t get enough of Prince, Under The Cherry Moon may be just the antidote,” says the New York Times.
Sign O’ The Times featured Prince singing in a sped-up voice with vocals credited to “Camille”
Compiled from the debris of three abandoned albums (Crystal Ball, Dream Factory and the untitled “Camille project”), Sign O The Times is hailed as Prince’s masterpiece.
Trailed by the sparse blues-funk of the title track, the album spans every genre in popular music including rock (I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man), funk (Housequake), soul (Slow Love) and pop (U Got The Look).
Rolling Stone says it is “the most complete example of his artistry’s breadth, and arguably the finest album of the 1980s”.
The Lovesexy tour in 1988 was Prince’s most ambitious show to date
Prince scraps his next project, The Black Album, days before release, calling it “dark and immoral” (it’s also pretty bad). The star says he reached the decision following “a spiritual epiphany”, which some reports suggest was the result of an early experience with the drug ecstasy.
The Black Album’s replacement, Lovesexy, and follow-up Batman (recorded in just six weeks) keep Prince’s profile high, but receive mixed reviews.
Diamonds and Pearls featured the hits Cream and Gett Off
Despite another dire film (Graffiti Bridge), Prince’s fortunes are on the rise, thanks in no small part to Sinead O’Connor’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U.
Prince responds with two of his most commercial and accessible albums in years – Diamonds and Pearls and Symbol. The only downside is his attempt to embrace hip-hop by enlisting the services of Tony M – a rapper who can’t rap.
With his star back on the rise, Prince releases a greatest hits album, announces his retirement, and changes his name to an unpronounceable symbol.
It turns out that he is embroiled in a legal dispute with Warner Brothers over his music. His independently-released single, Most Beautiful Girl In The World, gives him his first UK number one.
Negotiations with Warner Brothers stall, and Prince takes to writing the word “slave” on his face in eyeliner. The public is not impressed.
Prince’s newborn son, Gregory, dies of Pfeiffer syndrome, a condition which causes the bones of the skull to fuse too early. The musician splits from his wife, Mayte Garcia, in 1999.
Unsurprisingly, his musical output during this period lacks its usual fire and inspiration. Critics are particularly harsh about his album, The Rainbow Children, which features the advocacy of Jehovah’s Witness dogma (Prince had been converted to the religion earlier that year).
Prince and Beyonce performed Purple Rain and Crazy In Love at the Grammys
Musicology, Prince’s 22nd studio album, is hailed as a return to form, and sees him back in the top five on both sides of the Atlantic. In the same year, he duets with Beyonce at the Grammys, is inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and puts on the most profitable US tour of the year.
Having embraced the internet as a way to release music as and when he wants, Prince wins a Webby Award in 2006. But, three weeks later, his site is shut down with no warning.
Prince’s Super Bowl performance won rave reviews
After a dazzling performance at the Super Bowl (in which the rain actually turns purple) Prince shocks the music industry by announcing he will give away his latest album, Planet Earth, on the cover of a newspaper.
He also plays a wildly successful 21-night residency at London’s O2 arena, with guests including Amy Winehouse and Elton John.