Prince, a prolific multi-instrumentalist and virtuosic performer, was found dead at his home and recording studio in Minnesota early on Thursday, his publicist Yvette Noel-Schure toldThe Hollywood Reporter.
"When deputies and medical personnel arrived, they found an unresponsive adult male in the elevator," said Carver County sheriff Jim Olson in a statement. "First responders attempted to provide lifesaving CPR, but were unable to revive the victim."
Deputies arrived at the residence at 9:43 am after being called and Prince was pronounced dead at 10:07 am, the sheriff's office said.
The performer was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minn.
He released his debut album, For You, in 1978, followed by Prince (1979), Dirty Mind (1980) andControversy (1981). All of them traded in his trademark sound — deep synth funk grooves with provocatively sexual lyrics and heart-piercing ballads sung in pure falsetto.
See photos from throughout Prince's career:
His mainstream breakthrough came with back-to-back albums with his backing band the Revolution: In 1982, 1999 launched several pop and dance floor hits onto the charts, including "Little Red Corvette" and the title song, a post-apocalyptic party anthem.
"I'm blown away and may he rest in peace. Music has lost one of its greatest icons," Charlie Murphy, a close friend of the artist, told THR.
Two years later he released the album — a soundtrack, actually, to his movie-starring debut — that would launch him into the same superstar stratosphere of other 1980s pop titans like Michael Jackson and Madonna.
The soundtrack was 1984's Purple Rain, a searing musical backdrop to a semi-autobiographical tale of "the Kid," a Minneapolis rocker from an abusive family. The album launched five singles, two of which — "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" — went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. The title ballad reached No. 2 and has gone on to become one of the most recognizable rock anthems in history. The soundtrack itself is frequently cited on music critics' polls as being one of the best of all time, and Prince won an Oscar for original score in 1985.
Subsequent releases grew more experimental in nature, including the psychedelic Around the World in a Day (1985) and Sign "O" the Times (1987), a double album recorded partly before a live audience in Paris that dispensed with the Revolution and which is widely considered to have been produced at Prince's creative peak. (Among the compositions on it are "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.")
In between he starred in another film, 1986's Under the Cherry Moon, in which he played a gigolo wooing Kristin Scott Thomas in the south of France. The movie bombed, but produced a successful soundtrack album: Parade, which featured the hits "Kiss" and "Mountains."
See photos from Prince and Beyoncé's 2004 Grammys performance:
Throughout the 1990s, Prince was backed by a large band known as The New Power Generation, and his sound moved away from synth and heavy rock guitars and into one of brassier R&B. In 1993, he famously changed his name to that of an unpronounceable glyph that melded the symbols for male and female.
The move was one of protest against his label, Warner Bros., leading him to shave the word "Slave" into his face at one point. Between 1994 and 1996 he churned out the five remaining records due on his contract and signed with Arista Records in 1998.
By the 2000s, the glyph was retired and he was once again referring to himself as Prince. In 2001, Prince became a Jehovah's Witness and moved to Los Angeles to "better understand the music industry." In a 2008 interview with The New Yorker, he compared his religious conversion to "a realization ... like Neo in The Matrix."
In that same interview he grew uncharacteristically political, saying, "So here's how it is: You've got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this." (He gestured at a Bible.) "But there's the problem of interpretation, and you've got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn't."
"And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you've got blue, you've got the Democrats, and they're, like, 'You can do whatever you want.' Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right," Prince said. The comments drew criticism from gay rights groups and fans, many of whom felt the musician had turned his back on them since the days of Controversy, when he toyed with ideas of gender and sexuality and sang on the title song, "Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?"
In the 15 years since, he's released an astonishing 15 records and toured tirelessly. His latest tour, dubbed "Piano & a Microphone," saw him crisscrossing the globe from Melbourne, Australia, to Oakland, Calif., cycling through an intimate, improvised evening of hits performed solo at a grand piano.
On the night he learned of his collaborator Vanity's recent death, Prince told the crowd, "I just found out a little while ago that someone dear to us has passed away. So I'm going to dedicate this song to her."
The song was: "Little Red Corvette."