A Minnesota woman opened her door one day after hearing that knock-knock-knock that many have grown to fear. But there, standing in front of her on her porch, was a Jehovah’s Witness who – gosh darn – looked a lot like that singer Prince. She even asked the man at one point, “Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Prince?” The Jehovah’s Witness then smiled with a little glimmer in his eyes.
Yes, that man really was Prince. But his purpose for preaching door to door and presenting the Bible wasn’t to promote his music or sell concert tickets. The singer had a higher power guiding him. That’s right, the once most sexually charged artist in music history became a Jehovah’s Witness back in 2001. But in his eyes, it wasn’t a conversion to the religion, but more of a “realization.”
The superstar led an interesting life, especially during his last years on earth…
One day in a middle-class suburb of St Louis Park, Minnesota, a woman heard a knock on the door. She then kindly invited the small group of Jehovah’s Witnesses into her home. Once they were settled in, a slightly built man who introduced himself as Brother Nelson and eagerly began a thorough bible presentation right there in the woman’s living room.
And she listened, even intently, but something was bothering her. After a moment or two, she interrupted him and said: “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Prince?” The music legend and newfound Jehovah’s Witness smiled at her with a little sparkle in his eye. His verbal response? “It has been said.” He then continued talking about the beauty of God’s Kingdom.
The name Brother Nelson doesn’t come from nowhere, by the way. The singer’s real name is actually Prince Rogers Nelson. Most people just know him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. But after decades of insane popularity, the Purple Rain singer was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001 (while some sources say 2003) and devoted the rest of his life to spreading the word of God.
On stage, the hypersexual performer earned something of a cult following. But offstage, the deeply religious star preferred to stay under the radar. In keeping with his faith, Brother Nelson saw himself as equal to those around him. And he managed to get some missionary years in there… before he died on April 21, 2016, of a reported accidental overdose.
Prince belonged to the Jehovah’s Witness congregation, which came together for weekly meetings at the Kingdom Hall in St Louis Park. The congregation in Minneapolis was just a 20-minute drive from Prince’s Paisley Park estate. The superstar became a regular fixture there. One of the people in the congregation was Larry Graham, the singer/songwriter, and bassist for Sly and the Family Stone.
Or you can refer to him as the man who introduced Prince to the Jehovah’s Witness faith. According to Church elder and congregation coordinator James Lundstrom, Brother Nelson was in good standing and an active member, but he traveled abroad a lot. “We were very intimate with him on many different levels,” were the words Lundstrom used when talking to Daily Mail Online.
Lundstrom remembers Prince as being very shy, which was such a contrast to his on-stage persona. He also described how during Watch Tower (Bible study), Prince would raise his hand, and they would always address him as Brother Nelson. Apparently, Prince studied the Bible and really embraced the faith. According to Lundstrom, being a Jehovah’s Witness meant everything to Prince.
They would go door to door, embrace the people who let them in, and tell them about “God’s Kingdom.” Which brings us to the woman who let the group into her home. Lundstrom recalled the moment she recognized the singer. At the end of his presentation, she asked him what his name was, to which he replied, Rogers Nelson. But in the ministry, he never used the name Prince.
Lundstrom also recalled another occasion when their group stopped at a Starbucks, and three young girls spotted the music idol. Prince had gone to the restroom while the others grabbed coffees and settled into a corner. That’s when three girls came up to Lundstrom and said, “Excuse me, is that Prince you’re with? Would he give us an autograph?”
He told the young fans to ask him themselves, and they did. But Prince didn’t like to give autographs, so he said to them instead: “I’ll give you something better than that.” The singer then gave each one of the girls a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet. “That was typical Prince,” Lundstrom said.
When Lundstrom was asked about the fact that Prince’s sexually charged lyrics didn’t really fit into the Jehovah’s Witness faith, he said, “Whatever happened before he was baptized was the old Prince.” He also mentioned how ever since he was baptized, his state was different; “there was a change.’
When news of Prince’s conversion (or “realization”) circulated in the early 2000s, his fans understandably had a hard time believing it. So you’re saying that the man who wrote songs like “Jack U Off” and “Sexy MF” is now a devout Jehovah’s Witness? Yup! And Prince didn’t deny anything. He just described it as more of an awakening, even likening his experience to that of Neo in The Matrix.
The woman in St Louis Park wasn’t the only one who recognized the Jehovah’s Witness on her doorstep. A couple in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, also opened their door to the pop star. At 2 pm on October 5, 2003, they found none other than Prince standing on their doorstep, ready with a Bible in his hand. “My first thought is, ‘Cool, cool, cool. He wants to use my house for a set,’” the woman, Rochelle, recalled.
Brother Nelson wasn’t alone, though. He was with his friend-turned-mentor Larry Graham. The men came in, and Prince started in on “this Jehovah’s Witnesses stuff.” According to Rochelle, they stayed for about 25 minutes and left them with a pamphlet.” There was no set deal, but at least she got a cool story to tell!
Do you know who Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman are? They were childhood friends, lovers, and the founding members of Prince’s Revolution band. So if Prince ever had a musical family, they were it. The two tried to put together a Revolution tour back in 2000, hopeful that their former bandleader would agree to join.
But the Artist Formerly Known as Prince wasn’t interested. Melvoin said that he declined because of “my homosexuality and the fact I’m half-Jewish.” He told her that he wanted her to give a press conference to denounce her homosexuality and declare that she was converting to Jehovah. Melvoin thought: ‘I guess we’ll never hear from him again.’ Six years later, she stood next to Prince onstage in London at an awards show.
In their matching white suits, Melvoin and Prince hammered away, shoulder to shoulder, on their guitars while Prince sang “Purple Rain” in his lusty voice. The early public acceptance of the gay couple and subsequent rejection and then return to acceptance was exactly the type of confusing contradiction that Prince displayed in his attitudes toward sexuality and religion.
For about 40 years, Prince was the embodiment of bold sexuality, singing about the many positions he would use to please himself, and you. His music was a celebration of the pursuit of pleasure. But during his last decade on earth, if he knocked on your door, he was more likely to tell you about God than invite you to a party.
It was all very confusing for his many fans to reconcile that their idol who donned a rubber thong was suddenly in a faith that doesn’t only frown upon gay marriage but, according to former members, prohibits anything other than the traditional intercourse. But like almost everything else in his life, Prince did things his own way, even his religion.
Just as much as physical pleasure, God and retribution were a constant thread in Prince’s music. “When I first met him, he believed in God,” said his friend and collaborator, Sheila E., “but after that, there was a time when it seemed like he didn’t believe in anything.” But when he became a Witness, she felt that for him, believing in something was better than nothing.
Prince was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His mother was jazz singer Mattie Della, and his father was a pianist and songwriter named John Lewis Nelson. Prince was given his father’s stage name, Prince Rogers. As it turns out, Prince wasn’t fond of his name and wanted people to call him Skipper instead.
He was raised in a chaotic home, but his parents Seventh Day Adventists, members of a socially conservative Christian group that happens to be very similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses in their core beliefs.
Prince, who once said he was “born epileptic” and experienced seizures when he was young, also once said to his mother, “Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore.” She asked him why, and he said, “Because an angel told me so.”
Both Prince and his younger sister, Tyka, developed an interest in music, which was encouraged by their father. In fact, Prince wrote his first song, “Funk Machine,” on his dad’s piano when he was seven years old. Prince’s parents got divorced when he was 10, and his mother married a man named Hayward Baker, and they had a son named Omarr.
Prince and Omarr had a troubled relationship, causing the future superstar to switch homes between his father and mother continuously. But it was Baker who took Prince to see James Brown in concert and overall improved the family’s financial situation. Prince’s father, who bought him his first guitar, kicked him out of the house, which forced him to move into the basement of his neighbors’ home. The Andersons’ son, Andre, later collaborated with Prince and became known as André Cymone.
By the early ’80s, after the release of three consecutive albums (Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999), it seemed like keeping with his childhood was behind him. I mean, the artist wore makeup and high heels and performed in unbuttoned blouses (Dave Chappelle fans should be smirking right now). Prince’s lyrics pushed the boundaries of both gender and sexuality.
His song “Darling Nikki” was so racy that it inspired the social activist Tipper Gore to start a group called Parents Music Resource Center in Washington, D.C., that lobbied for better control of the music industry. But above and beyond all the raunchiness in his music, he kept God in the picture. The album “Controversy,” for example, includes The Lord’s Prayer.
The album “1999” narrates a judgment day where, while life is just a party, parties aren’t meant to last. Touré, the author of the Prince biography “I Would Die 4 U,” says Prince created a “cosmology and a spiritual outlook” that simply made sense to him. According to Touré, Prince felt that he was blessed by God; that he was anointed.
In his eyes, his professional and creative life was proof of God working through him. But the man that really got Prince to take it seriously was Larry Graham, the bassist for Sly & The Family Stone. The singer who compared himself to Neo in the Matrix once said, “The more he said, the more I realized the truth,” when he was referring to Graham.
Prince may have finally found his true calling in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, but the years leading up to his epiphany were disorderly. First of all, in the early 90s, he changed his name to a symbol. It was something artists didn’t really do, so people were confused. The symbol was explained, however, as being a combination of the symbols for male and female.
Prince then got married, for the first time, in early 1996. He had been romantically involved with many celebrities throughout the years, including Madonna, Kim Basinger, Vanity, Sheila E., Carmen Electra, Susanna Hoffs, and Sherilyn Fenn. But in 1990, he saw then-16-year-old dancer Mayte García standing in front of his tour bus, and he said (to Rosie Gaines): “There’s my future wife.”
Mayte García started working as one of Prince’s backup singers and dancers as soon as she graduated from high school. Six years later, the 38-year-old married the 22-year-old dancer on Valentine’s Day in 1996. The couple had a son eight months later named Amiir Nelson. But tragically, the baby was born with a rare disease called Pfeiffer Syndrome.
He died within a week of being born. The distress of losing a newborn baby and a further miscarriage after that took a toll on the marriage. By 2000, the couple was divorced. Prince moved on rather quickly, though. In 2001, he married Manuela Testolini in a private ceremony. Manuela was from Toronto, so the couple lived there for some of the time. That is before they divorced in 2006.
At the end of 2001, the prolific artist released his 24th album, “The Rainbow Children,” which had to do with an apocalyptic/utopian kind of happening. It was around then that Rolling Stone referred to Prince as the “Freak in the Pulpit.” He started changing the way he made and edited his music. For instance, he cut several songs from his list that he considered too explicit.
He even stopped swearing. Paisley Park (his own record label) was starting to feel like a junior-high-school dance party – a major contrast from his den of sin from the years prior. Around this time, Prince also started engaging with his fans, inviting them to the studio for tours, discussions, and music-listening sessions.
For those in the Witness community, having a “Freak in the Pulpit” as their most high-profile member was just a little bizarre. “I wouldn’t have been allowed to listen to Prince as a kid because he was so sexually charged,” Gregorio Smith said. He made a documentary about the church in 2014 called Truth Be Told. So this artist he was forbidden to listen to at home is now calling himself Brother Nelson.
As it turns out, Prince isn’t the only high-profile member of the faith. Several other famous faces are either members of, or were raised in, the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Venus and Serena Williams, Michael and Janet Jackson, Dwight Eisenhower, the Notorious B.I.G., and Naomi Campbell are just some names on the list.
His faith wasn’t just bizarre to his fans or the reason for noticeable changes in his style and music; it also led to rumors. Since 2005, he needed a double hip replacement surgery. A rumor was spread by the tabloids, saying that he wouldn’t undergo the operation because he refused to have blood transfusions.
But Larry Graham publicly denied those claims and put the false rumor to rest, mainly because hip surgery doesn’t even require blood transfusions. According to Morris Day, the singer underwent the hip surgery in 2008. It would be a number of years before he would become addicted to opioids. But we’ll get to that soon.
It seemed for Prince, the Jehovah’s Witness faith helped him explain the growing social injustice that he was seeing around him. When Mark Brown from the Rocky Mountain News interviewed Prince in 2004, he told Brown that he was interested in “spirituality and answers,” and not strange ceremonies or theories.
His words were: “I’m very practical… You go Trekkie on me, I got to go.” By the end of the interview, Prince gave Brown what he seemed to give everyone he conversed with in those days: a pamphlet. He then told Brown to call him one day. “It was a little uncomfortable for me, but it was very important to him,” Brown said. “He got pretty intense.”
Prince never spoke publicly about his charitable endeavors. It was only after his death that the extent of his activism, philanthropy, and charity was revealed. In 2001, he had donated $12,000 anonymously to the Louisville Free Public Library system. Apparently, he did so to keep the historic Western Branch Library (the first full-service library for African Americans in America) from closing.
Also, in 2001, Prince anonymously paid all the medical bills for drummer Clyde Stubblefield who had been undergoing cancer treatment. In 2015, a year before his death, he conceived and launched YesWeCode, paying for hackathons and performing musical acts at some of them. In March 2016, Prince told an audience he was working on his memoir titled “The Beautiful Ones,” but he died just a few weeks later…
Prince would go door to door in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, handing out his handy dandy pamphlets on salvation. “Sometimes people act surprised,” he said about those moments. “But mostly, they’re really cool.” According to Sheila E., it helped him communicate with people, reach out, and be connected. “It opened him up to the world.”
In an interview, he said that he’s against gay marriage. He said it while standing in his library and his hand on the Bible. He continued: “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.'” As you can imagine, that statement made more than a few people angry, particularly the gay community. For many of them, it wasn’t the Prince they knew and loved.
On April 7, 2016, Prince saw a specialist in family medicine. That same day, he postponed two performances in Atlanta during his Piano & Microphone Tour. The reason given: he had influenza. He performed his final show on April 14, though he still wasn’t feeling well. On his flight back to Minneapolis the next morning, he was unresponsive, and so his private jet had to make an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois.
There, he was hospitalized and received Narcan, which is a medication used to block the effects of opioids. It’s typically used after an overdose. Once Prince became conscious, he left the hospital against medical advice. His representatives then stated that he suffered from dehydration and influenza for several weeks.
The day after that flight, the ailing singer was seen bicycling in his hometown of Chanhassen. He also made a brief appearance at a dance party at his Paisley Park recording studio. On April 19, he went to the Dakota Jazz Club to see a performance by singer Lizz Wright. He just didn’t know that it would be his last night alive.
On April 20, Prince’s representatives called Howard Kornfeld, a specialist in addiction medicine and pain management. They were looking for ways to help the pop star. Kornfeld then scheduled to meet Prince the next day, but it happened to be a little too late. On April 21, at 9:43 am, an emergency call was made to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office requesting an ambulance be sent to Prince’s home at Paisley Park.
The caller told the dispatcher that an “unidentified person” was unconscious, but moments later, they said he was dead. Finally, the person was identified as Prince. The caller was actually Kornfeld’s son, who flew in that morning with buprenorphine to devise a treatment plan for his opioid addiction. Once they arrived, emergency responders found Prince unconscious in an elevator and performed CPR on him.
But it was too late. A paramedic announced that he had already been dead for at least six hours. He was pronounced dead at 10:07 am. Apparently, there were no signs of suicide nor foul play. According to a press release from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office on June 2, the star died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. He was 57.
It turns out that Brother Nelson’s overdose on fentanyl was due to counterfeit pills that had been made to look like a generic version of Vicodin, the common painkiller. As to where Prince got the drug that led to his death, it has been the subject of investigations by more than one law enforcement agency.
There was a sealed search warrant for his estate and another unsealed warrant for the local Walgreens pharmacy. In the end, no criminal charges were ever filed. After an autopsy, his remains were cremated. Prince’s sister and only full sibling, Tyka Nelson, opened a probate case, claiming that no will had been found. At the time of his death, Prince was neither married nor a father to any children.
But Tyka isn’t Prince’s only beneficiary. Under Minnesotan law, when there’s no will, all family members have a claim to a person’s estate. In Prince’s case, in addition to his full sister, his five half-siblings were entitled to his estate, which totaled millions of dollars. And his estate included real estate, stocks, and cars.
But his real siblings were only a tiny portion of the claims that were about to flood the system. Within three weeks of his death, up to 700 people claimed to be Prince’s half-siblings or descendants. So what happened? The Bremer Trust, which was given temporary control of his estate, had his vault drilled open and requested a blood sample for DNA profiling from the coroner who performed the autopsy.
It’s hard to believe that the superstar didn’t leave a will for his $300 million estate. But Prince tended to go to the beat of his own drum. As a result, hundreds were claiming to be the superstar’s heirs. Harvey Morse, from Morse Genealogical Services, told the Daily Mail they were incredibly busy sifting through an enormous amount of claims.
According to Morse, the claims run the gamut, including claims such as “We lives in the same area so we must be related” to “We have pictures of Prince at our family reunion.” All this came down to the judge ordering a DNA sample of the late singer to determine the legitimacy of all those claims.
It even came to a point where a man claimed to be the secret love child of Prince, and he began legal proceedings to prove the star’s paternity. Of course, he was hoping to inherit a slice of Prince’s multi-million fortune. Heir Hunters International confirmed they had worked on a case of an unidentified man in his 30s whose mother supposedly had numerous liaisons with the singer in the 80s.
John Hilbert and Shar Mansukhani, from Heir Hunters International, said that this man’s case stood out among the rest. They also said the man didn’t seem “crazy” or was looking for 15 minutes of fame. Ultimately, independent genetic testing verified that this man has DNA, showing Prince has a 99% probability of being his father.
Prince’s ashes were placed into a 3D printed urn shaped into the Paisley Park estate. The urn was then put on display in the Paisley Park complex. One of the main beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the purity of the human body. After Prince’s death, rumors swirled around that it was his religious refusal of medical treatment that led to his death.
But the thing is Witnesses do accept medical treatments, and there hasn’t been sufficient information to verify those suggestions. As for the unidentified man, who also never met Prince, he has decided to preserve his privacy until today (his mother wanted to remain anonymous). But if he wants a share in his estate, he needs to settle his claim or come forward in Court. Considering that genetic testing has verified his claim, the Estate is likely to settle with him.
After Prince and Mayte Garcia lost their newborn, they were very private about their loss. They even appeared on Oprah after the baby’s death, and Prince gave a tour of the room that was meant to be the playroom, saying it was his “favorite” room in the house. Mayte and Prince tried to make a family for themselves, but it didn’t work out.
As for what she’s up to now, Mayte lives in Las Vegas with her adopted daughter, Gia. She has spent her career as a choreographer, and some are notable music videos. She choreographed numbers for stars like Britney Spears (“I’m a Slave 4 U”). But unfortunately, in 2010, Mayte was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Thanks to medication, she’s managing to live a normal, active life.