Inside Prince’s Final Days
As more details have emerged about Prince‘s death in late April, the mystery that engulfed his life has only deepened. But one thing is becoming clear: The funk-rock genius was struggling with a painful secret. Overwhelming evidence indicates that Prince was in the grips of an addiction to painkillers during the last years of his life.
To the world outside Paisley Park, Prince seemed vibrant and in control to the end. At one of his last shows, in Toronto on March 25th, he was typically animated: “Bouncing around the stage, clapping with his audience, running around the piano,” says the venue’s CEO, Mark Hammond. “He was having fun.”
But offstage, it was a different story. It remains unclear when Prince began taking opioids and how much his inner circle knew of any possible addiction – though Prince’s late half-brother Duane told his lawyer that Prince was addicted to cocaine and Percocet in the early 2000s, according to the attorney. Others close to Prince have suggested that his drug use may have been in response to a serious hip problem that he developed later in life.
The first public indication that anything was wrong came when Prince’s private plane made an emergency landing in Illinois on April 15th, on the way home from a concert in Atlanta. Reports suggest that Prince overdosed on Percocet. He was carried off the plane by a bodyguard and given a shot of the anti-overdose medication Narcan by a local EMS.
He appeared to bounce back quickly. The next day, Prince biked to a record store to buy Stevie Wonder and Santana albums. That evening, he hosted a party at Paisley Park, where he showed off his new purple piano. He tweeted he was “#FeelingRejuvenated” the next day. On April 19th, he caught jazz singer Lizz Wright at a local club, Dakota. “As always, he was relaxed and polite with all,” says Joe Doermann, the club’s assistant manager.
On April 20th, Prince met with Michael Schulenberg, a family-medicine doctor who has been practicing for nearly 20 years. Prince received an unidentified prescription, his second in a few weeks from the same doctor. Later that day, Prince was reportedly seen at a local Walgreens.
Then, sometime that night, came a desperate cry for help: Someone in Prince’s camp reached out to Howard Kornfeld, a Mill Valley, California, doctor who runs an outpatient clinic that specializes in treating addictions. Kornfeld’s son Andrew took an overnight flight to Minneapolis, but he was too late. When Prince was found dead in a Paisley Park elevator the next morning, authorities reportedly discovered prescription opioids on his body and in Paisley Park. Although results of an autopsy may not be released until late May, reports indicate Prince may have had Percocet in his system.
According to experts, Percocet can be as addictive and dangerous as heroin. “You start out being able to just take one to get the pain relief you need,” says Jonathan Wynbrandt, an assistant professor of medicine at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University Medical School who has no involvement in the case. “But then you get folks who abuse the drug who have to take five, six, seven at a time. That’s when you get respiratory difficulties, sudden death, cardiovascular problems.”