Almost one year to the day of his demise, the late superstar Prince Rogers Nelson remains as enigmatic in death as he often was in life.
This has compounded the shock and sorrow of his departure for his fans, still wondering why he died of an opioid overdose and why his multimillion-dollar estate is still such a mess.
“Contradictions and seeming inconsistencies are part and parcel of (Prince’s) whole story — nothing is simple or self-evident,” says Alex Hahn, a Boston lawyer, Prince fan and co-author of The Rise of Prince:1958-1988. “With someone like Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, there is an unambiguous picture of physical or psychological deterioration as part of substance abuse. Prince died of an overdose but he doesn’t have these other (signs) in common with them.”
“There’s a lot of mystery, a lot of information behind the curtain,” says Frank Wheaton, a lawyer who, up until last month, represented one of Prince’s siblings and presumed heirs, one of an army of lawyers involved in the case.
The curtain is likely to remain closed for the time being.
Meanwhile, fans who want to commune with the spirit of Prince can tour Paisley Park, his home/studio complex in suburban Minneapolis, which has been turned into a museum. Prince’s ashes are in a custom-designed glass-and-ceramic Paisley Park-shaped urn on display in the atrium.
PRINCE CELEBRATION 2017: Go inside the 4-day Paisley Park tribute
Paisley Park is planning four days of events and performances, starting Thursday , to mark the one-year anniversary.
At least five recent books have been published examining Prince’s life and legacy, including a memoir by his first ex-wife, Mayte Garcia. Prince tributes continue to crop up, the most recent at the Grammys, where Bruno Mars did the honors.
But there are many questions left unanswered:
What killed him? He died April 21, 2016, in an elevator in Paisley Park in Carver County, Minn. The one-page autopsy report released later said he died of an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl.
Famously clean-living Prince died of a painkiller OD at age 57? Unthinkable. Numerous friends, associates, relatives and former wives and girlfriends insisted they never saw him take drugs.
Was there some medical condition that contributed to his death? We may never know because, under Minnesota law, the full autopsy report can be kept secret for up to 30 years unless the next of kin agree to release it. So far, that has not happened.
Why was he taking fentanyl and for how long? Where did he get it? Was it prescribed by a doctor or acquired by illicit means? Did he know some of the pills containing fentanyl were falsely labeled something else? What was the relationship between his death and the episode of six days earlier when he suffered a medical emergency on a plane? (It landed, he was rushed to a hospital and received overdose-style treatment.)
“There is some indication that his addiction went fairly far back, to the mid-1980s and into the late 1990s, but the evidence is ambiguous,” Hahn says. “It’s an incredibly murky picture. He was a very controlled and focused figure, he kept his cards close to the vest so that’s why we don’t know.”
What do investigators say? The Carver County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration have been investigating Prince’s death since it occurred but so far none have anything to report.
“The case remains open and is being actively investigated by our detectives and the DEA under the guidance of the U.S. Attorney,” says Jason Kamerud, chief sheriff’s deputy in Carver County. “At some point, all of the information obtained during the investigation will become public, but I have no idea when that might happen.”
Suspects? At one point, two doctors who treated or planned to treat Prince, Michael Schulenberg , a local specialist, and Howard Kornfeld, an opioid-addiction specialist from California whose son Andrew was among those who discovered Prince’s body, were questioned by investigators but they are no longer of interest, according to their lawyers.
“I do not expect criminal charges against Dr. Kornfeld or his son Andrew,” says their Minneapolis lawyer, William Mauzy.
“Dr. Schulenberg has not heard from investigators since he gave a voluntary statement to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office on April 21, 2016,” says his local lawyer, Amy Conners.
How much is Prince’s estate worth? One year later, we still don’t know if it’s $300 million, nowhere near that or way more. This despite the best efforts of two estate administrators, three entertainment industry consultants, dozens of lawyers and hundreds and hundreds of documents filed in the probate court of Carver County Judge Kevin Eide.
“We must respectfully decline the opportunity to comment, out of respect for those involved and in light of the confidential nature of estate settlement matters,” says Wayne Mielke, spokesman for Comerica Bank, the newly appointed estate administrator.
In a summary filed with the court in January, the estate had $25 million in real estate, about $110,000 in bank accounts, and 67gold bars worth more than $800,000. But the valuation of Prince’s musical catalog, both released and unreleased, remains pending.
Who are his heirs? Almost certainly it will be his six siblings, led by full sibling Tyka Nelson and five half-siblings. Numerous other claimants have come forward but so far none has been able to establish a DNA or familial link to Prince acceptable under Minnesota parentage law. Judge Eide has indicated he intends to officially certify the heirs at a hearing in May but is awaiting the outcome of appeals to a higher court by some claimants.
What has happened to the unreleased “music in the vault”? It isn’t a myth, it’s real, says lawyer Wheaton and biographer Hahn. ”There’s a ton of stuff and we know that because just about everyone who worked at Paisley Park and in a position to know has seen it,” says Hahn. “There are numerous (songs) no one has ever heard. Even in the 1980s, there was tremendously more in the vault than what was circulating in bootlegs.”
So far few details have been released about a deal Universal Music Group struck (worth $36 million, according to Wheaton) to become the worldwide publishing administrator for Prince’s music, including “exclusive licensing rights to Prince’s highly anticipated trove of unreleased works,” according to Universal, which did not return a message from USA TODAY.
On Wednesday evening, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Rogue Music Alliance from releasing Deliverance, a six-song EP, Friday. Lawyers for the estate and Paisley Park Enterprises argued that sound engineer George Ian Boxill, who finished producing the tracks, did not have the right to release them because he signed an agreement in 2004 stipulating that all of the recordings, valued at $75,000, would remain the sole and exclusive property of Prince. The judge also ordered that Boxill return all the recordings to the singer’s estate.
The title track Deliverance, which had been made available for sale Tuesday on iTunes and Apple Music, has since been yanked, along with the pre-order option for the other five songs.
Meanwhile, Prince’s already released music, once limited by Prince to just Tidal, is now widely available on other streaming services such as Apple and Spotify.
Why is it taking so long to settle the estate? Because no one has found a will in which Prince declares his heirs and his wishes. Instead, scores of claimants have come forward claiming to be his previously unknown wife, child, sibling or even more distant relative. Some of these claimants are clearly delusional judging from documents filed with the court, but each one had lawyers and each claimant’s case had to be examined and DNA testing ordered if warranted.
Also, time was taken up dealing with other claimants who insisted Prince owed them money for past services. Patrick Cousins, a Florida lawyer who represented Prince in his second divorce in 2007, from Manuela Testolini, sought $600,000 from the estate he said he was owed. Judge Eide shut him out, ruling April 12 that Cousins waited too long to contest a decision by the estate administrator rejecting his claims, and anyway, Minnesota has a 6-year statute of limitations on such claims.
A will also would have been enormously helpful in saving on the whopping tax bill (40% for Uncle Sam, 16% for Minnesota) that the estate owes in the absence of a will. The estate has arranged to pay off those bills over 10 years based on fair-market estimates of the value of the estate, Wheaton says.
An intriguing note: Mayte Garcia, who was Prince’s first wife (1996-2000) and the mother of his son, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and died six days after birth, says she pressed him about a will when they were going to be parents.
“I know for a fact there was a will when I was pregnant and married because I asked him,” she told the Associated Press in an interview about her new memoir, The Most Beautiful Girl: My Life with Prince. “I never saw it, but I know that he did. I don’t know what happened to it.”
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