There’s little doubt that Prince was a legend much larger than his 5’2″ frame, but his status as a rock god oftentimes leads us to overlook an essential aspect of the Purple One: He was also a human. Nobody knew this better than Prince’s closest friends, a group that included, at various points over the years, Carmen Electra, Van Jones, the keyboardist Morris Hayes, and many others.
Chris Heath of GQ spent the months following Prince’s death in April interviewing these friends and asking what they remember most about the enigmatic musician. He has collected those memories in a fantastic article that sheds a bold, purple light on just how funny and strange Prince really was.
Some of the best stories come from Hayes, who was around Prince often and did a lot of ordinary things with him. He recounts one trip to a hardware store that nearly ended in disaster:
I remember taking him to the hardware store in my camping van. He wanted to go buy a lock. And we go to Ace Hardware—it’s snowing and freezing—and I say, “Okay, Prince, you stay in the car.” So I’m picking stuff up in the aisles, I look over, he just cruises by in a turtleneck sweater and his fuzzy boots, and people are looking like, “Oh my God, Prince is in the hardware store!” He comes and ﬁnds me and he’s got a handful of crap—like, “Can we buy this?” I’m, “What did you do with the car?” He says, “It’s out there—it’s just running.” I said, “Prince, you can’t leave the car running—somebody could just steal the car.” He said, “This is Chanhassen—nobody’s gonna steal the car.” So we get out to the car and sure enough it’s out there, just running, smoke coming out of the tailpipe. And he’s like, “I told you.”
Hayes and others also confirm that Prince always wore his finest concert threads and probably didn’t own a single item of clothing with pockets. Sometimes this inadvertently led to one of his trademark acts of generosity:
We have a thing called Caribou Coffee in Minnesota, which is like Starbucks. He’d go over there, and he didn’t have any pockets. He didn’t have a wallet or any credit cards. He just had cash he’d carry in his hand—like, a $100 bill. And whoever took his order, they’d have a good day, ’cause he’d buy his coffee drink and then just leave the whole hundred. He doesn’t wait for any change because he doesn’t have anywhere to put it.
Another of Prince’s close friends, the political activist Van Jones, remembers talking to him about politics and how, exactly, the White House worked. Some of his questions reveal just how strange of a place Prince’s mind must have been:
He asked very detailed kind of foreign-policy questions. And then he’d ask, “Why doesn’t Obama just outlaw birthdays?” [laughs] I’m, like, “What?” He said, “I was hoping that Obama, as soon as he was elected, would get up and announce there’d be no more Christmas presents and no more birthdays—we’ve got too much to do.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know if that would go over too well.”
In several different conversations, Prince’s friends brought up the fact that he hated swearing and even had a swear bucket to prevent the bad language from getting out of hand. As singer Chaka Khan remembers:
He had a big plastic water bottle, and every time someone cursed they had to put a dollar in the bottle. And I said, “I’ll be fucked if I’m gonna put any money in your bottle in your studio ’cause I’m cussing.” I didn’t say a cussword while I said it. What could he say? Nothing. He used to like it when I’d go off on one.
Other friends remember Prince for his insane business ideas (“He wanted to sell a shirt for $1,000 that would get you into Paisley Park for free for life,” blogger Jeremiah Freed, a.k.a. Dr. Funkenberry, recalls) and his madcap creative process. Gilbert Davison, who worked with Prince from 1984 to 1993, claims that he wrote pretty much the entirety of Sign O’ the Times on a three-and-a-half-hour plane ride from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
For more poignant, hilarious, and frankly unbelievable stories about Prince, head over to GQ and read the full article.