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11 Surprising Facts About Prince

Erica Palan
Prince
Prince / Kristian Dowling/GettyImages
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Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 7, 1958. In addition to being a musical pioneer, he dabbled in filmmaking, most successfully with 1984's Purple Rain. While most people know about the singer’s famous name change, here are 10 things you might not have known about the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

1. Prince's real name was Prince.

Prince performs in 1985 in Oakland California
Prince performs in 1985 in Oakland, California. / mark downey/GettyImages

Born to two musical parents, Prince Rogers Nelson was named after his father's jazz combo.

2. He was a Jehovah's Witness.

Prince, who was baptized in 2001, was a devout Jehovah's Witness who even went door-to-door. In October 2003, a woman in Eden Prairie, Minnesota opened her door to discover the famously shy artist and his bassist, former Sly and the Family Stone member Larry Graham, standing in front of her home. "My first thought is ‘Cool, cool, cool. He wants to use my house for a set. I’m glad! Demolish the whole thing! Start over!,'" the woman told The Star Tribune. "Then they start in on this Jehovah’s Witnesses stuff. I said, ‘You know what? You’ve walked into a Jewish household, and this is not something I’m interested in.’ He says, 'Can I just finish?' Then the other guy, Larry Graham, gets out his little Bible and starts reading scriptures about being Jewish and the land of Israel."

3. Prince wrote a lot of hit songs for other artists.

In addition to penning several hundred songs for himself, Prince also composed music for other artists, including "Manic Monday" for the Bangles, "I Feel For You" for Chaka Khan, and "Nothing Compares 2 U" for Sinéad O'Connor.

4. Prince's symbol actually had a name.

Even though the whole world referred to him as either "The Artist" or "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince," that weird symbol Prince used was actually known as "Love Symbol #2." It was copyrighted in 1997, but when Prince's contract with Warner Bros. expired at midnight on December 31, 1999, he announced that he was reclaiming his given name.

5. In 2017, Pantone gave the artist his very own color purple.

Prince attends the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2004.
Prince attends the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2004. / KMazur/GettyImages

A little over a year after Prince's death, global color authority Pantone created a royal shade of purple in honor of him, in conjunction with the late singer's estate. Appropriately, it is known as Love Symbol #2. The color was inspired by a Yamaha piano the musician was planning to take on tour with him. “The color purple was synonymous with who Prince was and will always be," Troy Carter, an advisor to Prince's estate, said. "This is an incredible way for his legacy to live on forever."

6. Prince was sued by his sister.

In 1987, Prince's half-sister, Lorna Nelson, sued him, claiming that she had written the lyrics to "U Got the Look," a song from "Sign '☮' the Times" that features pop artist Sheena Easton. In 1989, the court sided with Prince.

7. He ticked off a vice president's wife.

In 1984, Tipper Gore (then-wife of Al Gore) purchased the Purple Rain soundtrack for her then-11-year-old daughter—and was horrified. Tipper became enraged over the explicit lyrics of "Darling Nikki," a song that references masturbation and other graphic sex acts. Gore felt that there should be some sort of warning on the label and in 1985 formed the Parents Music Resource Center, which pressured the recording industry to adopt a ratings system similar to the one employed in Hollywood. To Prince's credit, he didn't oppose the label system and became one of the first artists to release a "clean" version of explicit albums.

8. He took a promotional tip from Willy Wonka.

In 2006, Universal hid 14 purple tickets—seven in the U.S. and seven internationally—inside Prince's album, 3121. Fans who found a purple ticket were invited to attend a private performance at Prince's Los Angeles home.

9. During one week in 1984, Prince simultaneously held the number one spots for film, single, and album.

Prince
David Tan/Shinko Music/GettyImages

During the week of July 27, 1984, Prince's film Purple Rain was the biggest hit at the box office. That same week, the film's soundtrack was the best-selling album and "When Doves Cry," a tune from the soundtrack, was holding the top spot for singles.

10. He made history on SNL—though not necessarily in a good way.

During Prince's first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he performed the song "Partyup" and sang the lyric, "Fightin' war is a such a f***ing bore." It went unnoticed at the time, but in the closing segment, Charles Rocket clearly said, "I'd like to know who the f*** did it." This was the only episode of SNL where the f-bomb was dropped twice.

11. He scrapped an album release after having "a spiritual epiphany."

Prince performs in 2011.
Prince performs in 2011. / Kevin Mazur/GettyImages

In 1987, Prince was due to release "The Black Album." However, just days before it was scheduled to drop, Prince called it off. The musician claimed to have reached this decision following "a spiritual epiphany." Some reports say that it was actually an early experience with drug ecstasy, while others suggested The Artist just knew it would flop.

A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2022.

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