How Prince stayed so private in the age of celebrity

Updated 9:47 AM EDT, Sun April 24, 2016

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Prince carefully built his inner circle

"His business was his business," friend says

CNN —  

There was no slipping unnoticed into a room when Prince was around.

“He would ask me ‘Who is that? Who just walked in the room,’” recalled Kim Berry, Prince’s hairstylist and friend for over 20 years. “He was watching at all times.”

Prince Rogers Nelson was a man who couldn’t afford not to be.

In an age where many celebrities don’t want to do anything away from the public eye, Prince avoided the spotlight. Instead, he wanted it to shine on his art.

Which is why it’s no surprise that just as quietly, his remains were cremated and a private ceremony held following his death at the age of 57.

Prince’s death: What we know

He was a man who, despite his showmanship, shied away from fanfare. Having crafted a musical empire, taken on his industry to fight for the rights of artists and survived with a career artists half his age would have envied, Prince was careful and built his inner circle almost as meticulously as he did his compositions.

His conversion

Friends paint a portrait of a funny, giving, and spiritual man who quietly gave whenever and wherever he could to help others and who was deeply protective of his privacy. He was the antithesis to the current culture of reality and social media stars who stay bathed in the glow of their followers.

Not that Prince was against being famous.

More that to him, fame was a tool to get his art better seen by the masses. Before today’s artists were offering free downloads of music, Prince was giving away CDs at concerts and sharing his music in any way he could.

What we do know is that transformed from a man whose sexual lyrics caused him to be condemned by the more conservative to a devout Jehovah Witness who would not allow swearing in his presence.

Toure, who penned the book “I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon,” told WBUR that Prince appealed to our desire to spiritually connect.

“And there were a lot of people following, worshiping celebrity at another level,” Toure said. “And when you have Prince as this massive celebrity who’s sort of feeding your sexual needs, and also giving you this sort of spiritual, religious thing, it’s a very seductive cocktail.”

Despite his earlier reputation as a lover with high profile relationships including some of his protegees, Prince slowed his roll in recent years where the ladies were concerned. In 2014, he told Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt that he was celibate.

The women Prince loved

“Libido is energy,” Prince said. “I go back and forth. It’s like fasting: it’s a practice and you get better at it over time, you know, but no one is perfect …”

It was all a part of how he insulated himself and his life.

His benevolence

His family was his band and his crew, and he was deeply devoted to that family. They were the ones who knew of his many philanthropic efforts that were done with such little fanfare. There are homeless people who have no idea that coats they are wearing came from the singer and his Love 4 One Another Foundation.

Berry knows first hand about his largess.

When her friend’s son died, she said, the woman had no insurance and Prince stepped up to bury the boy. He always wanted to bless others, even as he was scrupulous about who he allowed into his inner circle.

“To be that big in the music industry you have to be guarded,” Berry said. “So many people were takers. Everybody was trying to see what they could get from him, how they could steal from him, how they could con him into doing something he would regret later. So he was very closed.”

That meant using fake names when he traveled, throwing potential groupies off by putting the band and crew up at a different hotel so fans thought Prince was also there. And always engaging in activities that his group could enjoy together like going to the movies, traveling the world or even just playing basketball on his court at Paisley Park.

Prince was loyal to those who he allowed in and they returned that loyalty.