The paramedics who had met the jet on the tarmac in Moline Ill., recalled a surreal scene: At first, they believed the near-lifeless body being carried down the steps was that of an old woman, given the glittery gold clothing and shoes.
Up close, it was unmistakably Prince, who was barely breathing. Recognizing the symptoms, a paramedic later told investigators, he administered a shot of Narcan, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.
But a second shot of Narcan caused Prince to take a large gasp and come to. When asked how he felt, Prince did not respond, but Kirk Johnson, his trusted bodyman, spoke up: “Prince feels fine.”
Mr. Johnson later told investigators that it was that emergency landing, after a concert on April 14, 2016, that made him realize that Prince had a serious problem. In subsequent days, Mr. Johnson and other members of Prince’s tight inner circle would help arrange visits with addiction specialists. A week later, just as help was on his Paisley Park doorstep, Prince was dead at 57.
On Thursday, the Minnesota authorities wrapped up their two-year investigation into the musician’s death, opting not to charge anyone criminally because they said they could not track his fatal dose — pills Prince probably thought were Vicodin, but which actually contained much-stronger fentanyl — to any individual.
But the hundreds of pages of investigative documents released by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office did pull back the curtain on Prince’s intense reliance on his intimate circle of friends and employees, as well as their desire to protect him, as demonstrated by Mr. Johnson’s behavior in Moline. In their limited statements to investigators, those closest to Prince in his final years said that the depths of his opioid addiction had been largely concealed from them until his final weeks when they rushed to save him.
“How did he hide this so well?” Mr. Johnson said to investigators, repeatedly mentioning Prince’s obsession with privacy.
Those who had been close to Prince in earlier days told investigators a different story. An ex-wife, a former business manager, a past tour manager and Sheila E., a longtime musical collaborator, each told police that Prince had used prescription painkillers for many years, both discreetly and with a sense of shame. They said Prince had relied on a small network of people to obtain medication while maintaining his privacy.
This seeming contradiction — with some of Prince’s associates saying they were aware of his long struggle with pain medication, but others saying they had no idea until the very end — ultimately frustrated investigators.
“There is no doubt that the actions of individuals closely associated with Prince will be questioned, criticized and judged in the days and weeks to come,” the Carver County attorney, Mark Metz, said in his announcement that there would be no charges. Mr. Metz noted that “because Prince was an intensely private person, he was certainly assisted and enabled by others to obtain” the pills he came to rely on.
But the investigators could not make a case against anyone for supplying the fatal drugs. “Suspicions and innuendo are categorically insufficient to support any criminal charges,” Mr. Metz said.
Despite an often blurry picture of the singer’s relationship to drugs, Prince’s associates appeared to agree that his pain stemmed from what he loved most: performing. After decades of onstage acrobatics, often in heels, Prince was known to suffer from hip pain and was said to have undergone surgery. The musician also complained sometimes of numbness in his arms and hands, possibly from…
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