Prince was found dead at his suburban Minneapolis mansion early Thursday morning, the artist’s publicist confirmed to the AP.
The artist had been suffering from the flu, his people said, and during the past few weeks had to cancel several shows in his "Piano and Microphone" tour. His last performance was in Atlanta last Thursday night.
ABC News said the Carver County Sheriff's Department has now launched an investigation into the death at the Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
The singer-songwriter-producer wunderkind began his recording career in 1978 with the For You LP, and later came to international prominence with the 1982 release of the 1999 LP. The Purple Rain LP and motion picture cemented Prince's position in R&B history, and more generally, in pop culture. That record contained the number one hits "Purple Rain" and "Let's Go Crazy."
"In this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld," he sings in the latter hit. "In this life, you're on your own."
Some on Twitter are speculating today that Prince either predicted or planned his own death. Earlier this month he removed the tear from his eye in his long-used Twitter avatar.
In all, Prince released 39 albums over 35 years, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. He sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. As for awards, he won seven Grammies, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for "Purple Rain" (Best Original Song Score).
Later in his career Prince was among the first artists to protest the treatment of artists in the age of Internet music distribution. In 2010 he told the UK's Mirror that "the Internet is completely over."
He later told the Guardian: "What I meant was that the Internet was over for anyone who wants to get paid, and I was right about that," he says. "Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?"
The artist maintained a fierce independence throughout his his career, and often quarreled with record companies, namely Warner Brothers. He famously changed his name to the unpronounceable "love symbol" in 1993.
Prince's music entered the culture at a time when punk was blasting away the excesses of '70s rock. His sexually explicit brand of R&B broke through to popular appeal in the early '80s when techno-pop and new wave music were on the cutting edge. It was common for alternative music fans to see the Ramones and Prince in the same year.