Prince, His Passing and Playing It Forward
On April 21, 2016, the world was stunned to learn of the untimely passing of iconic musician Prince.
Media outlets scrambled for more information. Social media was awash in purple and Prince lyrics and memes as people tried to wrap their heads around the news of the 57-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson’s death. Celebrities weighed in with condolences, and many shared stories as to how the icon had influenced their careers. This was soon to be followed with tributes and the covers of publications all around the world, including Rolling Stone, Billboard, People, The New Yorker, and so many more.
What happened next was something that seems to be a common phenomenon after losing a beloved celebrity: explosive sales of the artist’s works.
Downloads of Prince’s music skyrocketed to the tops of iTunes’ and Amazon’s charts within hours of the news of his death. The same was true following the losses of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. The posthumous album sales of legends James Brown, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Tupac Shakur were also massive. And, if the rumors are true, in the future, we may be treated to more of Prince’s as yet unreleased work from the volumes of music stored in his personal vault. Just the notion of such has enthralled eager fans.
In 2014, following the suicide of beloved actor/comedian Robin Williams, nostalgic fans turned to his movies for comfort, with such also topping movie rentals and sales.
Now consider the story of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest artists of all times. Between 1881 and 1890, Van Gogh reportedly painted almost 900 works of art. When he passed at age 37, he had sold only one, “The Red Vineyard,” for a paltry 400 francs (roughly $70 USD.) By contrast, in 2015, Van Gogh’s painting, “L’Allée des Alyscamps,”sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $66.3 million.
The quintessentially New Orleans “Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, was published posthumously, thanks largely to the persistence of his mother, Thelma, who found a carbon copy of the manuscript in 1969 following Toole’s suicide at the age of 31. With the encouragement of Loyola University New Orleans Professor Walker Percy, LSU Press published the book in 1980. In 1981, it received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is considered one of the most important works of modern literature of the Southern United States.
This massive show of support for creatives after their passing is a testimony as to the impact their works have had on our lives. We want to remember them in all their glory, to hold on to a piece of the gifts they have given us via their incredible talents. In some odd way, it is in those fragments of their work that we find a little comfort.
But the important question here is, why must we wait until their deaths to do so?
So here’s a thought for consideration: what if we honored the legacy of those who have passed by supporting the up and coming entertainers whose crafts have been influenced by these icons?
And what if we shared our newfound discoveries of such talents with others? Just imagine the impact that we could have on those still struggling to find their audiences, their collectors, or their readers.
In doing so, we could be paving the way for the next legend, the next great influence on future generations.
Consider it a sort of “Play It Forward,” if you will.
I’m thinking Prince would approve.