The Beautiful Ones: Before His Tragic Death, Prince Began a Memoir Detailing How He Became...Prince

Prince is shown during his performance onstage during the telecast of the Grammy Awards, Feb. 27, 1985, in Los Angeles.
Photo: AP

Prince Rogers Nelson, a man of unmatched mystery, planned to give us a sneak peek into his surreal life.

Three months prior to his tragic death in 2016, the then 57-year-old artist was starting his magnum opus, a memoir detailing just how he became the icon fans have come to love and admire. The man who helped bring his memoir, The Beautiful Ones, to life is editor Dan Piepenbring, who Prince often referred to as “my brother Dan.”

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From the book’s press release:

The Beautiful Ones is the story of how Prince became Prince—a first-person account of a kid absorbing the world around him and then creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and fame that would come to define him. The book is told in four parts. The first is the memoir Prince was writing before his tragic death, pages that bring us into his childhood world through his own lyrical prose. The second part takes us through Prince’s early years as a musician, before his first album was released, via an evocative scrapbook of writing and photos. The third section shows us Prince’s evolution through candid images that go up to the cusp of his greatest achievement, which we see in the book’s fourth section: his original handwritten treatment for Purple Rain—the final stage in Prince’s self-creation, where he reinvents the autobiography of the first three parts as a new heroic journey.

According to the Guardian, Piepenbring (who was an editor at Paris Review at the time) wrote an impassioned letter to Prince after hearing the artist was searching for a co-writer for his memoir. Piepenbring described his whirlwind relationship with The Purple One as a “bizarre, three-month detour in my life, a strange and voluptuous period. And so surreal.”

With Prince’s death, it seemed the book was a done deal, especially considering that Prince didn’t leave a will and the legal complications that arose because of that fact.

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“After he died, I was a mess,” Piepenbring noted. “I was cranky, depressed. And I also felt a fool for feeling depressed; I didn’t really even know this guy that well. But often I felt hurt and deprived and confused and angry at myself. And sometimes even at him.”

However, Piepenbring decided to resurrect the memoir, gaining access to the artist’s vaults in Paisley Park. There he found a treasure trove of handwritten lyrics, artifacts from his father’s jazz band, unseen photographs and more.

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The Guardian adds:

The book contains cartoons by Prince (he called them “Prince’s Funnies”), details of his first kiss, memories of watching R-rated movies at the local drive-in, and disses of the media conglomerates who control contemporary US music (“We need to tell them that they keep trying to ram Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran down our throats and we don’t like it no matter how many times they play it”). Of his mother, he recalls, “She would spend up what little $ the family had 4 survival on partying with her friends, then trespass in2 my bedroom, ‘borrow’ my personal $ that N’d gotten from babysitting local kids, & then chastise me 4 even questioning her regarding the broken promise she made 2 pay me back.”

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If you’re into audiobooks, The Beautiful Ones is narrated by Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding and actress Adepero Oduye (Pariah, When They See Us). Piepenbring lent his voice for the book’s introduction.

“From my first encounter with Prince, I knew he was a master storyteller,” Piepenbring wrote. “To help him tell his stories in a new mode would be a once-in-a-lifetime honor.”

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The Beautiful Ones is on sale now.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.