Coverage From Prince’s Death – His Battle With Chronic Pain

//Coverage From Prince’s Death – His Battle With Chronic Pain

Coverage From Prince’s Death – His Battle With Chronic Pain

The April 21st death of Prince Rogers Nelson, the revered music icon more popularly known as Prince, sent shockwaves across the world. His contribution to music spanned five decades and inspired generations of musicians. Comfortable playing guitar, keyboard, and drums, Prince was also a prolific songwriter, writing not only for himself but also for others, with smash hits penned for the likes of Stevie Nicks, Sinead O’Conner, Chaka Khan, Alicia Keys, Sheila E, and The Bangles. Prince won seven Grammy awards and an Academy Award for the soundtrack to the movie Purple Rain, a semi-autobiographical tale in which he starred. With a genre-bending style that touched on rock, hip hop, funk, pop, soul, and R&B, it is safe to say that Prince was one of the most innovative musicians of the 20th and 21st century.

Prince and his battle with chronic pain

As the world reeled from the shock of Prince’s sudden passing, reports began to filter across the news media. Rumors flew about the cause of death, including most prominently the idea that Prince died of a drug overdose. While this headline in and of itself is sensational, the quiet tragedy behind it is not: chronic pain is a criminally misunderstood condition that millions of people suffer from every day. Prince’s death may serve to shed light on chronic pain, perhaps creating a new dialogue and better understanding and treatments.

Long-time friends and associates of Prince’s report that he was always in pain. Sheila E., a close friend and fellow performer, watched him deal with the consequences of his on-stage performances, saying:

“He was in pain all the time, but he was a performer…I mean, you think about all the years he was jumping off those risers. They were not low — they were very, very high — and to jump off that … First of all, the Purple Rain tour and the way that they were stacked, he had those heels on. We did a year of touring [and] for him to jump off of that — just an entire year would have messed up his knees.”

Hip replacement surgery in 2010 left Prince with a prescription for pain medication but no less of a desire to perform and give every show his all. This drive to keep going, and Prince’s tireless work ethic, made treating his chronic pain holistically nearly impossible.

In the wake of Prince’s death, one thing has become clear: the perception of an addict as a drug-addled street person is a myth. Addiction in the U.S. has a new face, and it’s time to deal with the problem.

Prince’s use of prescription pain medication to manage his chronic pain is not uncommon for those suffering from chronic pain, but it may not be the best way to go. In the days before his death, Prince reached out to Dr. Harvey Kornfeld, an addiction and pain specialist who will be speaking at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society. Dr. Kornfeld was not able to meet with the singer but sent his son, who was among the people who found Prince unresponsive.

Dr. Kornfeld’s group, Recovery Without Walls (RWW), is working to dispel the myths of opiates as a catch-all treatment for chronic pain. A post on the Recovery Without Walls Facebook page highlights the high number of people who depend on opiates while also acknowledging that a number of people are underdiagnosed and undertreated for chronic pain. Dr. Kornfeld is an advocate of using buprenorphine to help opiate dependent people to safely detox. Recovery Without Walls also believes that it’s about more than just getting the drugs out of a person’s system, noting:

“Dr. Kornfeld is a nationally recognized expert in the use of buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone or Subutex), a medication used for opiate detoxification, maintenance therapy, and pain management. When acute detoxification treatment is required, we arrange 24-hour nursing care, supervised by Dr. Kornfeld. Treating addiction and pain with medication is only one component of an integrated program, which can also consist of psychotherapy and lifestyle changes.”

The public face of pain

The idea that a person who experiences chronic pain needs proper diagnosis, correct and holistic treatment, and understanding and support for daily life is the basis for successfully managing any chronic condition. When it comes to chronic pain, another factor comes into play, a factor which may have contributed to the amount of pain Prince experienced: social stigma.

Upon hearing the news that opiates were found on his body, Prince was immediately lumped into the category of “addict.” In truth, many people who experience chronic pain have, at one point or another, utilized opiates for relief. The brain, the organ that feels pain, very quickly adapts to opiates, relieving the pain. In this case, the brain is dependent on opiates in the same manner as the Type 1 diabetic is dependent on insulin. Somehow, because chronic pain is less easily measured (as compared to a blood test for diabetes), pain patients often have to prove they aren’t faking it or “doctor shopping.” They may be interrogated in emergency rooms or denied by their insurance companies.

The end result of the social stigma is that seeking help for pain becomes a challenge, especially for minority men. When Prince was finally able to reach out, it was too late. As one writer pointed out, it wasn’t pain pills that killed Prince. It was chronic pain.

Instead of demonizing Prince as an addict, now is the time to de-stigmatize the conversation about chronic pain. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic pain, take the time to put a face to the pain. Share your story, and come out of the dark. The more we share about pain, the more people will understand.

It’s time to change the way we look at people in pain.


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By | 2017-01-30T13:18:24-07:00 May 15th, 2016|Tags: , |13 Comments

About the Author:

Pain Doctor
Pain Doctor was created with one mission in mind: help and educate people about their pain conditions, treatment options and find a doctor who can help end their pain issues.


  1. Avatar
    Bob Schubring May 16, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    It is significant that the Endorphins, which the body secretes during exercise, bind to precisely the same receptors as do the opioid drugs. Ever have a relative spend a week in a hospital? Did you notice on about Day 3, the laid-up person got extremely cranky and irritable? That’s because the person was suffering Endorphin Withdrawal. Endorphin withdrawal is a natural consequence of laying in bed for three days. We all are endorphin-dependent.

    That’s the starting point, to understand the role of opioids in treating chronic pain. If you’re in chronic pain, your body can’t make enough endorphin to make you feel normal. So your doctor gives you an endorphin-like substance that came from a poppy plant, to adjust the level and make you feel more nearly normal.

    Many patients resume normal activities once their pain is controlled, and a funny thing happens. Movement causes us to make more endorphin. Our doctors adjust our opioid dose downward because we complain that the drug is making us too sleepy.

    The first step in getting rid of Pain Stigma, is to understand that these are normal processes that happen in every person who ever lived.

    The second step, which seems to be what killed Prince Rogers Nelson, is recognizing that your body requires time to heal. If it hurts too much to move, you have to put less weight on the injured joint when moving it. Some injuries can’t heal at all with movement…a fractured bone has to be immobilized several weeks while the bone heals. Then the joints have to be re-mobilized. Which is painful, because crystals grow in the joints when they’re not moving. My own experience, when I broke my left wrist, was that my first therapy session was almost as painful as the break itself. Moving a frozen joint, just plain hurts.

    Someone with bad arthritic pain in joints, experiences that same awful pain every time arthritis flares up. One useful trick for limiting the pain, is to exercise in a swimming pool. Floating most of your weight in the pool water, enables you to work your joints and muscles to gain strength, without putting the full crushing load of your normal weight, on the injury.

    In Prince’s case, nobody worked with him on keeping his skeleton in good working order. All that pain was a signal from his bones, that they weren’t liking their job one bit.

    Could he have had an orthotic or prosethetic device built, to shift some of his weight off his aching joints? Probably. Did it occur to any of his handlers, to study that possibility? Probably not.

    Would his fans have booed him for taking time off from performing, to get his pain under control? We don’t know. Personally, anyone who boos a person in pain, isn’t someone I care to know.

    Meanwhile, all his fans now mourn him.

    That’s the power of pain stigma. We must learn to give pain a voice.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 17, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Thank you for this amazing comment Bob. This line especially resonated with us: “Personally, anyone who boos a person in pain, isn’t someone I care to know.” Thank you for your remarks on Prince’s passing and we hope you’ve found some relief from your pain.

  2. Avatar
    Johnna Stahl May 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    We’ll never know what really happened to Prince, even with a toxicology report. And while I didn’t envy him in life, I sure do envy his total relief from pain. Prince, finally at peace, while his music lives on.

    While Prince suffered from physical pain, I’d just like to point out that stars like Whitney Houston and Philip Seymour Hoffman were probably in just as much pain as Prince. Let’s hope Prince isn’t also known from now on as an emotionally unstable drug addict, instead of the musical genius and intractable pain patient that he was.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 24, 2016 at 10:06 am

      We absolutely agree Johnna. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Avatar
    Donna M Davis May 21, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I want to say first I can relate to why Prince was seeking not only medication for his chronic pain but in addition that why He was seeking help for the dependence of that same pain medication.
    I myself have been under a Pain Management Doctor’s care since 2001.
    This was when after a lifetime of having numerous medical tests along with numerous medical Doctors/Professionals attempt to properly diagnose and then treat that which just never could be acutely treated medical problem.
    My story began when I was a child and then throughout my adult lifetime I have went to one Doctor after another trying to not only get a definite and correct diagnosis but also to get a treatment that would enable my being able to work and take care of my children and be a wife to my husband. But, it took me until 2001 when I finally sought the help of my 1st Spine and Pain Mgmt Dr in Houston, Tx by the name of Dr Kenneth M Alo ( and I included his name for anyone lost w/o help and because as far as I am concerned, He is THE Absolute Best!! At diagnosing someone such as myself and furthermore being the Top Medically Trained in his field )
    In the early stages of being treated I soon learned I had 4 levels of my cervical spine that very severely herniated and that my offical diagnosis was DDD ( Degenerative Disk Disease ) and that it is a progressive disease that can not be cured but that to treat me would involve treating my pain symptoms as each developed.
    Over the years since I developed Fibromyalgia and anyone now who have heard of this disease knows that alone it in of itself is a very painful disease.
    And, I have had three times where due to my chronic pain has caused me to be rushed to the hospital for near over dosing.
    Each incident left those working in the hospital to question my mental stability because still to this date even those who are working in the medical community to not understand Chronic Pain and the subsequent Cause of Such to immediately jump to conclusion of someone trying to commit suicide.
    I have been wrongly accused of this now on 3 separate occasions and it is such a difficult thing to try and explain and I have never perposely tried to take my own life, its always been about trying to desperately find relief from the pain.
    And, if Our Federal Government could take one day in my life and try to live and function with this type of non stop pain, I feel they would want to legalize Pot.
    Just imagine the lives it could not only improve but more over the lives it would save.
    But, its also the Drug Companies that want to keep things as they are because of the excessive profits made from people such as myself.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 24, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here Donna. Chronic pain is a terrible thing to endure.

  4. Avatar
    Reva Lund May 24, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    I truly feel terrible for Prince and it was a sad day when he died. However his privacy was detrimental to him and he could have done much to shine the light on chronic pain. I don’t understand though going to his Pain Management Doctor and being medicated enough to continue to be able to perform. I am on pain meds and do biofeedback, I use essential oils and am walking short distances but I am no where pain free enough that I could resume my former life. I try, I really do.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 31, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Reva — Every chronic pain patient goes through a different journey, unfortunately. We’re glad that you’re trying some different methods of finding relief, and hope you find some more ways to live a more pain free life. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  5. Avatar
    Liz Agafonoff June 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you for this article. Chronic pain is stigmatized and your article explains this well. Thanks for continuing this discussion.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 7, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Thanks for your kind words Liz!

  6. Avatar
    No one in particular June 30, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Hearing about Prince’s chronic pain is heartbreaking. Reflecting on his brilliant work, & the public face of his creative genius, while enduring unspeakable pain for decades, leaves me in awe of his accomplishments, and sadness
    for what he endured.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 30, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Agreed. Thanks for sharing your comment here.

  7. Avatar
    Hiuyre September 27, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Reading this Blog in Fall 2018. Am now age 65. I suffered from severe head pain for 20 years (13-33) and took Darvon. Had another 10 year spell (35-45). Now pain free for 20 years. Looking back I am amazed that I was able to keep going, work, raise a family and complete my graduate studies. Rest in Paradise Prince.

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