Prince Died of an Overdose -- but That Doesn't Make His Legacy Any Less Brilliant

princeFor weeks, the world has wondered about the cause of Prince's April 21 death, and now we have our official answer: According to the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office, the 57-year-old icon died of an accidental overdose of the painkiller Fentanyl (which is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin). This new information doesn't come as a huge surprise, but many fans are struggling with shock over the fact that Prince was apparently an addict. But why should that really matter?

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From the first reports of Prince overdosing on a plane shortly before his death and receiving a shot of Narcan (used to offset opioid overdoses), the mass denial began: "Prince doesn't do drugs! He's vegan!" "Prince isn't a junkie, he just has the flu!" But personally, my reaction has been the opposite: "Why NOT Prince?"

Okay, it's true that we haven't typically associated Prince with substance abuse. We never heard stories about Prince nodding off backstage or destroying a hotel room in a drunken rage. But just because his addiction didn't fall into the category of typical rock star excess doesn't mean it was any less real, or any less tragic and painful. Prince sought painkillers because clearly, Prince was in pain: physical pain, from years of pushing himself too hard on stage, but also most likely emotional pain, which is the case with the vast majority of addicts. And I understand that fans don't want to face that sad reality.

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What I don't understand is why other fans seem to be "disappointed" by Prince's overdose. Does the fact that he was an addict take away somehow from his enormous talent or legacy? Does anyone really need to reminded of how many creative geniuses have struggled with substance abuse issues? People seem to think that Prince was somehow above addiction, when that's not true for anyone -- no matter how brilliant or famous or beloved they are. This general unwillingness to reconcile fans' idealized notions of Prince with the truth of his existence seems to me like proof of the stigma surrounding addiction in our society. Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of, no more than any other disease -- but when we're so dead set against accepting that, how else are addicts supposed to feel but ashamed?

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Prince's death was tragic. End of story. It would have been tragic no matter what the cause. Is it especially sad to know that someone who brought so many people so much joy was in so much pain before he died? Absolutely. It's heartbreaking. But it was in no way Prince's fault, and it in no way means he was weak or anything less than the superstar we believed him to be.

Nothing will bring Prince back. But if we can use his loss as an opportunity to spread awareness about addiction, maybe more people who are struggling will come forward and seek help. If there's one thing to be learned from Prince's death, it's that even the people you least expect are vulnerable to this disease. And they all deserve compassion.

 

Image via Splash News

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