(RNS) Rock ‘n’ roll, pop, soul, R&B icon Prince has died at age 57. His life and career were often shrouded in mystery; he used a symbol instead of a name to become “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” and he was cagey about his sexuality. But he was clearly and undoubtedly a man of faith. Here are five faith facts about Prince Rogers Nelson, musician, who died April 21.
1. He grew up a Seventh-day Adventist.
When he was a child, he often suffered epileptic seizures. One day he told his mother he wasn’t going to have them anymore. She asked why, and he responded, “Because an angel told me so.”
2. As an adult, he became a Jehovah’s Witness.
In 2001, after two years of consideration, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness. In an interview with The New Yorker, he said: “I don’t see it really as a conversion. More, you know, it’s a realization. It’s like Morpheus and Neo in ‘The Matrix.’”
3. Prince proselytized door-to-door for the Witnesses.
In 2003, a Minneapolis newspaper carried a story about a couple who answered their door to find Prince offering a copy of The Watchtower, the Witness magazine.
“Though they were Orthodox Jews, and it was Yom Kippur, they were also Prince fans,” Sean O’Hagan of The Observer wrote of the incident. “They welcomed him into the house where, with his friend Larry Graham, erstwhile member of Sly & the Family Stone, one of Prince’s core influences, he spread the word of Jehovah for 20 minutes before moving on to the next house.”
4. Prince’s songs were sometimes mini-sermons.
In 2013, the writer Touré wrote “I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon.” In it, he explored the Christianity he found at the root of much of Prince’s music.
“The amount of discussion of sex is this much,” Touré said during an interview with The Observer, holding his hands a foot apart, “and the amount of discussion of religion and spirituality and God and Jesus is this much” — doubling the space between his hands.
In the book, Prince’s guitarist Dez Dickerson describes Prince as a “guy who really is thoughtful and introspective and holds religious considerations close to his heart and ponders those questions sincerely and genuinely and deeply.”
5. An original in music, Prince was also an original in his religious thinking.
In an undated interview with V Magazine’s Vanessa Grigoriadis, Prince discussed — reluctantly — the relationship between his sometimes racy lyrics and his faith: “We are sensual beings, the way God created us, when you take the shame and taboo away from it,” he said, and then described religion as “like a force, an electro-magnetic one or like gravity, that puts things in motion.”
The things Prince put in motion — in music and beyond — will last long after his death.