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One year later, Prince’s addiction, death might be as big a legacy as his life

A fan touches the Prince star on the exterior of the building at First Avenue to remember him on the first anniversary of his death, Friday, April 21, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

It was exactly one year ago Friday that Prince was found unresponsive in an elevator in his Paisley Park estate and died of a rock and roll cliché – a drug overdose.

Rock critic Alan Light, who wrote “Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain,” bristled when I used the term cliché in relation to Prince’s addiction and overdose because they really weren’t typical for a rock star.

Prince Rogers Nelson shunned recreational drug use and didn’t allow it at his studio. Yet, he still ended up a drug addict. Prince got hooked, not because he was looking for a good time, but because he was dealing with pain from his acrobatic antics on-stage.

I think many people who are Prince fans would like everybody to remember that Prince wasn’t just another pill-popping pop star. It’s a way to continue to put him on a pedestal after his death and say, “He was better than that!”

But I think the way he died and the why of his addiction actually puts the quasi-rock god in much more human terms and makes him more relatable.

That’s a good thing.

Because now another one of his legacies — besides the amazing writing and performing — can be one that we can all learn from: If a guy who tried to avoid all of the ridiculous partying that goes on in the rock world could still end up an addict, a dead addict, there are many more folks among us who are susceptible to addiction than we may have thought.

I know a little something about this thing called addiction. I’m a recovering alcoholic. Through my journey, I have met plenty of people who ended up in recovery because of an attempt to manage their pain – their physical pain – and it led to them becoming addicts.

Being an incredibly private person, Prince may have resisted the idea that he needed outside help in order to conquer his addiction.

He may not have even thought he was an addict. After all, his addiction didn’t have its roots in an immature desire to continually look for the next party.

Another may have been because he was at the top of a multimillion-dollar empire. It’s easy to see why he might think he was above addiction and, when you can fill stadiums full of adoring fans, it can also feel like your world will crumble if you admit that you’re not indestructible.

But many regular people facing addiction to prescription painkillers suffer from the same problem: The admitting-they-have-a-problem problem.

It’s too embarrassing, or ego-bruising or whatever to say the words, “I need help” and they hold onto their pride until it kills them.

That’s why it’s so important to point out that addiction is not a moral failing, it’s a disease. In the same way that I would not try to conquer cancer or diabetes on my own, I sought help for my addiction. Admitting that I was powerless over it was the best thing I ever did for myself.

I wish Prince had done the same. But because he didn’t, the next best thing I can hope for is that his death will save a couple of lives.

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