(Final of Three Parts)
The early 90s saw Paisley Park running at full speed. Wardrobe design, hair and makeup, studio engineers — all were available at a moment’s notice to bring Prince’s creative visions to life. At night, Prince might play a set for an exclusive guest list who learned about the parties by word of mouth. Or, Prince might visit his nightclub, Glam Slam, which opened in Minneapolis in 1990.
As part of Prince’s circle of friends, Leisl AuVante was a regular fixture on the guest list and although she never had a membership at Glam Slam, when she arrived, she would be waved past the velvet ropes and into the VIP area.
“Sometimes Prince would play a set in a private room at Glam Slam. Or, he would sit and play guitar in the [Paisley Park] soundstage,” she says. “There were small groups of people hanging out, drinks were flowing, and it was all free.”
She was occasionally called upon by Prince to play a role in his professional life as well. In addition to her lead role in “Gangster Glam,” AuVante acted in “Gett Off (Houstyle)” and “Gett Off (Main Video)” as a featured extra.
“It was all such a crazy whirlwind, with a lot of late-night shoots,” recalls AuVante of the “Gett Off” videos. She recalls shooting for the “Gett Off (Houstyle)” video for ten straight hours on the soundstage at Paisley Park, and at 2:30 a.m., being told to stop and stay in place. Prince had ripped a hole in the seat of his pants and everyone had to stay on set and wait while the wardrobe department repaired it — no matter that it was the middle of the night.
“That was classic Prince,” AuVante says.
AuVante’s profile in Prince’s inner circle rose when she was given a role in an all-female band produced by Mark Brown. Thanks to her childhood piano lessons, AuVante became the keyboardist for a fledgling band called the Mercedes Girls, and she found herself spending hours rehearsing in the same warehouse space as Mazarati, the R&B band formed by Mark Brown and Prince. According to AuVante, the Mercedes Girls had promise but never managed to get off the ground, partly due to the emergence of a rival Minneapolis all-girl band also called — you guessed it — the Mercedes Girls.
Socially, these were happy years for AuVante. She became close friends with Ingrid Chavez, and the two have remained lifelong friends. She also got to know Carmen Electra.
“Carmen was a sweet, talented girl and she was a real person – she wasn’t contrived or thought she was `all that’,” AuVante recalls. Carmen was an exception to some of the other women in Prince’s circle, AuVante says.
“Physically, I fit the profile of the type of woman that Prince liked to date,” she says. “A lot of his potential or current girlfriends back then saw me as possible competition for his attention.”
AuVante also developed friendships with Tommy Barbarella, Morris Hayes, Tony Moseley, Damon Dickson, Hucky Austin and others. These were purely friendships and not dating relationships, she says, and years later, AuVante found out why.
“Someone told me that Prince had put the word out, saying: `I’m not dating Leisl, but I don’t want anyone in our circle dating her, either,'” she says.
Over the years, Prince and AuVante fell into a friendship characterized by witty banter and a very occasional spat that was quickly mended. Once, at the nightclub “Pacific Club” for a wrap party for Graffiti Bridge (AuVante had played a server in Morris Day’s club), Prince sought out AuVante and asked her to dance. Prince and Ingrid Chavez were dating at the time, but AuVante, who’d been busily flitting around the club and socializing with the cast and crew, readily agreed to dance with her friend.
Later that night, she was confronted outside the club by Chavez. Unbeknownst to AuVante, Prince had dismissed his own co-star from the wrap party after the two got into a dispute. (“He could be that way,” AuVante acknowledges. “If he got mad at you, security would remove you.”) This was Prince, the instigator, using AuVante to make Chavez jealous. Fortunately, Chavez and AuVante’s friendship was strong enough to withstand the affront, but the incident left AuVante fuming at Prince.
“He knew that if I would have known what was going on, I would not have been on the dance floor,” she says.
But one summer day, the winds of their relationship shifted. AuVante had been boating on Lake Minnetonka when her phone rang with news that Prince was going to play a set at Paisley Park. She dashed over, still windblown from her day on the water. A DJ was playing and a small group of friends was socializing and waiting for Prince’s set, when Prince approached AuVante.
“Let’s go downstairs,” Prince said. He took her hand and together, they rode the elevator down to the parking garage. AuVante started to feel nervous.
“It was that unspoken innuendo that you could feel, of `Is this relationship going to turn another direction?'” AuVante says. “It caught me so off guard because we had never interacted in an intimate way, ever.”
Prince came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, placing his face next to hers, close enough to whisper in her ear.
“`So, how are you?’” he murmured.
AuVante says she felt “freaked out” by the sudden shift in their relationship.
She remembers thinking, `Is he coming on to me? What’s going on here?’
“That’s my naivete back in that time,” she recalls. “On camera, it was one thing to look like a couple, because we were acting. But now there was no one around. It was me and him, and I was caught so off guard that I said the stupidest thing.”
“So, what’s your middle name?” AuVante asked Prince.
Prince started to laugh and told her his middle name. Then he asked AuVante what her middle name was.
She replied, “I don’t like my middle name and I don’t tell anybody.”
“That was the comic relief that broke apart that moment,” she says. “We chatted some more and we went upstairs, and that was it.”
Does she feel any regrets about the way that moment played out?
“I think everybody had a crush on Prince at one point, but I feel like our relationship wasn’t of that nature,” she reflects. “Was he a sexy man? Absolutely. But the dynamic of our interactions was not that of two people walking down the road of chemistry to intimacy.”
Instead, she says, they were usually engaged in a battle of wits. Prince would frequently challenge her to do something outrageous and would qualify it by adding, “if you were my friend, you would do it,” to which AuVante would reply, “if you were my friend, you wouldn’t ask me to do it.” She chalks up those interactions partly as Prince’s way of testing the water to gauge how much control he could have over her.
“There was a sort of healthy competition. Not a lot of people talked back to him. I would,” she says. “And I think he saw pieces of himself in me. He knew that you can tell me something but it doesn’t mean I’ll do it. So he tried to push the envelope and I’d be like, `No, you know better than that.'”
While she wouldn’t characterize herself as a quest to be conquered, AuVante acknowledged that Prince had a history of moving on after he’d conquered something. The fact that AuVante showed him, however jokingly, that she wouldn’t follow his whims, gave their relationship longevity, she says.
“I gave him some intelligent conversation without the pretense of `I’m trying to date you,'” she says. “I think that’s why we worked together for so long because we had a nice friendship and we didn’t complicate it with all the things that can happen with an intimate relationship. That provided longevity to our relationship.”
As the early 90s became the mid-90s, parties at Paisley Park began to change.
“Everyone wanted to be a part of it,” AuVante says, noting that the parties were no longer free, and there were long lines to get in the door. “I think they (Prince and those running Paisley Park) saw the commercial value as well as the potential liabilities they were creating by serving alcohol after hours.”
But before the good times for Prince’s close circle came to an end, the phone rang again. It was January 1994.
“I’m doing a video for a song called `The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,'” the baritone voice said. “I want you to be in it. You’re going to have to play a pregnant lady giving birth.”
AuVante hesitated, unsure whether she wanted to play that role.
“I want your son to be in it,” Prince added.
That sealed the deal. AuVante knew the video would be a lifelong memento for her five-year-old son. On the day of the shoot, her then-boyfriend came along to watch her son when AuVante was on set. Because the shoot was impromptu, she recalls that there was no food on set. But that kind of oversight was typical of the way things operated.
“One of the things I think that Prince probably struggled with was letting go of things enough to properly delegate so things weren’t falling through the cracks or happening at the last minute,” she says. “He liked being in control and he needed to be in control when it came to his creative genius. Creatives see the big picture but they don’t see the inner workings that need to take place to make the big picture happen.”
When they arrived at Paisley Park, AuVante and her son encountered Prince. AuVante was mortified when the first thing her son asked upon meeting Prince was, “How come you wear high heels?”
A big grin spread across Prince’s face, and he replied, “Because I can!”
Once on set, everyone realized that Prince hadn’t cast someone to be AuVante’s significant other for this scene with the family remembering back to the birth of their child.
“You can’t have a family scene without a family,” AuVante laughs. Her boyfriend wound up taking the role and appeared in the scene with her and her son.
AuVante decided to go to college, and as years passed, no longer had a lot of contact with Prince. Her Paisley Park friends also moved on with their lives. When there would be an event at Paisley Park, AuVante no longer had any contacts there, so she stopped going. In 2001, she met the man who would become her second husband. They got married in 2003 and had three more children.
In 2010, AuVante felt compelled to reach out to Prince. Her youthful, party-oriented years behind her, she felt that there were things that had been left unsaid and situations that she wanted to apologize for, in case she had caused Prince pain. She wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope and, as she had so many times, drove to Paisley Park. She handed the envelope to a person at the desk, saying, “Tell him it’s from Leisl.”
Three hours later, the phone rang. There was a baritone voice on the line.
Here is the story of their final conversation, in AuVante’s own words.
In our last conversation, we spent a lot of time talking about God. We had some unfinished business and it took me growing as a person for 20 years before I realized we needed to have a conversation. We were on the phone for 40 minutes. We would’ve been on the phone longer but I was cooking dinner and the kids were circling around me … We didn’t always talk that often, but he knew if I called there was something to talk about.
We both had changed as people and he was very grounded in his faith, as I was in mine. Both of us had two marriages, and both of us had experienced divorce, and both of us had found God. Spiritually, he was always fundamentally connected in a higher way, but it took him some time to find his true path of who he was. He had that aura. The forces of good and evil pulled and tugged at him. The forces of the record industry can be very dirty. He had to navigate through the egos of musicians, and the drawbacks and benefits of fame.
We had a very honest and genuine discussion about where we were and who we were as people and how we’d grown in the time we hadn’t spoken. I had married again and he had come into his own. He seemed like a different person. He had a firm grasp of what he believed in and he stood by it. It was a really refreshing thing. Through it all, he had a very strong air of humility. Surprising! And he was very honest and genuine and very humble about where he was at that point in his life. That was a cool thing to see.
We were doing a lot of catching up, like two old friends reintroducing the people they had become. We’re talking on the phone and I was in the middle of cooking dinner and I heard a timer go off in the kitchen. I said, “Oh my gosh, I have dinner cooking! Here, talk to Ava (AuVante’s then three-year-old daughter).” Prince took it in stride. When I got back on the phone, he said something like, “She sounds very sweet and cute.” He loved kids and had a special place in his heart for them. The fact that he just talked with Ava while I cooked speaks to the nature of our relationship. He laughed about it when I got back on the phone. It was a sweet gesture on his part.
I feel blessed that I had my time together with him. Some of it is immortalized on screen and some of it is immortalized in my heart.