Midway through October, my attempt to assimilate Prince’s 57-year spiritual journey into 31 days has left my mind spinning. And why wouldn’t it? Prince and his music bounced back and forth between the profane and the sacred like a ball bounding across the ping pong table in Paisley Park’s Studio B.
I needed to talk with someone who could provide clarity and insight into Prince’s spiritual life. Ideally, the person would have known Prince. She would be someone he trusted and respected. And she would have a great deal of life experience.
Or, afterlife experience.
Betty J. Eadie is the author of “Embraced by the Light,” the vivid and detailed account of the near death experience she went through following a surgery in 1973. After Prince’s death in 2016, Eadie wrote about their decades-long relationship on her website. That tribute caught my attention and made me wonder: Could Eadie provide me with guidance on how to be a spiritual seeker like Prince? I was eager to speak with her.
Eadie, a mother of eight, might seem an unlikely choice of spiritual mentor for rock star Prince. But spiritual mentor is exactly what Eadie became when the two met in the early 1990s, a particularly turbulent time in Prince’s life. He was extracting himself from his contract with Warner Bros., changing his name to a symbol and writing “slave” across his face.
Eadie, now 77 years old and living in Seattle, published “Embraced by the Light” in 1992. The book, published by a small press, slowly garnered publicity, and ultimately landed Eadie on the then-mountaintop of all talk shows, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” “Embraced” was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years and Eadie became a household name.
In the midst of that hectic time, Eadie’s office received a package. Inside were photos and CDs sent by Prince.
“I put one (CD) in and listened to it and thought, `That is horrible music,'” Eadie laughs. Eadie, who was 16 years older than Prince, says that as a busy mother and author, she had only a vague idea of who he was.
As part of her book tour, Eadie visited Minneapolis, and while speaking to a darkened auditorium filled with thousands of readers, the doors in the back opened. Illuminated from the light streaming in from outside, Eadie saw the silhouette of a small figure followed by a group of people who took seats in the back row. She was mystified, but kept speaking. The next day, Eadie received an invitation from that small figure’s representatives: Would she like to visit Prince at Paisley Park? To appease her son — he served as her agent, traveled with her and exclaimed, “Mom, he’s one of the greatest singers of all time!” — Eadie agreed to shift her travel arrangements to accommodate a visit.
Upstairs at Paisley Park, Eadie says she found herself sitting knee-to-knee on a love seat with Prince. Her son sat on a second love seat, with a coffee table in between them. Eadie was facing Prince’s right side, where he had written “slave” across his cheek.
“I couldn’t avoid looking at it,” she says. “With that`slave’ on his cheek, he looked so pathetic and wounded-looking and sad.”
Prince said, “You got my music?”
Eadie replied, “Yes, I did.”
He said, “Well, what do you think of them (the CDs)?”
Eadie noticed her son sucking in his breath sharply. He knew how open and honest his mother was.
“It’s not really my type of music so I can’t really comment on it,” she said.
Her son exhaled.
“I write it for the kids,” Prince replied.
“I know you do,” Eadie said to Prince, gathering her courage. “But is that the type of music you should be writing for them? It’s painful, hurtful, suggestive and it’s not the kind of music I want the kids to listen to. As talented as you are and as much as I know you love youth, why don’t you write things from your heart that are uplifting?”
Eadie knew she’d said the wrong thing, at least from a social niceties point of view, and she held her breath. Then, something unexpected happened: Prince began speaking of his business with Warner Bros., his family and his upbringing. He poured his heart out.
“He looked right in my eyes when he did so and I could see the pain in them and it even brought moisture to my eyes,” Eadie says. “I could sense this was a man who was hurting so much.”
Prince’s “miserable” family life growing up was part of his anger, Eadie says. “He was exposed to abuse and it embittered and angered him,” she says. “The very things that hurt him were what he was writing about and trying to make them okay and make sense of it all,” she says. But, she adds, the greatest pain he had was the feeling that others in power had taken advantage of him as a young musician.
Eadie says the Prince she encountered that day was nothing like “Prince” the rock star, which she describes as a stage persona.
“Was that the real Prince? No, that wasn’t. He was very vulnerable. He was tender, wounded and he needed a mother’s love. That was what he felt he could receive from me because I am motherly,” Eadie says. “With him, the minute I saw he had this hidden part of him I wanted to hold him and say, `Everything is going to be okay.'”
Prince told her that he “put himself into music to get rid of the pain,” she says. She told him that while it’s good to get rid of pain, and millions of others can relate to similar events so they gravitate to your music, it was time to shift his music and message.
“Is that what you want, that they (your audience) keep listening to pain?” she asked Prince. “Now that you’ve built a great reputation and following, why not bring them closer to love?”
“Get that `slave’ off your face. You’re no one’s slave,” she told him. She counseled Prince to remember that what you put out in the world will come back to you — “so make sure it’s good.”
Prince was on the edge of his seat, Eadie says, “as if he was hearing it all for the first time.”
They had spoken for an hour and a half. Near the end of the conversation, Prince told Eadie that she was like family to him — like a mother.
“He thanked me for being open and honest with him. We had to go because we had a flight out, but I could tell he was not wanting us to go. He felt an attachment, and I began to feel an attachment to him. He needed someone and at this moment I was the person he needed to talk to,” she says. “What I saw was a wounded soul and someone who needed someone and I happened to be the one at the time. I was glad I was there with him.”
As they stood up, Eadie says, they realized they were the same height.
“We laughed and we looked down at our shoes. I had four-inch heels on because I’m short, and he had the same four-inch heels, although his were more platform style than mine,” she says.
Prince escorted Eadie all the way downstairs from his upper-level suite. As they prepared to part, Prince reached for Eadie and gave her a “warm and beautiful” hug, Eadie says, noting that it was only later that she was told that Prince not only never embraced people; he never, ever walked people to the door.
“When I left he felt like an enlightened person,” she says. “He was more in control of himself and didn’t need people’s approval.”
Later, after Eadie had returned home, Prince called with more questions about how best to give to others.
“He always felt he gave, but whether it was the right way or not was debatable based on his emotions at the time,” Eadie recalls. “He said that maybe it was more about him than about wanting to serve.”
The second time Prince called, he had a proposition. He was going on tour, and he wanted Eadie to go with him.
“Go with you and do what?” Eadie asked.
Prince replied, “I’ll sing and you’ll give your presentation. They need to hear you.”
Eadie laughs at the recollection. “Now, in my mind, Prince’s songs and what I have to share are not compatible.”
Prince told her, “I will buy a book for everyone who comes and hand them out. That way I’m giving back.”
As enticing as it might have been for the sales of her book, “I just couldn’t do it,” Eadie says. Back in those days, Prince had changed his name to a symbol and was the object of a lot of negativity. And negativity from the general public was something Eadie understood all too well.
“This was the early days of `Embraced (by the Light).’ It was a forerunner of the most personal account of a near-death experience. People attached all kinds of negativity to it and I was getting it (criticism) left and right. I thought, `Now all I need is to go out on tour with Prince!'”
Eadie told Prince that she was thinking of the songs she’d heard on that first CD she’d listened to, and she told him that she couldn’t do it – it didn’t seem like a good fit with her message.
Prince replied, “Well, I’m going to change my music.”
Prince told Eadie that he was going to write a song for her, and that’s when he wrote `Dolphin,’ a song about reincarnation that appears on the 1995 album, “The Gold Experience.” The entire album captured Prince’s state of transformation, Eadie says, adding that she told him he needed to be a “bridge walker,” a term for a person who has the ability to bridge the gap between human existence and the spiritual world.
Of “The Gold Experience,” Prince shared with Eadie that some of the songs on the album represented the kind of songs he used to write, while others represented the kind of music he was currently writing.
“That was his change and he wanted to demonstrate the old Prince and the new Prince,” Eadie says. Prince went on to write other songs inspired by “Embraced,” including “Into the Light,” on 1996’s “Chaos and Disorder” album.
Over the years, Prince would call when he faced a dilemma and needed to talk things through, or late at night, just to “talk normal,” says Eadie. (“He told me that he was so famous that nobody talked normal to him,” she recalls. With a chuckle, she remembers thinking, “How famous are you?”).
Eadie and Prince stayed in touch over the years and at the end of his life, they were in contact again about the possibility of Prince writing songs for the movie adaptation of “Embraced.” Prince was elated at the prospect, she says. She believes that it’s likely he had written some songs for the movie before his death, and she is in touch with his Estate in that regard.
Looking back now, what resonated with Prince, says Eadie, was her book’s message of God’s unconditional love.
“We each are valued and have our own path in life that we can serve Him or serve others. It’s never about us,” she says. “The more we do to help other people, the greater our spirit becomes. What we leave with when we die is that growth.”
The pain we feel from the choices we make is hell on earth, Eadie says. But at any time you choose, she says, you can let go of that pain, adding, “We are free to do that at any time.”
“It was challenging to live up to his image and he wanted so much to change,” Eadie says. “`Embraced’ was a part of his change.”