Prince Sought Help Kicking Addiction to Painkillers Before Death

Prince performs at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — In his final weeks, Prince hid signs of trouble from his fans, stonewalling reports of an overdose that required an emergency plane landing and making a brief public appearance to reassure them. But privately, the superstar was in crisis, seeking help from a prominent addiction expert that ultimately came too late.

The day before he died, Prince's representatives reached out to a prominent California doctor who specializes in treating addiction and set up an initial meeting between the two, the doctor's Minneapolis attorney, William Mauzy, said Wednesday. He said the doctor, Howard Kornfeld, couldn't leave right away so he sent his son, Andrew, who flew out that night.

It was Andrew Kornfeld who called 911 the next morning after he and two staffers found Prince unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park studio complex, the lawyer said. Prince was declared dead shortly thereafter on April 21. He was 57.

The details about Prince's death that emerged Wednesday raise questions about whether he received appropriate care and whether those who sought to provide it could face legal consequences for their actions.


Although autopsy results haven't been released, Mauzy's revelations, which were first reported by the Star Tribune, buttress reports that Prince had been fighting — and ultimately lost — a battle with prescription painkillers.

Mauzy confirmed that Andrew Kornfeld, whom he also is representing, flew to Minnesota on behalf of his father in the hopes of connecting Prince with a local physician the morning he was found dead.

He said Dr. Kornfeld hoped to get Prince "stabilized in Minnesota and convince him to come to Recovery Without Walls in Mill Valley. That was the plan," referring to Howard Kornfeld's California treatment center.

Mauzy said Andrew Kornfeld was carrying a small amount of buprenorphine, which Howard Kornfeld says on his website is a treatment option for patients with addiction issues that offers pain relief with less possibility of overdose and addiction. But he said Andrew Kornfeld never intended to give the medication to Prince, and instead planned to give it to the Minnesota doctor who was scheduled to see the musician.

Mauzy said Andrew Kornfeld was "taken into custody and interviewed and told it was a criminal investigation." When asked by reporters about the legality of his carrying buprenorphine, Mauzy declined to answer. But he said he believes Minnesota law would protect Andrew Kornfeld from any potential charges related to Prince's death. He said Kornfeld was released the same day and returned to San Francisco.

Under the law, a person who seeks medical assistance for someone who is overdosing on drugs may not be prosecuted for possessing or sharing controlled substances, under certain circumstances.

Andrew Kornfeld is listed on his father's center's website as a consultant, and Mauzy said it wasn't uncommon for Howard Kornfeld to send Andrew on his behalf. He said Andrew Kornfeld is a pre-med student and that convincing people to seek treatment at the center is something "he has done for years."

The Kornfelds did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press. Also, messages left with Recovery Without Walls were not returned, and no one answered when a photographer knocked on the door

Also Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office said it and the Drug Enforcement Administration are joining local officials in investigating Prince's death.

A law enforcement official briefed on the investigation has told the AP that investigators are looking into whether Prince died from an overdose. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk about the investigation. The same official also said investigators are looking at whether Prince had suffered an overdose when his plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois, less than a week before he died.

Mauzy said Prince's representatives told Howard Kornfeld that the singer was "dealing with a grave medical emergency." He declined Wednesday to detail the emergency, and also declined to identify the Minnesota doctor who was supposed to see Prince on April 21.

Stuart Gitlow, an addiction medicine expert speaking without direct knowledge of Prince's case, questioned whether Howard Kornfeld and his son acted appropriately.

"If a physician feels that a patient is having an emergency, his obligation is to call an ambulance and get the patient to emergency personnel who can assess the situation — not to fly to the patient," Gitlow said.

"It's not routine for doctors to fly across the country to start people on buprenorphine," said Gitlow, a former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and a faculty member of the University of Florida. "That's something that can be handled locally."


Authorities haven't released a cause of death. An autopsy was done the day after Prince's death, but its findings, including the toxicology results, weren't expected for as many as four weeks.

Prince had a reputation for clean living, and some friends said they never saw any sign of drug use. But longtime friend and collaborator Sheila E. has told the AP that Prince had physical issues from performing, citing hip and knee problems that she said came from years of jumping off risers and stage speakers in heels.

Story: Kevin Burbach, additional reporting Amy Forliti / Associated Press