When Prince Addressed His Baby’s Health on ‘Today’
When Prince agreed to a sit down interview with Today anchor Bryant Gumbel on Dec. 19, 1996, the plan was to discuss music and touring. But, with rumors swirling around the health of Prince’s newborn son, the singer ended up revealing his personal tragedy.
Gumbel -- an admitted Prince fan -- had expressed reluctance at broaching the subject of the child’s health. "I've not made a decision whether I intend to," the veteran journalist told the Chicago Tribune a day before the interview. "I've been made aware of the sensitivity to it. My guess is not to bring it up."
Prince had performed twice previously on Today, but this would be his first time sitting down for an interview. The music icon was notoriously uncomfortable with the media, though with the release of his first post-Warner Brothers album Emancipation the imaginary wall he’d built to separate himself from the press seemed to be coming down. Just weeks earlier, Prince joined Oprah for a candid one-on-one.
Rather than ignoring his guest’s discomfort with interviews, Gumbel came right out of the gate discussing it. “You don’t like the live camera?,” the host asked Prince. “Does it make you uncomfortable?” “Not when I’m singing,” the musician coyly laughed, before admitting that he didn’t “like to talk much.”
The early back-and-forth seemed to settle Prince’s nerves slightly, as the singer comfortably discussed the ideas, concepts and inspiration behind the three-disc Emancipation release.
When Gumbel brought up Prince’s last appearance on Today -- a performance best remembered for the word “slave” being written on the singer’s face -- the iconic musician was forthright. “Slave that was written on my face had as much to do with my relationship with my record company as it did with my relationship with myself,” Prince explained. “I’d sort of become a slave to the concept of recording music with preconceived notions, business and otherwise, going into the studio.”
As Gumbel marveled at Prince’s prolific music ability, the singer joked that his “wife has me in studio rehab right now.” This comment gave opportunity for a seemingly impromptu moment, as Gumbel then waved at Mayte to take part in the conversation. The young wife awkwardly joined the on-screen interview, sitting on the armrest of her rock star husband’s chair.
It was at this point that the tone and direction of the interview shifted. Instead of music, Gumbel was now asking about the couple’s relationship, their life at home and, inevitably, the rumors surrounding their baby boy.
“There’s a lot of questions surrounding the health of the baby,” the Today host noted. “Is the baby well?”
“We both believe that thoughts and words can breed reality,” Prince explained, speaking on behalf of he and his wife. “And how we look at the situation is very important and what we say about the situation is very important. All I can say is that I like to believe that we’re both enlightened individuals that know that if you leave things in God’s hands you’ll find out everything. Find out the answer to the plan. Anything that happens we accept.”
“It sounds like there’s been a problem,” Gumbel stated, carefully trying to balance the delicate subject. “But you’re of the belief that whatever’s happened, it’s happened for the best.”
Prince’s reply was short, yet spoke volumes: “It’s happened for a reason, yes.”
Unbeknownst to viewers at the time, the couple’s son, Amiir, had died nearly two months prior. The baby had been born with a rare genetic disorder, and passed away after only a few days. Prince had previously tried to keep the tragedy under wraps, putting on a happy facade during his aforementioned interview with Oprah. The singer’s comments to Gumbel were his first public admissions that something had gone wrong with the child.
The interview would end on a lighter note, with Prince and Gumbel joking about fashion choices and the singer admitting he didn’t own a blazer. The joke would come full circle a few weeks later when, on Gumbel’s final day anchoring Today, Prince mockingly appeared in a business-like suit and tie to perform a song he’d written for the host.
While Prince and Gumbel remained friendly, the singer's relationship with Mayte was not as sound. After losing Amiir, then suffering the pain of a miscarriage less than a year later, the emotional stress on the marriage became too much to handle. The couple divorced in 2000.