In the 1980's you couldn't help but be a fan of Prince unless you hated contemporary music altogether. He was a sensation on record, on stage, and on screen. He had countless proteges who swarmed the charts under his guidance. He even appeared in the least obvious places -- it was only today that I learned he played keyboards on Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back".
A run of the mill, good-to-great artist's influence can be measured by the number of imitators they help spawn. Those rules don't apply to the legends though. They don't have imitators because they're too good to imitate. Nobody can even come close to duplicating what they do, and most don't even bother trying. Prince had plenty of clones in the 80's but that was because he was writing their music for them.
The first album I ever bought was "Purple Rain". I can't say I was ever a huge fan of Prince -- others will write about him from a more personal perspective much better than I can. But I loved "Let's Go Crazy". I saw it as fun, chaotic, immediate party music. I didn't care much for "When Doves Cry" in those days, and wouldn't really appreciate it for another ten or fifteen years.
Many artists feed off their own myths, leaving even their most devoted fans to helplessly sort through the blurred lines separating fact from fiction. Aphex Twin is one of those artists, with an origin story similar to Prince's. Self taught boy genius spends years honing his craft in relative solitude, apparently oblivious to what his contemporaries are doing, emerges with a fully formed sound that's light years ahead of what others can manage, continues living as a semi-recluse even at the height of their fame, hidden behind masks and head scratching aliases. All the while they record prolifically and amass a catalogue of music (including god knows how many unreleased albums) that takes decades to fully sift through.
At some point the artist has no choice but to perpetuate the myth because so much of their identity is wrapped up in it. Aphex Twin had collaborators in the early days. He was influenced by plenty of artists that he wouldn't admit to in interviews during the 90's. After enough time has passed they sometimes let their guard down. If you're lucky, the stuff that was too good to be true remains true (Aphex did buy that tank in the 90's and IIRC, he still has it).
Will the real story of the famously private Prince ever be known? Will anybody dominate a decade the way he did in the 80's, as arguably the top multi-instrumentalist, producer, writer, and performer? Today, the likes of Max Martin or Pharrell can claim maybe two or those four. Even Prince's tossed off junk -- such as "Nothing Compares 2 U", written for The Family but never released as a single -- became mega-hits in the hands of other artists.
It's a shocking, far too sudden loss for the music world. "He will be missed" can't even begin to cover it. Like him or not, Prince is irreplaceable, and we'll never see the likes of him again.