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Internet sheds tears of 'purple rain' for Prince

The iconic artist's legions of fans are turning to social media to spill grief for an artist who had a conflicted relationship with the Internet.

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Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Prince was beloved by many and controversial to others.

Gonzales Photo/Demotix/Corbis

The Internet is spilling tears Thursday following the news that music icon Prince, patron saint of all things purple, is dead at age 57.

Since the news broke, hundreds of thousands of fans have taken to social media to grieve and share their devotion. "This is what it sounds like when doves cry," some have written, quoting one of the musician's signature songs, "When Doves Cry." It ranked as the No. 3 download on iTunes Thursday afternoon, after Prince's "Purple Rain" and "Little Red Corvette."

By Friday, the top 11 songs on the iTunes charts were by the purple one.

The groundbreaking artist and eccentric prodigal son of Minnesota was beloved by many and controversial to others. Millennials and tech-savvy Generation Xers may have been bewildered by Prince's sometimes contentious relationship with technology.

He famously declared the Internet to be "dead" back in 2010. "The Internet [is] like MTV," Prince told a UK publication at the time. "At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated."

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Prince songs shot to the top of the iTunes downloads charts Thursday.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

And while Prince was one of the first music artists to sell music online and join the culture of free file-sharing, he was also one of the more litigious artists, serving take-downs to fans on YouTube and Facebook, some of which got a lot of press. He even expressed his disdain for cell phones just a few years ago.

You may be able to find videos of his songs on YouTube as news of his death spreads, but don't be surprised if the audio has been muted. Times when he's thrown his lot in with the online set have seen Prince make some interesting choices -- last year he announced his next album would be released exclusively on Jay-Z's streaming service, Tidal.

He sometimes had his moments with the stars of the Internet generation, too, like that time he kicked Kim Kardashian off the stage at one of his shows when she failed to dance.

But Prince's relationship with technology couldn't dampen the love and admiration many people had for the musician. He was known for bending gender and genre over the decades and even made his name unpronounceable for a time.

Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, was hospitalized last week with the flu following an emergency plane landing, a happening that sparked rumors about his health. Police were called to his Paisley Park studio Thursday and his publicist later confirmed the seven-time Grammy winner had died at his Minnesota home just months after the world lost another music superstar, David Bowie.

The loss immediately prompted an outpouring on the Internet, where both Prince and Purple Rain became trending topics on Twitter soon after the news broke. Below is a small sample of the most poignant tweets, some of them surely written by people donning their raspberry berets.

Update Friday, 10:25 a.m. PT: The story has been updated to indicate that 11 Prince songs topped the list of iTunes downloads Friday.