For Charlene Friend, recent reports that prescription pills found hidden in an Aleve bottle at Prince's Paisley Park estate could have been counterfeit drugs containing the powerful narcotic fentanyl, is yet another painful reminder of how the late singer hid his drug use from those around him.
During their years together, Friend, 44, who was sued by her former boyfriend in 2003 when she attempted to sell some of his gifts to her, insists to PEOPLE that she never witnessed Prince do drugs.
But in the decades that have elapsed since their split – and his death on April 21 from an overdose of the opiate fentanyl – she's begun to understand just how much of his life he kept hidden.
"He would sometimes stay up for five days at a time without sleep, food or even water, going nonstop back and forth to the studio," recalls Friend. "I had to sneak in catnaps to keep from passing out from exhaustion. The first time that happened, I asked him, 'How do you do this?'"
Prince, says Friend, just smiled, stared deep into her eyes and said: "Angel food. Food of the spirit, not of the flesh."
When he finally did allow himself to sleep, Friend recalls that he would cover the windows with aluminum foil, crank the heat up to 80 degrees or higher and make sure the room was pitch-black.
"He would be shaking all through the night," says Friend.
"The first time that happened, I asked him if he was having a nightmare and he said, 'No. I was dreaming music,'" continues Friend. "Even in his sleep, the music just poured out of him."
Several years after their split, Friend was speaking with Prince's half-brother Duane Nelson, who had spent time working as head of security at Paisley Park, about how the singer was able to stay awake for days at a time.
She says Nelson, who died in 2013, told her that Prince's stamina had nothing to do with "angel food" and everything to do with narcotics. "'We call it the cocaine diet,'" Friend says Nelson told her.
"It was shocking to me to hear that," she adds. "He hid it so carefully. I never saw him take even an aspirin. He seemed so health-conscious, always taking vitamins like echinacea and goldenseal."
Over time, Friend claims she began hearing rumors from mutual friends that Prince was "taking pills to come down" from the tremendous high he used to get after performing in front of crowds.
"Nothing could match the highs he got from his shows," she says. "Coming down afterwards made him feel empty. Perhaps drugs filled that void."
Looking back on their time together, Friend tells PEOPLE she tries to focus on "the good things" about her former lover. "I want to respect his memory," she says.
But in order to do that, she's had to come to grips with the true impact that drugs clearly had on his life.
"There were no gray areas," Friend explains. "One day he would be in a good mood, and the next day he would be in this very deep, dark mood."
She adds: "Part of that was just his personality, but I now realize that the drugs enhanced that."
Date Posted: Thursday, September 8th, 2016 , Total Page Views: 1097
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