Prince protégée Judith Hill on being blamed for his and MJ’s deaths: ‘It affected my mental health’
The funk singer/songwriter went on Instagram this week to share that she's received criticism and death threats for being a part of both icon's careers when they passed
More than a decade after Michael Jackson’s death and almost five years after Prince‘s passing, his protégée Judith Hill has posted an emotional Instagram video saying she wants to be freed from blame.
The funk/soul singer-songwriter who worked on her 2015 album Back in Time with Prince at Paisley Park in the years before he died, said that a TMZ article that blasted the singer for being around both icons just before they passed, has negatively impacted her mental health. Now Hill wants to move on and wants fans to do so as well.
“I have worn that article like a disease,” Hill, who competed on The Voice in 2013, said in the Instagram video on Thursday. “It has affected my mental health. It keeps me up every night, it has caused me to not trust the world, to stay away – it has caused a rift between me and you and me and the outside world, and I want to move on.”
Hill was one of Prince’s last girlfriends as well, according to multiple reports. She was a passenger on the private plane with Prince and his then-bodyguard/assistant Kirk Johnson when it made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois on April 15, 2016. Prince had just performed on the Piano and a Microphone tour at Atlanta’s Fox Theater and the show would be his last.
Hill told the New York Times that June that she was talking to Prince about 60’s funk star Betty Davis and about photography, a hobby of the late icon, when she said, “His eyes fixed.”
The plane was brought down after she told Johnson that Prince was unresponsive. After observation at a local hospital, Prince, Hill, and Johnson returned to Minneapolis where Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park recording complex five days later. Despite his decades-long reputation for clean-living, his cause of death was an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a potent opioid. It is believed that the music superstar was using opiates to manage pain and took a pill not knowing what it actually was.
One of the few Prince associates to fully cooperate with investigators in the wake of his passing, Hill said that the musician was unusually depressed before his final show. In the investigation documents, she acknowledged that he’d told her his hands hurt and that he’d taken some pills though he wasn’t exactly sure what they were. But after the aborted flight, he’d told Hill that he was going to get help and was OK enough for her to return to California for a scheduled appearance.
When she returned to Minneapolis, he was gone. Some misguided fans took that trip back to Los Angeles as a sign she abandoned Prince when he needed her most, but Hill says he gave her his blessing to go. And, that she thought he was in good hands and getting help.
“Everybody loves a good conspiracy. All it takes is for somebody like TMZ to plant a seed, to plant an idea and the whole world will believe it,” Hill says. “…An article like that can ruin lives.”
She reveals that she has received threats and hate emails consistently in the years since both men’s deaths. Although she’s been advised to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist, Hill says it’s become difficult to do so.
“They do exist, they do hurt. I’m a real human being and I have a real heart and it does break,” she says. “I miss Prince every day. You have no idea.”
As for Jackson, the invective hurled at Hill has been even more ridiculous, as Hill was simply hired as a background singer for his planned 2009 residency in London for the This Is It tour. It was something she’d been doing for years before Prince co-produced her 2015 debut.
Hill was one of the background singers, including Lisa Fischer, who sang with Luther Vandross, Merry Clayton, who sang on the Rolling Stones hit “Gimme Shelter” and former Ronette Darlene Love, who was profiled in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.
The film won an Oscar and Hill, along with the other women featured, shared a Grammy for Best Music Film.
Despite the fact that she was peripheral in Jackson’s life, Hill says fans still connect them.
“I didn’t know Michael, aside from being this awestruck background singer who came to rehearsals a few times,” Hill says. “…But I have to answer for him every day. For the last 12 years, I have to answer for him every day. That’s a weight.”
“I think it has been unfair to target her,” says Prince vlogger Eloy Lasanta, who runs the YouTube channel Prince’s Friend. “She is definitely a scapegoat. Some think of it in a larger sense of working with her is bad luck. Others bring race into it and say ‘She worked with two prominent Black performers and they both died after and that’s can’t be a coincidence’ and I’m like, that’s kind of stupid.”
Lasanta says even as Hill’s video appeared and he replayed some parts of it on his vlog, that he still had to engage with fans in the comments convinced that Hill’s presence somehow contributed to their idol’s deaths.
But Hill says she, and the world, need to heal and move on.
Despite extensive therapy and the self-work needed to overcome her own grief, Hill shares that she’s dealing with a “mountain of pain” that she can no longer handle alone.
“To scale this mountain is too big for me. I’m not strong enough to make this go away. If you can hold me accountable that I’m coming into a new chapter, that I’m no longer the Black Widow, that I’m no longer the fallback girl that some can blame or accuse. If we can do that for me, so that I don’t internalize it anymore…than this is a first step.”
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