In a dramatic realignment of his royal court, Prince--one of the most influential and flamboyant pop stars of the '80s--has severed his ties with his longtime management team, lawyer and business manager.
The surprise move--one which a music industry mogul termed "a shocker"--is the choice of new manager, "Purple Rain" writer-director Albert Magnoli, who has no prior experience as a rock manager.
In a statement issued Friday, Alan Leeds, Prince's tour manager and operations director of his Minneapolis-based PRN Productions, confirmed Magnoli's appointment, adding that the Los Angeles law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham and Branca "has been retained as legal counsel."
Neither Prince nor new manager Magnoli would comment on the severing of ties with attorney Lee Phillips, who has represented the star since the beginning of his career in the late '70s, or on the dismissal of the Los Angeles management firm of Cavallo, Ruffalo & Fargnoli.
Steve Fargnoli, one of Prince's ousted managers and the man with the closest ties to the performer, said in a prepared statement Friday: "Both sides have been working on winding down our relationship for the past six months. This was an amicable parting--there are no ill feelings. Both Prince and Albert Magnoli have our admiration."
Despite the warm words, industry insiders say that there had been increasing "distance and tension" between Prince and his management during the last year. They speculated that this sweeping management overhaul may have been sparked by the pop star's career problems during 1988.
"No one has a clue what goes on in Prince's mind, so who knows what prompted all this," said one upper-echelon record executive. "But he had a very tough year, with a disappointing album and very mixed reviews on his tour. Plus, he's carrying an enormous overhead, especially with his new recording studio complex in Minneapolis.
"Maybe this change will revitalize him, but it's pretty strange to hire a one-shot film director to manage your career. You can bet Warner Bros. (Prince's record label) is tearing its hair out over this."
Warner Bros. Records vice president Bob Merlis said the label was keeping its distance from the current changes. "We're more or less bystanders," he said. "We don't get involved in the management of our artists, so it's strictly Prince's decision."
Though the Ziffren legal firm's pop music wing is headed by John Branca, who represents Michael Jackson, insiders say that Prince's career moves will be handled by Skip Brittenham, an attorney who represents Magnoli and whose clients largely work in TV and film.
The star's new business managers: the Los Angeles firm of Breslauer, Jacobson, Rutman & Sherman. They replace Fred Moulterie.
Once a pop box-office bonanza, Prince saw his most recent album, 1988's "Lovesexy," end up as his lowest-charting album in seven years, failing to crack the Top 10. Prince's future in film is also in doubt.
After a phenomenal start with the hugely successful, semi-autobiographical "Purple Rain" (which grossed nearly $70 million and which Magnoli directed), Prince stumbled badly with the dramatic comedy "Under the Cherry Moon," a critical and commercial disaster. He regained some momentum last year with "Sign 'O' the Times," a concert film.
Prince toured Europe and the States during much of last year, but industry accounts of his American tour, which ended in early December, said it often played to less than capacity crowds.
Industry observers also say the rock star, who recently built an $8-million to $10-million recording studio complex near Minneapolis, has money woes, largely sparked by tour expenses and costly overhead running his various enterprises, which include the studio and Paisley Park Records, his custom record label.