In September, Bobby Z. bid an emotional farewell to his former bandmate Prince at First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis nightclub where the two musicians performed in the 1984 movie Purple Rain.
Two months later, Bobby came all-too close to becoming the subject of a memorial concert himself. Six years after suffering his first heart attack, he suffered another when a coronary stent in his artery became dislodged.
“This time, I was lucky to recognize the [heart attack] symptoms,” said Bobby, who was drummer for Prince & the Revolution, which disbanded in 1986. “If I hadn’t been stabilized, it probably would have killed me. This could have been the big one.”
For better and worse, Bobby has become almost as well-versed in heart attack symptoms as he is in drum rhythms.
In 2010, after experiencing severe pain shooting though his elbows, he suffered his first heart attack, the result of severely blocked arteries.
After having three stents inserted and enduring a long recovery process, Bobby became an American Heart Association volunteer and launched his own heart-health awareness charity, My Purple Heart, a twist on the title of the Prince song and movie Purple Rain.
After his first heart attack, Bobby re-formed Prince’s old band the Revolution to support My Purple Heart with “Benefit 2 Celebrate Life” concerts in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Although the Purple One didn’t perform at those shows, he was “supportive on every level,” Bobby said.
“Prince was the first one to call my wife when I was in the hospital. He was a great supporter of my recovery and encouraged me to do the My Purple Heart shows -- he gave us the blessing to use the Revolution name and do the shows under the AHA flag,” he said.
Then suddenly last April, Prince was gone.
The 57-year-old musical pioneer died at his Minneapolis home of an accidental overdose of the opiod painkiller fentanyl -- an ironic ending because he was one of the few rock stars who publicly disavowed all drugs and alcohol.
“To see the words ‘Prince Dead’ on television was absolutely unfathomable,” Bobby said. “I thought he’d be 99 years old, sitting on a stool, ripping on guitar. I never, ever dreamed he would go at such a young age. It’s a profound loss to the world. He was a living human mystery who would literally perform musical magic in front of your face.”
Last November --- just two months after the Revolution reunited to pay tribute to their late bandleader --- Bobby began experiencing mild acid reflux during a child’s birthday party at a friend’s house. That night, the reflux worsened.
“I instinctively took (nitroglycerin) and an aspirin and knew I had to get to the hospital,” he said.
His instincts were spot-on: Nausea, vomiting and digestive conditions such as acid reflux can be warning signs of heart trouble, and luckily, Bobby was already at the hospital when he suffered a heart attack.
Today, he credits cardiologist Steven Heifetz, M.D., and the staff of Fairview Southdale Hospital in suburban Minneapolis for saving his life.
“We thought everything was great, and then the heart attack came out of nowhere,” said Vicki Rivkin, Bobby’s wife. “Bobby takes his health very seriously and he got to that hospital very quickly. It’s important to be safe, don’t hesitate, and call 911 right away.”
Today, after surgery to insert a newer-model stent, Bobby is doing fine, and he monitors his cholesterol religiously.
“In 2011, I thought I was good-to-go for life. But it’s an evolving culture in your heart: You’re never really out of the woods,” he said.
“I have very stubborn cholesterol and it seems the plumbing can still get clogged. My message now is that cholesterol numbers that are normal for normal people have to be much lower for people with a heart attack history.”
He maintains a heart-healthy diet, doesn’t drink alcohol, and exercises several times a week at his local gym.
“The stubborn reality of motivating yourself to exercise is the key to survival, the key to having the drugs work and having everything flow the way it should,” he said.
“My other message is that if you miss your exercise for a week or a month, you shouldn’t punish yourself mentally. You just have to get back on it and not beat yourself up about it.”
While he continues to get stronger, Bobby is slowly resuming his musical career. He’s planning a series of April concerts by the Revolution at Celebration 2017, a four-day event in Minneapolis marking the first anniversary of Prince’s death.
He’s also plotting another AHA “Benefit 2 Celebrate Life” concert for early 2018 before Super Bowl LII, which will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We’re taking it slow. We’re still grieving and we’re still in a very fragile, strange world without Prince,” Bobby said. “But as Prince said, music is like medicine to people. There’s this huge hole, but when you play ‘Purple Rain’ live, you see the look on people’s faces, and you see it really helps. They’ll never get over (his loss), but at least the music helps them deal with it.”