Photo 1: Courtesy of Prince Marketing Group
By Steve Sears
One might look at celebrity agent and sports marketer Darren Prince and envision a highlight reel life, and you would be right. He has, after all, through his Prince Marketing Group, represented Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Carmen Electra, Chevy Chase, and the late boxing champions Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
But lurking behind that success were the demons in his life, primarily addiction to prescription drugs, and how he has battled those demons and is on the playing field as a teammate for others who are suffering as he did.
He is also the author of the best selling book, Aiming High: How a Prominent Sports and Celebrity Agent Hit Bottom at the Top, which was published 10 years after he one day dramatically turned his life around. Prince has also started his own 501c3, the Aiming High Foundation, where 100% of the proceeds provide treatment for those suffering with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“I won’t do press, I won’t do speeches, I won’t do anything unless it comes up,” Prince says of his past. “I can walk into a Fortune 500 corporate meeting, and I’m going to find my opening to talk about it while I’m alive. I can’t tell you I’ve never left a corporate meeting where someone wasn’t impacted. And all of a sudden, you now leave as a friend much more than the business side of it, because of the vulnerability and the accountability. Just putting myself out there like that, it’s not something most people are comfortable doing.”
Prince then adds, “And I still make mistakes every day. I like to think I make a better-quality mistake every day.”
Prince, 52, moved with his family – his dad Martin, mom Andrea, and sister Stacey – from Hillside to Livingston in 1977. He attended both Mount Pleasant Elementary and Junior High schools, and Livingston High School. “It was a big class, 500 kids, and I just never really felt comfortable in my own skin. I just always kind of felt like an outcast. I was in special education and small classrooms, and even in big classrooms I was isolated into special groups.” As a member of those latter groups, he and his friends were looked down upon by other classmates, which created inadequacies and insecurities. “I kind of grew up a bit of a mama’s boy, and my dad was my closest friend in the world. May he rest in peace. And we had a very close family bond, and I would just not feel comfortable, was riddled with anxiety, when I wasn’t around them. Even sleepovers, the times when I would go to a friend’s house, I remember feeling homesick and wanting to run back to my family, but I would just suck it up and do it. And all of that I just explained, I look back and would say that’s why I was a prime candidate for drug addiction.”
When he was age 14, Prince was at a sleepaway camp in the summertime, where he would enter a dangerous realm which would scar him for almost 25 years. “I had terrible stomach pains one night, and now when I look back, I realize it was anxiety. The counselor took me to the nurse, and she gave me this green liquid (Demerol) in a cough syrup that tasted disgusting, and while walking across the softball field within a few minutes, my life changed forever. I felt at that moment that I was introduced to the world, and the minute I got back to my bunk, I felt like Superman. Every bit of fear, every bit of anxiety and self doubt that I was not worthy enough, I think it just went away in that moment. I felt so super confident, and I just knew something special was happening, and I needed more of it.”
For three straight weeks, Prince acted as if he were ill, just to get some more Demerol and a feel good feeling. It continued until his parents came for a visit and they put a stop to it. The seed, however, was planted, and he would be hooked.
A few months later, Prince got started collecting baseball cards, and he turned that hobby into a business. With money he made from odd jobs, he would buy all his friends’ card collections, and if he wasn’t buying their collections, he was buying all the current top cards like Wade Boggs, Darryl Strawberry, Tony Gwynn, and Roger Clemens, and would trade those cards for older ones that his friends got from their dads and their grandfathers and their uncles. “Players that we never heard of, like Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron – those were the ones that were worth the money,” Prince says. “I wanted the ones that were worth the money.” Little by little he accumulated the best cards, and he realized he had accumulated almost $9,000 worth of old baseball cards. He went to his dad and asked to insure them, and his dad asked him how he had accumulated that much money in baseball cards. “I just lit up like a Christmas Tree,” Prince says. “When he looked at me with his eyes wide open, that moment changed my life, because I know a lot of people that have relationships with their mom and dad, or don’t have relationships with their mom and dad, but what it gave me was a sense of confidence. My dad expressed interest in something with his son who was classified with such a severe learning disability. That was so exciting.” A few weeks later, Prince headed to a baseball card show at a New Jersey Holiday Inn. “My dad had ignited something inside of me, and I was going to show the world that Darren Prince was somebody. I made $1,000 on that Sunday afternoon at age 14. The light bulb just went on, and not only in his head, but also my Uncle Joe – may he rest in peace – and they went out, raised a bunch of money from an investment group, and I paid the investors back literally within weeks, at a substantial profit.”
After a while, the card business lost its luster for Prince, but he was starting to meet athletes at conventions. He got introduced to Muhammad Ali’s agent, Harlan Werner, and an ensuing event the duo held with the legend earned Ali’s compliments. From there in 1993, Prince worked with Frazier, and eventually also worked with Pamela Anderson, Dennis Rodman, and many more.
Reeling from near bankruptcy from another venture but at the same time enjoying the representations he had with some of the bigger names in entertainment and sports, at age 24 while on a fishing trip he mentioned his desire to his dad of becoming a full-time sports agent. “I said to him, ‘Dad, I really want to be an agent, but I just don’t have eight years to go to law school.” The elder Prince dropped his fishing pole and said to his son, “Lawyer? Why do you need to go to law school? Do you realize the relationships you have right now? There’s not an entertainment lawyer on this planet that would not give their right arm to have the relationships you have.”
After his dad then suggested Prince speak with Magic Johnson, the duo met in a Michigan hotel room, and Prince told Johnson he wanted to start a marketing agency, and wanted him as his first client. Johnson said, “Get yourself a good entertainment lawyer, and I’m signing with you two years. If you don’t use me to knock on every door, to bring in all the celebrities you can, I’m going to fire you before the two-year contract is up. Because life isn’t about how successful I become. It’s how successful I make you and everybody else around me. It’s a domino effect.” “That just taught me the power of leveraging,” Prince says.
Prince at that time stopped doing harder drugs, but also started to experience painful sciatica, which was caused by the stress of being a sports agent. For five years, he legally went to physicians to get pills and felt on top of the world – again. He was representing the icons, the best in their respective fields. However, he now doesn’t recall much from 2004 to 2008, when he had a few overdoses and his life was becoming hell.
Finally, on July 2, 2008 it all came to a head. “That’s when I found the willingness and took an action,” he recalls. “This was literally the one time in life I had to take desperate action. I had diarrhea, vomiting, felt like I was crawling out of my skin, sweating and chills.”
Worse yet, Prince was suicidal. He headed to the bathroom, locked the door, and was ready to take pills, but instead he fell to his knees, pills in his hand, and screamed at the top of his lungs to God, “I can’t do this! I cant do this without you!” while he felt a hot sensation over his right shoulder. With his pills in one hand, he dumped and flushed them, and then said, ‘Help me stay sober, one day at a time. Get me out of hell, and I’ll help take others out with me.” He then headed to a local church and an addict’s recovery group. Nobody cared what he did for a living, who he worked for, his income status, or his accomplishments. Instead, they embraced him as a person.
He was on his way to being clean, sober. “I’ve kept my word for almost 14 years,” Prince says. He started to build a different type of self-esteem that he had never gotten from anywhere else. Those few hours were the most important hours of his life. “The worst day of my life,” he says. “Is now one of my very best. I started to find my soul. That day I found my purpose.”
Another happy thing was the fact that his dad, in the last eight years of his life, got to enjoy a sober son. Prince, who knew his job would never be done, recalls the final moments they spent together. “The day he died, I held his hand in Saint Barnabas Hospital and said, ‘Your son…I’m going to touch and change the world with my story. You never saw me have kids, but God’s got a plan for me to save other mommy and daddy’s kids out there.”
And Prince, who currently lives in California with his loveable dog, Rodney, defines a happy life with just five words. “Being of service to others.” And he’s living that happy life.
For more information about Darren Prince, visit www.officialdarrenprince.com.