Though the exact cause of his death remains unknown. For Aerosmith frontman and former American Idol judge Steven Tyler, the speculations that drug use may have been involved in Prince’s death make the loss particularly poignant.
“I’ve certainly had my moments of crying about him,” Tyler says in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE. “He was a saint. He was a musician and he spoke my language so it’s a little harder to take.” Still, says Tyler, “I would love to just tell you [I’m crying because] we’re going to miss him and his music, but I think it’s deeper than that.”
Originally, Tyler says he was unaware Prince faced a major health scare just days prior to his demise. “I had no idea that he was taken to the hospital [reportedly] because he took too much of something,” says Tyler. “You know I am very aware of taking too much of something. It got me in rehab many, many times.”
The musician says that if reports that Prince was treated for the misuse of prescription drugs are true, “As a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, I get that,” he says. “In the 80s I fell to my knees with my addictions.”
These days, the musician says “Doctors are the new pushers. All of America isn’t strung out on street drugs, they’re strung out on prescribed drugs.”
When it comes to Prince, “I’m hoping whoever brought him to the hospital that night will have something to say…I hope it’s not drugs. But if it is, this didn’t have to happen.”
“I know how it is being a celebrity and everybody around turns a blind eye,” Tyler continues. “But I was fortunate enough to have someone who said, ‘You’re going to Betty Ford, again.'” he says, referencing his last stint in rehab six years ago.
Living sober and happy these days, Tyler says it’s a daily process. “If I didn’t do it yesterday, then there’s hope,” he says of staying clean. “If I can do it, anyone can. There are 12-step programs out there that save people’s lives day after day, even if it’s a minute at a time and someone’s feeling like they want to use.”
And though Tyler’s holding out hope that Prince didn’t die of “the same disease I have,” he’s searching for a silver lining, that maybe Prince’s death will serve as a wake up call to others. “Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, they all died so I could live,” he says of realizing he was headed down the same path as his idols. “That’s the only way to stop me from crying is to say, ok maybe Prince died so others could live.”