When Prince Imitated Bryant Gumbel on ‘Today’
When television journalist Bryant Gumbel appeared for his final show hosting Today on Jan. 3, 1997, he expected laughs, tears and to relive memories from throughout his 15 year tenure as the morning show’s host.
What he didn’t expect was Prince.
Gumbel’s rise in the world of television is well chronicled. He made a name for himself at NBC Sports, covering everything from the NFL to MLB and even the summer Olympics. In September of 1982, the parent company decided to move Gumbel into a more prominent role, hosting NBC’s long-running morning show Today.
Gumbel served as anchor for 15 years until announcing his departure (he was hired away by rival, CBS). Weeks before his final show, the TV journalist sat down for a rare interview with Prince. The two had forged a friendship off-camera, conversing at social functions including Knicks basketball games.
In his Today interview with Gumbel, the Purple One discussed everything from his career to his relationship with his wife. He also made his first admission about problems with his newborn son who had died of a rare genetic disorder. Towards the end of that interview, Gumbel lightened the mood by discussing Prince’s fashion choices.
"I love your clothes, your wardrobe is different," the anchor said to his iconic guest. "Do you own a blazer?" After a brief pause, Prince simply replied "No." "Do you own a pair of pleated khakis?" Prince, after laughing, again replied "No." Enjoying the conversation, Gumbel came back with a final question. "Would you ever wear my shoes?," the host asked, pointing to his black leather footwear. "Let me see," Prince responded, arching forward to look at the shoes before exclaiming, "Hell no!"
Cut to January 3. As the Today TV team -- including Katie Couric and Al Roker -- celebrated Gumbel’s final show, a surprise guest walked on set. “I don’t believe it!,” Gumbel was heard exclaiming at the sight of the rock star -- or, more specifically, what the rock star was wearing. It was Prince, as never seen before, dressed in a suit, tie, glasses and loafers. The look was clearly an impression of Gumbel and his buttoned-down personae. Prince even presented mannerisms and vocal inflections similar to the veteran TV host, an idea suggested to the musician by his wife, Mayte.
Thankfully, the legendary singer didn’t try to sound like Gumbel during his performance. Instead, he was unquestionably Prince as he delivered a special medley of “Take Me With U” and “Raspberry Beret.” The latter song even received updated lyrics dedicated to Gumbel and the next step of his career.
“First of all, it’s unbelievable that he’s here,” a clearly touched Gumbel admitted in a conversation following Prince’s performance. “Secondly, it’s unbelievable that he wrote a song for me. And thirdly, the outfit is….” At this moment, the TV staff burst into laughter.
As Gumbel left NBC and transitioned to his new role at CBS, the broadcaster remained close friends with Prince. At one point, the musician even offered to write the theme song to the prime-time magazine show Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel.
“(Prince) took a run at it and I didn’t like it,” Gumbel admitted in a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “After three tries I called it off. It was becoming embarrassing -- a guy who can’t read music can’t tell Mozart, ‘No, this isn’t good.’ But I own three Prince songs that have never seen the light of day.”