How Prince Challenged Expectations at the Celebrity-Filled ‘Purple Rain’ Release Party
Prince's newfound celebrity was confirmed during a star-struck release party for Purple Rain, held hours after the movie premiered on July 27, 1984 at the historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. MTV broadcast live from the event, which culminated with a brief, expectation-challenging performance with the Revolution.
He was already known as one of music's most charismatic and talented new performers. Purple Rain – both the film and the music – took Prince to the next level. The soundtrack began an astonishing 24-week run at the top of the charts earlier that month, and "When Doves Cry" had just reached No. 1, as well. The film followed them both to the top, eventually grossing nearly $70 million at the box office.
But first, they partied. Tickets for the event, held at the Palace in Hollywood, noted that casual attire was expected but that patrons should "dress to impress." Prince — dubbed his "royal badness" by MTV VJ Mark Goodman — led the way. He'd exited a purple stretch limo earlier in the day wearing a glittering jacket (also purple, of course) while carrying a single rose.
Among those in the crowd that night were collaborators like Morris Day, Apollonia, Jill Jones and Sheila E., who played an opening set before Prince and the Revolution. They were joined by John Mellencamp, Lionel Richie, Ann Wilson, Weird Al Yankovic and Eddie Murphy, an admitted "Prince groupie" who arrived bare-chested in a leopard-print blazer with leather bandana around his neck. Early rock legend Little Richard was there, too.
"Prince is an old friend of mine; he's me, in this generation," Little Richard told Goodman, before Prince took the stage. He had brought along a newly embossed Bible as a gift. Asked what he thought of the just-screened film, a nearby Murphy later quipped: "I feel that Prince is me in this generation."
Sheila E played "Shortberry Strawcake," "The Belle of St. Mark," "Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar" and, of course, "The Glamorous Life." This being the '80s, a breakdance trio performed before her.
Prince finally took the stage at 12:20AM, and began with two decidedly offbeat songs: B-sides "17 Days" from the Purple Rain sessions and the 1999-era deep cut "Irresistible Bitch." Afterward, he finally launched into "When Doves Cry," and then he was gone.
The earlier premiere had been a VIP-laden affair, as well. Hollywood heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Reeve, Kevin Bacon and Morgan Fairchild were there – and that was no accident. Veteran press agent Dick Guttman said he orchestrated a feeding frenzy by having a cousin place false advertisements in film-industry trade papers. They featured a desperate fan who said he was willing to trade very exclusive passes to the closing ceremonies of Los Angeles' looming Olympic Games in exchange for Prince tickets.
"I then arranged for his strange and startling ad to get wide pick-up in the media," Guttman told the Huffington Post in 2016. "A guy willing to give up the golden tickets of the Olympics – who knew he was my cousin? Suddenly, the premiere RSVPs from the town's elite started to pour in."
Prince, who was reportedly a nervous wreck upon arrival at the premiere, was suddenly on top of the world. Purple Rain opened at $7.8 million, instantly earning back its production costs while replacing Ghostbusters as the week's top film. That made Prince the first in history to have the same project at the top of the singles, album and movie charts in the U.S.
"We drove up to the theater, the quintessential Hollywood premiere, and there's massive crowds and screaming and yelling – and it was a big thing," the Revolution's Dr. Fink says in Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of 'Purple Rain'. "Then going into the packed theater and seeing the reaction of the audience, hearing the people around you as it's playing – then I knew we were onto something for sure. I thought, 'Okay, this is it. This is going to be a big tour coming up in the fall."
At this point, however, there had still been no official announcement. Before the evening's concert, Goodman asked Fink's enthusiastic bandmate Wendy Melvoin if there were plans to hit the road with Prince, and she said "yes" – nine times in a row. ("Maybe I should ask that again!" Goodman joked.) "We're gonna go out as soon as we can," Melvoin added. "We're so ready."
Prince and the Revolution began those shows two months to the day after Purple Rain went to No. 1.