You need to see this. On Friday, July 27, 1984, MTV headed to Hollywood for the A-list red-carpet premiere and booze-fueled afterparty for Prince's seminal rock film "Purple Rain." Eddie Murphy showed up sporting a leopard-print blazer, a bare chest and a leather bandana tied around his neck. Pee-wee Herman drove up in a hot-rod-flamed clown car and busted into a nasally version of "When Doves Cry." And Prince himself — his "royal badness," as the VJ Mark Goodman declared — arrived in a purple stretch limo and, flanked by beefy bodyguards, sashayed down the carpet carrying a single rose.
Today, on the 25th anniversary of the "Purple Rain" premiere, we have unearthed MTV's two-hour-long special since it is an unparalleled window into our pop-culture past, because Prince is a timeless rock god and because the footage is, pure and simple, freaking amazing. (Read what Kurt Loder had to say about Prince's landmark album and movie.)
Why had everyone gathered a quarter-century ago beneath the sweltering California sun to celebrate this man and his operatic movie loosely based on his own life?
" 'Cause Prince is bad!" Murphy said.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves. By '84, the singer had already established himself as one of the most talented, charismatic and unpredictable pop stars on the planet. But with "Purple Rain" — and the album that accompanied it — Prince was set to reach an entirely new level. The disc hit the top Billboard spot, spawned two #1 singles and went platinum a staggering 13 times. And the movie, which saw Prince portray a Prince-like character trying to succeed as a musician and a lover while avoiding the alcoholic failings of his father, won an Oscar and grossed nearly $70 million at the box office.
The 1984 premiere featured appearances by some of the music world's biggest stars at the time: Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, Lionel Richie, Little Richard, John Mellencamp, Sheila E., "Weird Al" Yankovic and Morris Day.
On the carpet, Day commandeered Goodman's mic and announced to the crowd, "I wanna see the movie and then I wanna see some lovely young ladies, so y'all hang around, OK?"
The entire special had an endearing, basic-cable rawness to it, a compelling contrast to the slickly produced, highly professional nature of so many contemporary TV events. The sole set-decoration at the afterparty was a purple sign with shimmery silver ribbons hanging underneath. Interviews took place around unadorned cocktail-party tables and were interrupted with calls for more champagne. Goodman read from note cards clutched in his hand as he attempted to guide the live event.
And yet both the premiere and the film were part of a new beginning, a fresh way of approaching pop culture that brought together artists, celebrities, technology and, increasingly, the inclusion of fans in the entire process.
"It now becomes an extension," Richie said. "What we've been doing for a long time is taking each song and making a video out of it. What [Prince] has made now is a motion picture out of his album. It's a very important step."