For decades, Prince was one of the greatest musical artists on the planet. But one late Saturday night last February, he became a New York party legend.
The epic, 3½-hour Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special had wrapped up earlier that night and nearly every cast member in the show’s history, along with scores of stars who had hosted or played music on the show over the years, were packed into the Plaza Hotel for an after-party to end all after-parties.
The next day, a seemingly still hungover Jimmy Fallon recounted the event for his Tonight Show audience, beginning with the fact that a stage had been set up, full of instruments, just in case anyone wanted to jam.
Appropriately, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi (filling in for his late brother John) started things off with some “Blues Brothers” tunes. They were followed by Paul McCartney, who helped lead Fallon and Taylor Swift in a rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There.” Then, for good measure, McCartney sang backup for Swift on “Shake It Off.”
From there, Fallon emceed a jam session that included Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Debbie Harry singing “The Tide Is High,” Michael Bolton doing “When a Man Loves a Woman” and the B-52’s breaking out “Love Shack.”
But suddenly, as Fallon tells it, Dave Chappelle came up to him and whispered, “Dude, Prince is here.” Instead of trying to play it cool, Fallon grabbed the mic and announced, “Prince, if you’re here, I dare you to come up on stage.”
“All of a sudden, the crowd parts and there’s purple smoke and the dude, just floating towards the stage,” Fallon said. When Prince reached the stage and got his guitar on, he grabbed the mic and delivered a line that perfectly summed up the night: “Dearly inebriated.” And then he launched into “Let’s Go Crazy.” Among his backup singers were Maya Rudolph (who has her own Prince cover band called Princess) and Chris Rock.
As Questlove added, “Jay-Z, Rihanna, everybody ran to the stage.” Because in the presence of Prince, even the biggest stars in the world were reduced to lowly, grateful fans. When SNL’s Michael Che recounted the story on the You Made It Weird podcast, it inspired host Pete Holmes to create a “You Got Prince’d” T-shirt.
“It was one of the best nights of my life and I wanted to share it with you,” Fallon, still “high” on the experience, told his audience.
Sadly for the rest of us who are not massive celebrities, there were no professional cameras in the room to capture Prince’s performance. All we have are a handful of short clips, like the ones below from those who were among the few there to witness it.
What other artist could have possibly done what Prince did on this night? Following a living Beatle and several of the biggest pop stars in the game right now. Reducing a room full of superstars to screaming fans. Making it impossible for anyone to dare take the stage when he was done.
Only one other name comes to mind, and we lost him three months ago.