Reliving 'Purple Rain' premiere and glitzy party in Hollywood

Morris Day pulled up in a yellow Cadillac. Apollonia sashayed out of a silver Rolls-Royce. And Prince arrived in a purple limousine — of course it was purple — as 5,000 fans screamed outside Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Clutching a long-stemmed purple flower for the world premiere of "Purple Rain," the Minneapolis rocker — in a bespoke purple lamé trench coat, surrounded by bodyguards — marched straight into the famous movie palace on July 26, 1984, without a word. No acknowledgment or even eye contact with the fans. He ignored an MTV VJ conducting live interviews on the red carpet. Prince didn't even look up at the 30-foot canvas painting of him hanging on the front of the theater.

But the paparazzi weren't disappointed at the guest list: Eddie Murphy, Morgan Fairchild, Christopher Reeve, Lionel Richie, Little Richard, Pee-wee Herman, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Kiss, Talking Heads, Heart, Donna Mills, Kevin Bacon, John Mellencamp, Rickie Lee Jones, LeVar Burton and 12-year-old "E.T." actor Henry Thomas, among others.

"I can't believe all the stars," Prince's mother, Mattie Baker, told me as she made her way down the 25-yard gauntlet where no one else recognized her.

"Purple Rain" director Al Magnoli looked confident while co-producer Bob Cavallo paced nervously outside the theater. There had been test screenings in Denver and San Diego, and Warner Bros. had ambitiously placed "Purple Rain," the movie featuring a first-time star, in 900 theaters nationwide, 200 more than originally planned. But the filmmakers were apprehensive.

At Mann's, seats were assigned, including for 500 fans who paid $10 each alerted by a tiny newspaper ad. The faithful screamed when Prince's image spread across the screen. They swooned when he kissed Apollonia. And they went crazy during his performances.

Prince slipped out before the movie ended. He had a party to attend at the nearby Palace Theater.

Predictably, the Palace was a study in purple — searchlights, balloons, streamers, napkins, flowers in centerpieces and purple orchids handed to women as they entered.

In the humid, crowded main room of the three-story venue, guests noshed on quiche, meatballs and pasta salad. MTV VJ Mark Goodman solicited reviews on camera.

"I'm a Prince groupie," Eddie Murphy proclaimed. "I loved the movie. I think the man's a genius."

"It was a gas," Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham declared. "The cinematography was excellent. Prince was as strong on film as you would expect him to be."

"Compared to other rock 'n' roll movies like 'Help' or something, this was far better," offered John Mellencamp. "It was nice just to see Prince talk."

"I'm proud of Prince for taking the whole Minneapolis scene along with him," Lionel Richie opined. "There are followers and there are leaders. He's killin'. This is just an extension of his life story, and now everyone is going to want to make their own movie."

"I'm exempt from giving reviews," demurred Steven Spielberg.

The Band's Robbie Robertson, who worked in both film and music, was less than glowing: "This isn't great moviemaking, but in terms of putting film and music together, he has made a contribution."

Prince's people were certainly amped.

"Prince is bringing back the days of old Hollywood," Revolution drummer Bobby Z told me at the party. "The people that are jaded got excited about this. You can feel the genuine excitement."

Except Prince was not in the party room to share in the excitement. Still, the show must go on. Unannounced Minneapolis dancers — who turned out to be Kirk Johnson, Tony Mosley and Damon Dickson, who'd danced in the movie — did a choregraphed routine to Prince's "Erotic City." Then it was time for Sheila E., Prince's latest protégée. With her Bay Area band, she tore it up with Latin-tinged funk/pop and tantalized by pulling Ray Parker Jr., the singer of "Ghostbusters," out of the crowd to tease him with her "Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar."

Finally, at 12:20 a.m., Prince & the Revolution took the stage. It was a quickie cameo — "17 Days," "Irresistible Bitch" and "When Doves Cry." Spins, splits, an 8-foot leap from atop the amplifiers. No "Thank you, goodnight" or any words from the Kid.

As the Revolution exited, I asked Bobby Z what he thought of the night. He wanted to talk about my in-depth Prince series that week in the Star Tribune for which I interviewed Prince's mother, high school teachers, classmates and others and confirmed that the exploding star was two years older than his official biography stated.

"You blew our minds," Z said. "All everyone [in the band] wanted to talk about was the series, not this."

Everyone else at the party — from co-producer Cavallo with his victory cigar to Prince's parents and Paul Peterson, who stepped right out of Holy Angels Academy to join the Time as a replacement — wanted to celebrate Prince. And "Purple Rain." And putting Minneapolis on the map.

However, Steve Fargnoli, a co-producer of the movie and Prince's day-to-day manager, wasn't feeling upbeat. As he and I stood outside the Palace well after closing time, he looked forlorn, shaking his head. He was pessimistic that the film, which would open in two days, would be a success.

"You saw the reaction in the theater and the early reviews have been very positive," I told Fargnoli. "Did you see the rave from Mikal Gilmore in the L.A. Herald Examiner?" The respected former Rolling Stone writer called it "the best rock film ever made."

"Don't worry," I urged. "Don't worry."

Advertisement