40 fun facts about 'Purple Rain' as Prince's triumph marks its 40th anniversary

Jon Bream and Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

MINNEAPOLIS — Lordy, Lordy, "Purple Rain" is 40, and Prince's hometown is not going to let you forget it.

This weekend's Celebration 2024 at Paisley Park is centered on the 40th anniversary of His Royal Purpleness' landmark album and film (officially released June 25 and July 27, respectively). So are Friday and Saturday's reunion concerts by his old band the Revolution at First Avenue. So is a hefty new book by Twin Cities music journalist Andrea Swensson, "Prince and Purple Rain 40 Years."

With all that and lots more happening around the anniversary, we bring you 40 fun facts about "Purple Rain."

1. Like many things in Prince's career, "Purple Rain" was a big risk. The movie with a first-time star, first-time director, first-time producer was made for $7 million and grossed $68 million during its theatrical run.

2. "Purple Rain" won an Oscar (for best original song score), led to four Grammys for Prince, and its blockbuster soundtrack spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 with four Top 10 singles.

3. "Purple Rain" was the second movie Prince shot. During his 1982 tour with the Time, a crew helmed by music video pioneer Chuck Statler filmed concert and offstage footage for an unfinished project known as "The Second Coming." The 16 mm footage remains in Prince's vault.

4. After the success of the album "1999" in '82, Prince's management contract with the L.A.-based firm of Cavallo, Ruffalo & Fargnoli was about to expire. He wouldn't sign a new deal unless they got him a movie. "'And it can't be financed by some drug dealer or jeweler,'" Bob Cavallo remembered Prince saying. "'It has to be a major studio and my name has to be above the title.'"

5. The film's producers talked with David Geffen and Richard Pryor about financing the picture. Football hero Jim Brown ran Pryor's company and wanted to wait until Prince "got more famous." Said Cavallo: "Prince is not a guy who waits." So the rookie movie producers invested $1 million of their own money and negotiated a three-picture deal with Warner Bros.

6. Emmy-winning William Blinn, executive producer of TV's "Fame," was hired to draft a screenplay based on Prince's vision. Blinn said Prince "wanted a picture that would shock you." The tentative title: "Dreams."

7. Cavallo wanted to hire "Reckless" director James Foley, who was booked up but recommended his film editor, Albert Magnoli, then only 30.

8. The movie's original female lead Vanity quit two weeks before filming was to start. There was no clear reason why. Co-producer Steve Fargnoli simply said "business reasons." Director Magnoli said she received a better offer from Martin Scorsese to appear in "The Last Temptation of Christ."

9. More than 750 young women then auditioned. After her tryout, Patricia Kotero of Santa Monica, California, flew to Minneapolis to meet Prince. "He asked about my experience," she told the Star Tribune in 1984. "And he looked at me very seriously and said, 'Do you believe in God?'" She got the part and a new name — Apollonia.

10. The only professional actors in the movie were Clarence Williams III of TV's "Mod Squad" (who portrayed the Kid's father) and Olga Karlatos of "Once Upon a Time in America" (the Kid's mother).

11. Actor Don Amendolia flew in to conduct acting classes for the musicians in a St. Louis Park warehouse. Three days a week for three months, they did improvisational exercises and recited monologues from "The Streets of New York" and "Cloud 9," the play that had previously brought Amendolia to the Twin Cities at the Cricket Theater.

12. The Minnesota Dance Theatre offered dance lessons to cast members — "six years of training condensed into six months," MDT's John Command said. In return, Prince & the Revolution played a benefit concert for the financially strapped troupe at First Avenue on Aug. 3, 1983, raising $23,000.

13. Many of the soundtrack's songs were debuted and recorded at that Aug. 3 concert. Three of those live recordings were cleaned up and used on the album: the title track, "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby, I'm a Star."

14. That concert also was Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin's first public performance with Prince. She was 19.

15. The movie did not have a definite title until Prince played "Purple Rain" that night, new even to director Magnoli. As Magnoli told Rolling Stone: "I asked Prince after, 'What is that song? He said, 'I just wrote it with the band.' I said, 'That's the song, the anthem song!'"

16. While the audience noise was mixed out of these songs for the soundtrack, listen closely and you can hear some of it toward the end of the title track on the album, including a fan's faint "Woo!"

17. The members of the Revolution remember rehearsing those songs so exhaustively in the buildup, bassist Mark Brown, aka BrownMark, says in Swensson's book, "I mean, 'Purple Rain,' I could fall asleep and play it."

18. Prince's iconic guitar solo in "Purple Rain" was entirely improvised, and two minutes longer than what wound up on the record. ""I knew what he was doing was taking people to another place," Revolution drummer Bobby Z says in Swensson's book.

19. One name that stands out on First Ave's guest list for that show: R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, in town recording the future classic "I Will Dare" with his pals the Replacements.


20. First Ave received $100,000, a new stage and stage lights as payment to close for a month for the movie shoot, Thanksgiving to Dec. 20, 1983. The stage Prince humped in the movie is more or less the same one used at the club today.

21. Extras for the performance scenes filmed at First Ave had to show up at 7 a.m. and sit in the recently shuttered, unheated Academy Theater across from the nightclub. They were paid $35 with a free box lunch for a 12-hour day.

22. News media were not allowed on the set for any of the filming in Minneapolis, which began on Nov. 1, 1983. However, reporters and photographers attended the Aug. 3 concert at First Ave.

23. The movie was shot in 32 locations in and around Minneapolis. More scenes were shot in Los Angeles, including the backstage situations (actually soundstages) and scenes at the Huntington Hotel, where Apollonia takes a room.

24. Apollonia's opening scene has her arriving via a Greyhound bus to First Avenue in a $37 taxi ride, which she cannot afford. In real life, the bus station was just around the corner.

25. In the famous scene where the Kid urges Apollonia to "purify" herself in Lake Minnetonka, the "lake" was actually a stretch of the Minnesota River in Henderson, Minnesota.

26. The filmmakers were running three weeks behind and had to meet a strict deadline or be replaced, per their insurance company. So Cavallo arranged for five cameras to hastily shoot the performance scenes at First Ave. For Prince, it only one or two takes. "You know how perfect Prince was," Cavallo recalled in 2019, "if there was a spot he had to land on with a body spin, it was exactly the same every time." The deadline was met.

27. Syndicated newspaper-turned-TV movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, both gave thumbs-up to "Purple Rain."

28. Minneapolis is never mentioned in the movie until the closing credits. The Lake Minnetonka reference and some "Land of 10,000 Lakes" license plates are about as close as the movie gets to suggesting its locale.

29. On the "Purple Rain" soundtrack, the party-starter opener "Let's Go Crazy" was actually a deeply Christian song to Prince. "The de-elevator was Satan," he told Chris Rock in a 1997 MTV interview. "It was, you know: 'Stay happy, stay focused, and you can beat the de-elevator.'"

30. "Darling Nikki" was the song that prompted Tipper Gore, wife of U.S. Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, to create the Parents Resource Music Center in 1985 and all the subsequent "Parental Advisory" labels on CDs and tapes. She heard their 11-year-old daughter listening to its, um, self-gratifying lyrics.

31. "When Doves Cry" was the project's first single and Prince's first No. 1 hit, but it was the last track finished for the soundtrack. Prince labored over its production, leading to its rare omission of a bass guitar part.

32. After earning auspicious notices as Prince's foil in "Purple Rain," co-star Morris Day signed a three-film deal with 20th Century Fox in 1984. The Los Angeles Times reported that Day passed on an offer to portray Little Richard, turned down a Disney film called "Off Beat" and read for "The Color Purple" and for Ron Howard's "Gung Ho." He ended up with small parts in Richard Pryor's "Moving" and Andrew Dice Clay's "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane."

33. "Purple Rain" was available on VHS in 1984 while the film was still in theaters. A DVD version arrived in 1999, followed by Blu-ray in 2007, a remastered version in 2016 and a 4K Blu-ray due next week.

34. The "Purple Rain" soundtrack was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011 and, eight years later, named to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

35. Random samplings of famous artists who've recorded their own versions of the songs: Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam ("Purple Rain"); Beyoncé, Mariah Carey ("The Beautiful Ones"); Patti Smith, Ginuwine ("When Doves Cry"); Foo Fighters ("Darling Nikki"); Incubus and the "Sing 2″ cast ("Let's Go Crazy").

36. But Prince wouldn't let Weird Al Yankovic touch these songs. Pop music's cult-loved satirist told the Star Tribune in 2019, "Legally, I could go to the estate and ask permission. But ethically, I wouldn't do it because I've always respected the wishes of the artist. And Prince made his wishes exceedingly clear."

37. In 2015, Prince purchased the house in south Minneapolis used for exterior shots of his residence in the movie. He paid $117,000 for the rundown 1913 abode at 3420 Snelling Ave. He never lived in it. His estate arranged for it to be rehabbed and made available as an Airbnb rental.

38. Chris Rock convincingly declared Prince the winner in his feud with Michael Jackson as pop's reigning king of the 1980s. "There's not a bad [song] on 'Purple Rain,'" the comedian said. "'Thriller' is allegedly the best album of all time, and that has at least two bad songs on it. There's no 'Baby Be Mine' on 'Purple Rain.'"

39. More than 25 million copies of the "Purple Rain" album have sold in 40 years. That makes it around the 45th bestselling album of all time ("Thriller" is No. 1 with more than 70 million).

40. "Purple Rain" was the last song Prince performed at his final concert, on the Piano & a Microphone Tour in Atlanta on April 14, 2016.

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