Two days after Prince‘s death, NBC’s Saturday Night Live dedicated this weekend’s episode, aptly titled “Goodnight Sweet Prince,” to all the performances from The Purple One in Studio 8H.
Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon opened the tribute show with a sentimental monologue. “Prince has been a special presence at Saturday Night Live for the last four decades from his debut as a 22-year-old in 1981 to his surprise performance at the after-party for SNL‘s 40th anniversary,” he said. “There was always something about a Prince performance. It was special. It was an event.” He also said Prince had “never not been cool” and that “he owns purple.”
The first clip of the night was a throwback look at Prince’s “Partyup” performance on the SNL stage in 1981. Up next was Prince’s dark and foggy rendition of “Electric Chair” for SNL‘s 15th anniversary special in 1989, fresh off the release of his Batman album, explaining the large Batman logo in his backdrop.
The scene was hot and heavy when actor Steve Martin introduced the orange suit-clad Prince (joined by an trio of female dancers), who pumped out a smooth performances of “Fury”, a note to scorned women, in 2006. The record appeared on his 3121 album released that year. A bit of Prince’s humorous side showed following his “Beautiful, Loved & Blessed” performance featuring singer Tamar from the same episode, where he winked at former SNL castmember Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher character by yelling “Superstar!”
The calendar then flipped to 2014 when Prince performed with Lianne La Havas for their Art Official Age duet “Clouds” against a cloudy-turned-celestial backdrop. With his band 3RDEYEGIRL and signature love symbol prominent on the mic stand, Prince let it rip on the guitar before launching into “Marz” from the PlectrumElectrum LP and a cover of Alice Smith‘s “Another Love.”
Fallon then shared his memories of the epic, star-studded SNL 40th anniversary after-party in 2015. “It was the most unbelievable night,” he said. “Lorne [Michaels] set up instruments, no band. ‘If people feel like playing and jamming out, let them do it.'” A-listers including Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Elvis Costello and Debbie Harry took the stage for an impromptu show. Comedian Dave Chappelle then tipped Fallon off that Prince was in the building. “Prince, if you’re in the room, I dare you to come up and sing something for us,” Fallon said, adding that it was about 4:30 in the morning. The crowd parted and Prince emerged. “You see this little afro floating towards you,” he recalled. Prince then “destroyed” his performance of “Let’s Go Crazy” (Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph were also spotted on-stage beside him) for the night’s grand finale before, naturally, floating off stage.
No SNL tribute show would be complete without shining the spotlight on The Prince Show, where comic Fred Armisen would play Prince (alongside Rudolph as co-host Beyonce). Among the faux talk-show guests over the years included Queen Latifah as Patti LaBelle, Amy Poehler as Sharon Stone and on a separate episode, Nancy Grace, Steve Martin as his personal chef, Shia LaBeouf as Spiderman star Tobey Maguire and on the Christmas special, Robert De Niro. Whether whispering or donning a crispy purple suit, Armisen’s Prince always brought the LOLs. You can almost imagine Prince watching his SNL highlight reel with a charming smirk.