Prince was an aloof character, and not many people got to understand the real Prince Rogers Nelson behind the purple mask. In an unlikely turn of events, one person he grew close to was comedian Chris Rock after they met on a television show in 1997.
Meeting Prince was enough of a bucket list moment for Rock, and unexpectedly, something beautiful began to blossom. Coincidentally, 1984 was a significant year for both of them in their respective fields. It was when the seminal Purple Rain was released, but it was also when Rock first attempted stand-up.
At that time, Rock was yet to become a full-time comic and subsidised his income by working as a DJ. “When Purple Rain came out, I was a DJ with guys on my block, playing block parties,” he told Billboard in 2014. “That summer, the big thing was Run-D.M.C.’ Born in the U.S.A.’, blah blah blah, the streets were playing ‘Sucker MCs’ and ‘It’s Like That’. I remember ‘When Doves Cry’ mixed into ‘It’s Like That’ perfectly, and even at a block party, when all we wanted to hear was hip-hop, ‘When Doves Cry’ was so hardcore, such an amazing record.”
13 years later, Chris Rock had completed Saturday Night Live and emerged as a superstar with his own primetime talk show. The Chris Rock Show ran for five seasons, and for the first episode, the comedian pulled the stops out by securing Prince to appear as a guest.
It was an eye-opening conversation, and Prince didn’t hold back. Usually, when appearing on such a public arena, he was guarded, but Rock managed to unlock him, and the singer provided his candid thoughts on everything from religion to sexuality.
Furthermore, in 1998, ‘The Purple One’ was celebrated at the Essence Awards, and Rock was given the honour of handing out an award to him. The comic referred to him as “the baddest man in the land”, “the best performer”, and “the best songwriter”.
In 2017, Rock appeared on the Scandinavian chat show, Skavlan and opened up about his close friendship with the late singer, who had passed away the previous year. “I knew Prince, I wouldn’t say well well, but, Prince was like that cool cousin who you try to impress. It’s sad, I think about him everyday. It’s the saddest thing,” he heartbreakingly said.
“The last time I saw him was New Year’s Eve two years ago in St Barts, he did a show at some beach for some really rich guy who paid him a few million dollars, and there was like 150 of us watching Prince. I’m next to Paul McCartney, Springsteen, and for some reason Justin Bieber was there,” he laughed.
Rock described the final time he saw Prince was an “amazing show”, but he also said he found the experience strange. He couldn’t understand why he was performing when other celebrities were just hanging out. Interestingly, the stand-up also pointed out how “everybody was new around him” and said, “something didn’t seem right about it”.
While Rock’s implication that the people Prince was surrounding himself with towards the end played a part in his death is unverifiable, the pain in his voice shows his sincerity and how gravely his death had affected him.