How Prince and Chris Rock Forged a Friendship
Over the course of his illustrious career, Prince won over fans in every walk of life. Perhaps none were more ardent than Chris Rock, the comedian who idolized the musician before his own rise in fame helped establish a friendship between the two.
Rock’s fandom began early, listening to Prince’s music throughout his formative years. The comedian started doing stand-up in 1984 at the age of 19, the same year that Prince’s seminal album Purple Rain was released.
"When Purple Rain came out, I was a DJ with guys on my block, playing block parties,” Rock recalled during a 2014 conversation with Billboard. “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.”
The song would become one of Rock’s favorites. “Those drums on 'When Doves Cry?' With no bass? And the lyric was not corny at all. It makes all the sense in the world, and it makes no sense. You can't write a song like that now -- music today has no metaphors, it's all literal. Now they would make you say, ‘When love dies’ or something.”
Rock went to see the Purple Rain movie in theaters “two or three times” the day it came out and referred to the experience as “mind-boggling.” When Prince brought the Purple Rain tour through town, Rock was sure to get tickets. “I saw the Purple Rain tour from the last row of the arena,” the comedian recalled. “It was one of my first concerts. We all wore purple. I forget which girl I went with, but I didn't get laid.”
Rock’s time in the cheap seats wouldn’t last long. The rising comedic star would soon get his first film role, a small part in Beverly Hills Cop II. In 1990 he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, barely missing the show’s 15th anniversary celebration at which Prince performed.
The comedian stayed on SNL until 1993 and though his friends and contemporaries like Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade rocketed to stardom, Rock was mainly a supporting player during his tenure on the show. That changed in 1996 with the release of his HBO comedy special, Bring the Pain.
The set was groundbreaking, controversial and lauded. Variety called it “one of the truly remarkable hours of comedy ever to air on television," and its cross-generational influence earned the special its own documentary decades later. For his part, Rock was surprised by the acclaim. “I thought, hopefully this will be better than other HBO specials,” the comedian admitted in an interview with Life magazine. “Maybe somebody will want me to do a sitcom – if I'm lucky. Next thing they were talking about it on C-SPAN, and I'm (thinking), ‘Huh?’”
Rock was suddenly the biggest name in comedy, a title that brings with it ample opportunities. One offer immediately caught his eye. It came from VH1, who presented the comedian with the chance to interview Prince.
The sit-down, one-on-one conversation spanned many topics, including religion, sexuality and Prince’s rumored rivalry with Michael Jackson. Rock was respectful and obviously excited throughout the interview, but also didn’t shy away from hot-button topics in the presence of the singer’s mystique. Prince, as interviewee, was candid, forthcoming and, at times, even funny - a far cry from his typically adversarial relationship the press. Both artists clearly enjoyed the experience, and it would be a launching pad for their continued friendship.
In 1998, Prince was honored at the Essence Awards and Rock was there to present him with the statue. “I flew in to give my man an award,” the comedian boasted, later referring to the rocker as “the baddest man in the land,” “the best performer” and “the best songwriter.” Prince, then known as “The Artist,” was obviously moved by his Rock’s enthusiasm, thanking him in his acceptance speech.
The stars' friendship continued over the years, manifesting itself in various ways. Rock performed stand-up at Paisley Park, then partied the night away with Prince and his entourage. When the comedian launched his semi-autobiographical sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, he was sure to work the Purple One into a plot line. The show’s main character, modeled after a teenage version of Rock, dressed as Prince for Halloween. Several years later, Rock himself would don a similar outfit in the movie Grown Ups 2.
In 2014, Prince and Rock finally shared the SNL stage together, serving as musical guest and host. In the episode’s promos, the comedian seemed more excited for the Purple One’s performance than his own hosting duties.
Like most fans, Rock was shocked and saddened by Prince’s sudden death in 2016. He continues to keep a framed photograph of his fallen idol in his dressing rooms while touring.
In 2017, the comedian appeared on the Scandinavian TV show Skavlan and was asked about his relationship with the music icon. Describing Prince as “that cool cousin you’re trying to impress,” Rock admitted he still thought about the singer every day.
The comedic giant then recounted the last time he saw Prince in person, at a New Year's Eve party two years prior. “Some really rich guy paid him a few million dollars and there was like 150 of us watching Prince. And I’m next to Paul McCartney and I think [Bruce] Springsteen and for some reason Justin Bieber was there,” the comedian recalled. “A lot of cool people watching Prince give an amazing show. Ridiculous show. But it was a weird thing, cuz I remember watching him, and I remember hanging out with him the night before the show, and there was a part of me that was like, ‘Oh, it’s cool that Prince is doing a show.’ But there was another part of me that was like, ‘Why is he doing a show?’ It’s like, he’s Prince. So what, they’re paying you? You’re Prince. You can get money any time you want. It’s like, all the other celebrities were just chilling, and he was working. And I didn’t, I don’t know. Something just didn’t seem right about it.”