Prince showcased his "mystical" presence — and sly sense of humor — when he lied to Conan O'Brien's face backstage before a 2005 charity performance.

"I was hosting something — I think it was for Tiger Woods," the comedian recalled to Maya Rudolph on his "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend" podcast, referencing the "Tiger Jam VIII" event. "They had this amazing lineup, and they asked me to emcee … The person closing the show was going to be Stevie Wonder. I'm backstage, and there was this rumor that maybe Prince might show up and play with Stevie Wonder. I remember I heard it, and all of us backstage were talking about it. I think people in the audience thought it might happen … Stevie Wonder is onstage, and he's playing. And I'm suddenly aware — the way you're aware, like a sixth sense — of a presence."

When the talk show host turned to his left, he saw the Purple One himself air-drumming to Wonder's music. "It's the best air-drumming I've ever seen," O'Brien said. "What the real drummer is doing with Stevie Wonder — what Prince is doing is better. It's fantastic." After a brief greeting, the comic said, "‘So there’s a rumor that you’re going to go out and play with Stevie Wonder.'"

Prince denied the chatter, saying, "I'm just here to watch … No. No. I’m not going to play.” O'Brien pressed him again as Wonder started playing his signature song "Superstition," but Prince insisted, “No, man. I’m really not going out.”

“And as he said, ‘I’m not going out,’ this technician put that perfect paisley guitar around his neck, and it was all mic’d up, and he looked at me and went, ‘Gotta go,'” "O'Brien continued. "And I’m like, ‘That fucker!' ... But this was him saying, in his own mystical way, ‘I can’t ruin the surprise.’ And I thought, ‘That’s perfect. It was perfect. That’s who he was.'”

Earlier in the episode, the comedian remembered marveling over Prince's physical appearance when the musician performed on Saturday Night Live during O'Brien's tenure as a writer. "I thought, 'That is the most perfect-looking human I've ever seen,'" he said. "It's not a size joke that he was small, but he was like a doll — a very perfectly made doll. I'm talking about his face and his features. He looked like he had been crafted by someone who really knew workmanship."

 

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