35 Years Ago: Prince’s ‘Unbelievable’ ‘Purple Rain’ Oscars Win
On March 25, 1985 Prince added a big piece to his trophy case when he won the first and only Academy Award of his career.
The musician earned his nomination in the now-defunct ‘Best Original Song Score’ category. “To qualify as an original song score, a score must contain five original songs,” actor Michael Douglas matter-of-factly explained during the ceremony. The category had gone through many changes over the years, at various times being called 'Scoring of a Musical Picture' or being split into original and adapted subcategories. It counted the Beatles and Henry Mancini among previous winners.
In 1985, the category had only three nominees: Jeff Moss for The Muppets Take Manhattan, Kris Kristofferson for Songwriter and Prince for Purple Rain.
The latter musician was in the midst of an unprecedented hot streak. His film, Purple Rain, hit theaters in July of 1984, grossing more than $68 million at the domestic box office and becoming an instant cultural phenomenon. Its accompanying soundtrack spent an astounding 24 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. At one point, the then 26-year-old Prince boasted the No. 1 album, single and film in the U.S. all at the same time -- a feat that had previously only been accomplished by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Suffice it to say, a loss at the Academy Awards wouldn’t have dampened the monumental success of Purple Rain. And yet, as Prince strode towards the stage, draped in a shimmering purple cape, it was clear the vaunted musician cherished his Oscar moment.
“Thank you very much,” Prince earnestly declared before introducing Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, members of the Revolution who flanked him during the acceptance speech. “This is very unbelievable,” Prince continued, adding that he “could have never imagined this in (his) wildest dreams.”
The Purple One went on to thank his many collaborators -- including his manager and the film’s writers and producers -- before praising God and adding a final “Thank you very much.”
Despite contributing music to many more films over the course of his career -- including Batman, his own Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge and Happy Feet -- Prince would never again receive an Academy Award nomination. He did return to the show in 2005 as a presenter, delivering the award for that year's 'Best Original Song.' Following the musician’s death in 2016, the annual award show featured a tribute to Prince in their 'In Memoriam' segment.
The Purple One received the posthumous Oscar spotlight once again in 2019 when director Spike Lee wore a purple suit and custom-made gold, diamond and opal necklace in the shape of Prince’s famous symbol at the vaunted award show. The acclaimed filmmaker was nominated for 'Best Director' and 'Best Adapted Screenplay' for BlacKkKlansman, eventually winning an Oscar in the latter category.
Lee and Prince had been close friends, hanging out together socially as well as collaborating on projects. Lee used a version of the spiritual "Mary Don't You Weep," performed by Prince, over the closing credits to BlaKkKlansman. The director believed that his discovery of the previously unreleased track was serendipitous. “What could be more fitting than to have a Negro spiritual sung by Prince, just him and the piano in this movie,” Lee declared to the New York Times. “Prince wanted me to have that song in BlacKkKlansman. People can say I’m crazy, smoking crack, which I don’t. Or eating the mushrooms, which I don’t. I’m telling you, on my mother’s grave, he wanted me to have this song.”