Last night, Saturday Night Live paid a loving tribute to one of music’s greatest performers, one who has his own personal plain in the sketch show’s forty-year history.
In lieu of running a repeat of a previous episode, SNL created an night that honored the late Prince, who died on Thursday at the age of 57. The special, titled “Goodnight Sweet Prince,” was hosted by a purple-tie-wearing Jimmy Fallon before a crowd of hundreds of New York mourners, hundreds that took no time nor effort to gather (despite the fact that there were no plans to tape a live show this weekend until extremely recently).
Fallon, who normally has a carefree sensibility, had tears choking his voice as he opened the night with his own eulogy. He said this:
“Prince has been a special presence here at ‘Saturday Night Live’ for the last four decades. From his debut on the show as a 22-year-old in 1981, to his surprise performance at the after party for the ‘SNL’ 40th anniversary. Tonight we wanted to pay tribute to him by looking back at his performances over the years and by remembering what he meant to us. It was a lot. Other people may have been on the show more times, or performed more frequently, but there was something different about a Prince performance. It was special. It was an event. It was Prince.”
Beyond Fallon’s tribute, SNL revealed a never-before-seen clip of Prince’s performance at the SNL 40th anniversary after-party, during which the late singer unexpectedly took the stage on a dare.
According to Fallon, he came upon Prince at 4:30 in the morning and did what he had been doing all night long–cornering performers until they sang something for the party.
“The crowd parted,” said Fallon, “[and] you see this little afro floating towards you.” Prince stood before the people, and did what he did best–perform.
As “Goodnight Sweet Prince” waxed on, various moments in Prince’s SNL history were pieced together. Videos of Prince’s performance of ‘Partyup’ and ‘Electric Chair’ from SNL’s 15th anniversary played, followed by his duet with Lianne La Havas “Clouds,” his rendition of his song “Marz,” and his cover of Alicia Smith’s song, “Another Love.”
The special also featured “The Prince Show,” the fake talk show which, of course, had Fred Armisen play a spot-on Prince and Maya Rudolph as Beyonce.
It was a night fit for the man who claimed the color purple for his own.
“Who has their own color?” said Fallon. “He owns purple.”
And in the grand style of Prince, who represented the best, last night’s special drew in more viewers than SNL has had in the spring in years. In fact, the last time the sketch show achieved such high numbers–a 4.0 rating, according to Nielsen–was all the way back in 2013 when Ben Affleck hosted and Kanye West was the musical guest (then, they scored a hefty 4.7).
In a season that has been remarkably abysmal for SNL’s viewership, averaging a mere 1.9 among 18-49 year-olds, it leaned on the Purple One for one last rocket to stardom. Next week, it’ll return to its ratings doldrums, but Prince, who made the show–and everything else he graced–great, will never be forgotten in the legacy of Saturday Night Live, nor anywhere else.