Morris Day Remembers The 40th Anniversary of Prince’s 'Purple Rain'

Day reflects on the making of the legendary film, its cultural impact, and his enduring bond with Prince.

2024 marks the 40th anniversary of Prince’s iconic film Purple Rain and its accompanying album. The Albert Magnoli-directed film won an Academy Award. It established the Purple One as a pop deity while taking in over $70 million in global box office revenue on its $7.2 million budget. Meanwhile, the album features the titular songs “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Darling Nikki,” which went thirteen times platinum and earned two Grammys. Doesn’t hurt that both the film and soundtrack were eventually added to the Library of Congress. 

Centering on The Kid, played by Prince, most of Purple Rain’s narrative revolves around The Revolution frontman balancing the struggles of his abusive home life and the band’s internal conflicts. Morris Day, leading the rival band The Time seeks to exploit these tensions by persuading The Kid's girlfriend, Apollonia, to join his new group. 

It was a clever way for Prince to bring in his various musical associations and place them in this fictional sandbox. Before Purple Rain, Morris Day & The Time were already known for several albums featuring hit singles like “Cool,” “Get It Up,” “777-9311" and “Jungle Love.” Playing the loudmouth rival to The Kid’s more quiet demeanor, Day recalls the moment Prince, who he had known since high school, presented the idea of Purple Rain to him. 

“We were hanging out and one day where I knew he had been writing music because he had these notebooks on him,” explained Day to “He had been writing this film treatment and one day he shows up and he is like we’re going to do a movie. I was like cool. A few weeks later, people started showing up, directors and producers and management started showing up.”

Unboxed Vol. 42: Isaac Dunbar Wants To Dance Like Prince And Bowie

The next thing he knew, Day would find himself in acting and dance classes before heading into production. One individual he mentions being grateful for around that time is Susan Galbrath, who collaborated with Prince on songwriting, performance, and the first draft of Purple Rain. Another person who helped him in his role was Magnoli after a failed first day of acting class.

“We had an acting class and I was doing what I do,” explained Day. “I was the class clown and the teacher told me I didn’t even need to come back here any more. He said I was disrupting everything and that I was better off at the beach or something. I said okay, I’m going to go to the beat and the rest was history.”

Not being a big reader and not enjoying the aspects of script reading, Day glanced over the script while focusing on his parts. Magnoli allowed him, alongside The Time member and comedic foil Jerome Benton, to customize their parts. This approach helped Day familiarize himself with the script despite his lack of interest in reading as a pastime. His work on Purple Rain became a huge confidence booster. Many people who saw the movie looked at Day as offering the most comedic moments in the film

“I’ve only seen Purple Rain one time in my life and that was at the premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre way back in 84 when it debuted,” explained Day. “That was the only time I sat and watched the movie. I've passed by it, flipping through the channels a time or two and watched five minutes here or there of my scenes of course. But that's the only time. So it was just, I feel like I gained confidence and a little bit of experience of what goes on behind the scenes as an actor.”

Will Smith Set to Perform New Single at BET Awards 2024

Day’s performance in Purple Rain led to a solid run in Hollywood in both film and television. He had roles in Prince’s final film, Graffiti Bridge, short appearances in Richard Pryor’s 1988 Moving and 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Then there are the appearances on the small screen through 227, Eve, Moesha and others. He played Lamarr on ABC’s 1990 short-lived New Attitude with Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lorenz Tate. He even led a 1988 pilot for a show titled Heart & Soul with James Avery and Tisha Campbell. 

To celebrate the film that launched him into acting, he worked with the Prince estate for Celebration 2024. The event at Paisley Park in Chanhassen Minneapolis had Day headline the celebration.

“What it means to me is that I’m one of the last of the Moehegans,” Day explained. “There’s not too many people who were around during Purple Rain and putting the whole thing together in the early days all the way back to the band Grand Central. I think it’s appropriate that I’m here. The reason that we're doing this is not such a great reason. I'd rather have my brother around, but hey, it's all good. We're going to have a party.”

Between an average of around 100 show performances a year, a bombing website where he updates fans with news in addition to merch, and possible new recordings on the horizon following what was to be his last project in 2022’s Last Call, Day is as busy as ever with the same incredibly cool style and grace many remember him for.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.