Bob Cannon
July 22, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The most fascinating pop star of 1984 titillated fans by exploiting his sexually and racially ambiguous persona — and it wasn’t Michael Jackson. The real thriller that year was a 5’4” 26-year-old dynamo from Minneapolis named Prince Rogers Nelson. When his first film, Purple Rain, premiered on July 26, 1984, Prince was catapulted from cult fave to pop royalty. The movie, shot mostly with first-time actors for $7 million, grossed more than $65 million and won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score; its soundtrack has sold more than 10 million copies.

True, Purple Rain wasn’t much as drama — a Complex Kid claws his way to the top of the local music scene, embraces his dysfunctional family, and snags the Luscious Babe — and critics’ responses were mixed. But audiences loved its star’s sexually charged performance. Even though he toned down his act for the film, trading his bikini briefs and trench coat for Edwardian finery, he was a magnetic screen presence, prancing, posing, and tossing off dazzling guitar solos.

Prince never looked back. He went on to do more for funk than anyone since George Clinton and has earned 11 platinum albums to date. In 1992, His Royal Badness signed a $100 million deal with Warner Bros. Records; seven months later, he announced ”Prince” was retiring from studio recording, having stockpiled a reported 500 songs. He is now working on multimedia projects under an unpronounceable name.

But after Purple Rain there was no deluge for most of its cast. Prince’s film career yielded little but pain, notably the 1986 bomb Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge. Morris Day, lead singer of the Time, played the leader of a rival band and nearly stole Rain with his comic mugging, but he never mounted a serious movie career. Prince’s protegee/girlfriend Vanity, slated to costar, dropped out just before shooting began, supposedly due to personal and financial disputes; now a born-again Christian, she has acted on TV and in films. Her replacement, 21-year-old Patty Apollonia Kotero, landed a role on TV’s Falcon Crest in 1985, made two unsuccessful albums, and appeared in such B films as 1990’s Back to Back. Currently, she is preparing for a new movie and a new album.

In the end, [Prince] (whose EP The Beautiful Experience is out now) is the one Rain grad who really made a name for himself — whatever it may be.

July 26, 1984
Prince’s ”When Doves Cry” ruled the singles charts; Helen Hooven Santmyer’s 1,348-page And Ladies of the Club was a huge best-seller. The Summer Olympics heated up TV tubes, and moviegoers called Ghostbusters.

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