7:20pm PT by Chris Gardner
The Night I Partied at Prince's House ... But He Never Came Downstairs
I've been to only one party in my life where the host didn't greet the guests, shake any hands or engage in conversation. No dancing, drinking or eating. And it's not like the host was absent. He was definitely there, looking down at the action from atop the staircase of a rented mansion off Mulholland Drive, not far from Bel-Air.
The host was Prince.
On Jan. 30, 2005, the singer threw one of what would be a handful of his now-infamous post-Golden Globes gatherings, all packed with A-list stars and musicians and organized like a good, old-fashioned house party. No photographer, red carpet or step-and-repeat, and no noticeable sponsor signage or hashtags. This was 2005, remember, and there was Prince just staring at all the people.
He did have a pretty great view: the staircase to the right of the main entrance led to a bridge overlooking the massive living room and, from his perch, I'm sure Prince checked out all the same people I did. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Renee Zellweger all made the rounds while Samuel L. Jackson, Mekhi Phifer and Usher took turns playing pool. Cate Blanchett was there, too, and so was P. Diddy.
I remember seeing Joni Mitchell smoking cigarettes outside by herself. It's not unique for superstars to be shy off-stage, and everyone knows that Prince didn't easily open up. (Joni Mitchell didn't either, for that matter.) Rather, he loved playing music infinitely more than the circus and constant chatter that comes with worldwide fame.
I trailed a lot of famous people at the time as a young reporter covering the entertainment business and its extracurricular activities. That night, I got into the party with a close friend named Allison Melnick, who had reached local celebrity status in both New York and L.A. thanks to her expertise on the nightlife scene, throwing parties at whatever hot spot was happening at that particular moment. She was always surrounded by models, celebrities and socialites and even she was star struck by Prince and his guest list.
It's now more than 10 years ago, but I still remember Allison grabbing my arm when movie star best friends Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek started chanting Justin Timberlake's name, pushing him towards the microphone, begging him to lead a living room jam band that had been set up. Cruz's then boyfriend, Matthew McConaughey, had already positioned himself alongside Maroon 5's Adam Levine and in front of a set of conga drums. It was that kind of party, and Timberlake livened it up by singing a few songs. The ladies — Cruz, Hayek and my friend Allison — went nuts. The whole party did, actually.
But not Prince. He stayed upstairs.
The only person I saw him speak to all night was will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. It's entirely possible that he came down at some point before the sun came up, but I was long gone by then. I kept a reckless schedule during that time in my life but for some reason, I didn't wait to find out if the Purple One would eventually take a dive and really dig into his own party. You don't have to do an exhaustive search to find a story about how Prince loved to keep late hours, often starting his smaller gigs well past midnight.
Two years after the Golden Globes party I attended, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel hosted Prince for a 10-date residency at one of the hotel's more-intimate venues. At one of those first gigs, he jammed until 5 a.m. Jennifer Gross, Evolutionary Media Group founder, did the PR for that residency (and his Golden Globes afterparty in 2008), and tells me that Prince loved playing small rooms, especially house parties. "He loved getting a room going," she says, late on Thursday afternoon.
Even if that meant he just hosted the space, and served as the non-vocal supervisor up above like that night in 2005. It still is one of the best parties I've ever been to in my life. (I saw him perform live in Illinois years before when I was in college and that, too, was one of the best concerts I've ever seen.) Today, after the news broke that Prince had passed away at the age of 57 at his Paisley Park home in Minnesota, I, like so many others, clicked on links that featured tributes or old interviews.
When I came across some words he spoke to a Rolling Stone reporter, I couldn't help but think of that night and his party.
Here's what he said: "Cool means being able to hang with yourself. All you have to ask yourself is, 'Is there anybody I'm afraid of? Is there anybody who if I walked into a room and saw, I'd get nervous.' If not, then you're cool."
He was definitely cool that night, perched on those stairs. In a room filled with Hollywood stars, he seemed content hanging by himself. Or maybe he was nervous? Who wouldn't be with all those cool kids in the same living room. Maybe it was easier to stay upstairs because he was always separated from his peers anyway, positioned up above in a higher category, a place in history all his own.
It's too easy, and for sure too lame to say that he's probably doing the same right now, looking down at this party that continues in his absence, but never without his influence. He's way too cool for such a cliché.
Instead, I'll leave it to Gross to analyze why one of the most talented artists to ever grace the world's stage would throw a killer party and not come down to enjoy it: "Because he's Prince and he can."