Former Studio 54 exec remembers when Prince partied in 1999

Mike Milner had an odd dilemma: New Year’s Eve was a couple of months away and as manager of the Studio 54 nightclub at the MGM Grand, he already had a sellout. What he didn’t have was an act for New Year’s Day.

Then his telephone rang.

“It was a guy claiming to be Prince’s manager and he said Prince had interest in playing New Year’s weekend,” Milner recalled.

And that’s how Milner fell into the ultimate booking: Prince ringing in 1999 with his 1982 hit “1999,” featuring the refrain, “Party like it’s 1999.”

The opportunity was such a marketing home run that Milner talked Prince into playing New Year’s Day and Jan. 2, a Friday and Saturday.

“That’s how we reunited him with Morris Day and The Time for the first time since ‘Purple Rain,’” Milner said.

“It was just amazing. There were thousands of people waiting who couldn’t get in,” he added.

Prince agreed to do the two shows for an “unbelievably fair” price so his fan club, New Power Generation, known as NPG, could get in for a better price, Milner said.

Prince needed a space that week to make his calls so “I set up my office as his green room,” Milner said. “There were times when calls came in and he’d say, ‘Yeah, this is Mike.’”

There was one request that Milner vividly remembers. “He requested having a piano sent up to his room so he could write music. He did that whenever he stayed at the MGM Grand for a show.

“He wasn’t the most approachable person in the world, but he was kind,” Milner recalled.

“When I watched him set up for a concert he was in charge of everything.” At that time, because of issues with his label, Warner Bros., Prince switched to a symbol and was referred to as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

That created some communication problems with his staff, Milner said, because they were under orders not to say his name.

When Milner had a question, “they were all afraid to say his name out loud. They would hold up their credential and point to the symbol” as a way of saying Milner had to talk to Prince.

A day or so before the New Year’s weekend shows, two massive clothing trunks rolled in. “He must have had 80 costumes to pick from and he wouldn’t decide until an hour before showtime.

“After the concert he would sit in the crowd. He loved watching people dance to his music, which was our house music,” Milner said. “He said he loved Studio 54 because the balcony reminded him of his Paisley Park.”

There are very few photos from the two concerts because Prince banned photography, with local daily newspapers being the exception.

When Milner heard about Prince’s death on Thursday, “my mind went right to him playing that seven-minute version of ‘Purple Rain’ (at Studio 54). I’m just thankful for all the good things he did for music.”

Studio 54 opened in December 1997 and closed four years ago to make room for the massive Hakkasan nightclub project.

ON THIS DAY

April 24, 1974: The Jackson 5, joined by Janet and Latoya, wrap up their two-week gig at the MGM Grand. The shows mark their Las Vegas debut, five years after they became an international sensation, but they spend plenty of time in the city in the years to come.

SIGHTINGS

Retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, with family and friends at 1 OAK Nightclub (Mirage) on Friday. He was in town to host his second anniversary Celebrity Golf Invitational at Shadow Creek. His group included his sister Sharlee Jeter and free agent NBA All-Star Ray Allen. … Basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight, dining at Panchos Mexican restaurant on Tuesday in Downtown Summerlin.

THE PUNCH LINE

“It’s the longest cross border tunnel ever discovered (along San Diego’s border with Mexico). Authorities seized two tons of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana. That means weekend two of Coachella is going to suck. — Jimmy Kimmel

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 ornorm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. On Twitter: @Norm_Clarke

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