"He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already": The day a young Prince supported The Rolling Stones, and was abused and brought to tears by thousands of food-throwing racists

Prince and Mick Jagger
(Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Today, Prince is considered one of the greatest musicians and songwriters to ever grace the airwaves. Not only did The Purple One leave behind a lengthy trail of chart-topping hits, from sultry club-pop bangers to epic rock anthems, he was a genuine guitar hero, multi-instrumentalist, producer, actor, sex symbol and all-round icon.

Given his outrageous talent, it's difficult to envision a time when Prince wasn't rightly acknowledged as The Special One. But even future superstars are obliged to pay their dues, and in his formative years, the virtuoso Minneapolis musician experienced some of the worst crowd reactions imaginable, with haters responding to his music with racism, homophobia, abuse and shocking disrespect. 

One such incident took place in 1981, when he was booked to support The Rolling Stones on their US tour in support of Tattoo You, an endeavour which would become the largest grossing tour of that year. At this point, Prince - who was the first special guest of the night ahead of George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the J. Geils Band - had only the one hit to his name, 1979's I Wanna Be Your Lover. 

The tour's opening night took place on October 9, 1981 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a show for which 94,000 tickets were sold. Far from home, Prince was not given a warm welcome. The audience - seemingly unimpressed by being presented with colourful, funk-laced tunes from a musician and showman who didn't conform to conventional 'Dad Rock' traditions - started throwing food toward the stage.

As Prince and his band tried their best to get through the set, they faced a barrage of fried chicken, bottles, cans, and other objects. All too soon, a wave of racist and homophobic slurs followed.

Recalling the event, Prince bassist Brown Mark said: "Next thing I noticed was food starting to fly through the air like a dark thundercloud. Imagine 94,000 people throwing food at each other; it was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life. I got hit in the shoulder with a bag of fried chicken; then my guitar got knocked out of tune by a large grapefruit that hit the tuning keys."

After Prince performed his 1981 track Jack U Off, with the abuse failing to cease, promoter Bill Graham bounded on stage to try to diffuse the situation, to little effect. Understandably overwhelmed, the band threw in the towel on their set's fourth song, Uptown. Prince reportedly left the venue in tears, flying home without his fellow musicians to Minnesota, insisting he would perform at the tour's next gig, scheduled to take place two days later.

In an 1983 interview, Stones frontman Mick Jagger remembered the gig but exhibited little empathy for Prince. "I talked to Prince on the phone once after he got two cans thrown at him in LA. He said he didn’t want to do any more shows.

"God, I got thousands of bottles and cans thrown at me! Every kind of debris. I told him, if you get to be a really big headliner, you have to be prepared for people to throw bottles at you in the night. [Laughs] Prepared to Die!”.

Sharing the sentiment, guitarist Keith Richards savagely quipped: "Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it.

"That was his attitude when he opened for us on the tour, and it was insulting to our audience. You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones [concert]. You’d be much better off just being yourself and protecting that. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already. Good luck to him.”

Ironically, "Prince" was not a title the young musician bestowed upon himself, but part of his legal full name, Prince Rogers Nelson.

Following encouragement from his manager, guitarist Dez Dickerson and Mick Jagger, Prince agreed to rejoin the tour for the next date on October 11, however his performance met with similar results. Unsurprisingly, he never supported the Stones again.

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.