Fallon choked back tears while introducing the special, which was filled with sketches revolving around Prince (with Fred Armisen playing the late singer).
“Prince has been a special presence here at ‘Saturday Night Live’ for the last four decades,” he said. “From his debut on the show as a 22-year-old in 1981, to his surprise performance at the after party for the ‘SNL’ 40th anniversary.”
Fallon further explained, “Tonight we wanted to pay tribute to him by looking back at his performances over the years and by remembering what he meant to us. It was a lot.”
“Other people may have been on the show more times, or performed more frequently, but there was something different about a Prince performance,” he added. “It was special. It was an event. It was Prince.”
Fallon, wearing a purple tie, touched on his impact in pop culture as well, saying that Prince “has never not been cool.” “I mean, he had his own color,” he went on. “Who has their own color? He owns purple.”
“Saturday Night Live” also released a never-been-seen clip of Prince performing at last year’s “SNL 40” after party, which Fallon set up by explaining what happened. Fallon had been encouraging the famous musicians at the party, including Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, to perform. He targeted Prince at about 4:30 a.m., saying, “Prince, if you’re in the room, I dare you to come up and say something with us.”
And Prince took him up on his dare. “The crowd parted (and) you see this little afro floating toward you,” Fallon said. Prince went on to perform, with Fallon, Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph providing back-up vocals.
See the full tribute below.