The Dapper Dude Daydreams About a Dual Career

Times Staff Writer

Remember when they were calling singer-actor Morris Day the next Richard Pryor, the next Eddie Murphy? His day, everyone was saying then, had come.

That was four years ago, on the heels of a picture-stealing, career-launching role as a swaggering rascal in Prince's blockbuster hit "Purple Rain." In late 1984, Day signed a three-picture deal with 20th Century-Fox.

Meanwhile, back at his other career, Day's first solo album, "The Color of Success," sold more than 900,000 copies. His funk-rock group, the Time, had split up but went out in style with an album, "Ice Cream Castle," that sold 1.7 million copies.

But Day cooled off. For part of 1986--after a solo tour--and all of last year he was missing in action. Of course, there were the inevitable rumors that he had been felled by: 1) drugs, 2) booze, 3) ego, 4) lack of talent, or 5) all of the above.

What really happened?

"Not much," he replied smugly the other day in the dimly lit recesses of a Hollywood restaurant. "Don't believe everything you hear."

Certainly nothing happened to Mr. Cool's cool. Judging from his chic outfit, he's still living up to his other nicknames--the Dapper Dude and the Sultan of Silk. Day is much like that amiable scoundrel he plays on stage and screen, though not nearly as vain.

"I've been busy--not lying around doing nothing," Day insisted, continuing his update. "When you're off the scene for a little bit, people think the worst. I've been taking care of personal things, business things, creative things."

On the personal front, Day got married in June, 1986. A major business change--switching management--took time too. His new album, "Daydreaming," is a notch out of the national Top 40 after a few weeks in release. His funky, flashy single, "Fishnet," first topped the black charts and now is a crossover pop-chart hit.

The album, co-produced and co-written by Day and his wife Judith, is more subdued and varied than his past efforts..

"I wanted to try something different this time--stretch out, show different sides of me," he said. "I wanted people to see that I could sing and that I could do more than just funk."

The two best songs on the album are "Fishnet" and "Love Is a Game," both co-produced and co-written by the red-hot team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were bandmates of Day's in the Time.

"When the album was done, it needed more depth," said Day, explaining why he called on Jam and Lewis. "It needed something from the old school, something like what the Time had done. Who's better at that than my old partners?"

A Springfield, Ill., native who grew up in Minneapolis, the 30-year-old Day started out as a drummer, working in a band with Prince in the late '70s. Then with the Time in the '80s Day became a polished front man, honing that image as the foppish, pompadoured playboy.

With Prince as its mentor, the Time prospered. Eventually, though, the band collapsed, at least partly due to the members' conflicts with Prince. Day and Prince certainly had their problems but, according to Day, time healed those old wounds.

"I drop Prince a line now and then but we don't really hang out together," Day said. "I don't hold any grudges."

And what about that budding movie career? At one time scripts were being developed for him and parts were being offered to him. A Disney executive even admitted he begged Day to star in one of its movies.

"None of them were right for me," Day explained. "Doing the wrong thing just to do something would have been stupid. It was smarter to do nothing."

In a business where you're as hot as your last movie, Day's only credit since "Purple Rain" is a bit part in the new Richard Pryor comedy, "Moving."

Expecting Day to become a movie star was apparently expecting too much.

"People forget that I wasn't really an actor," he said. "I got that part in 'Purple Rain' because Prince wanted me. It was a role based on me. I didn't have to do a lot of acting. I'm still learning to be an actor. I never expected to be big in films right away. I wasn't quite ready for that. "

One problem, he noted, was being offered variations of that same role he played in "Purple Rain": "I didn't want to make a career out of playing that one part. And a lot of those roles took that character in a very negative, demeaning direction."

Day hasn't given up on movies. That three-picture deal at Fox, he said, is still there. But now TV is beckoning. Next month he's filming a half-hour TV sitcom pilot for Castle Rock Productions.

Right now Day is also rehearsing for a concert tour that begins in May and includes a May 6 stop at the Universal Amphitheatre. What would happen if the TV series were picked up by a network and he had to start filming right away?

"I'd find the time somehow," he replied. "I'd look good on TV."

LIVE ACTION: Heart will be at Pacific Amphitheatre June 3; tickets on sale Monday. . . . Pacific Amphitheatre has also announced a six-concert Starlight Series including Linda Ronstadt (June 25), Johnny Mathis and Henry Mancini (Sept. 17) and Julio Iglesias (Sept. 30); series subscriptions will go on sale by mail and phone only starting Monday. . . . The Neville Brothers and Taj Mahal are among artists scheduled for a blues festival at Irvine Meadows on May 7.

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