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How one man risked electrocution to save Prince’s famous Super Bowl show

News 03/02/2020

One of the most legendary Super Bowl performances in history went down on February 4th, 2007, during a torrential downpour. Prince delivered an explosive 12-minute halftime show that immediately became iconic, but the whole thing would have been without power if it weren’t for the actions of one man - Tony Ward. 

The Super Bowl had never been played in the rain, which the organisers made a point of repeating as the 41st edition in Miami drew closer. 

Prince was announced as the halftime performer more than a month prior to the show, but the efforts to get him locked in had taken over a year. Production for the event was to be huge, including lighting effects, pyrotechnics and a customized stage in the shape of Prince’s logo. Even though painstaking details were worked out in advance, organizers hadn’t planned for rain.

I’m Prince, I’m gonna play live

“I knew that the executives were concerned about the rain and about electrocution,” Ruth Arzate, Prince’s personal assistant/manager explained in a recent conversation with The Ringer. As kick-off drew closer, it was suggested that lip-syncing to a recorded performance might be safer. “Prince was like, ‘I’m Prince, I’m gonna play live,’” said Arzate. 

Despite the downpour, the halftime show was to go ahead as planned. Volunteers began rolling the massive Prince-logo stage -- which was assembled in pieces -- onto the playing field. But something suddenly went wrong. 

“That stage had a bunch of moving parts and it was pouring rain,” Charles Coplin, the show’s executive producer explained. “Part of the stage wheeled over a cable and severed the cable, and some very heroic guy had to plug in this cable in a pouring rainstorm and probably risk serious electrocution.”

“There was a man on our lighting crew whose name was Tony Ward,” fellow executive producer Don Mischer recalled. “And Tony, realizing we were now counting down to going on the air, took his pliers and stripped the insulation off the three cables. And he inserted them into a plug, just raw, and held that for the entire 12-and-a-half-minute duration, in the rain. To keep the lights and all that working.”

Ward’s extreme efforts ensured that the halftime show ran smoothly without incident, allowing Prince to deliver one of the most iconic performances of his career.

“I’m glad I didn’t know about that until afterward,” Mischer said of Ward’s electrocution-defying work. “Because that would’ve scared the hell out of me.”