Imagine a place where rock stars, rappers, movie idols and supermodels mingle—where they shed inhibitions, put on silly costumes, even play a round or two of hoops. If the locale seems strangely familiar, that’s because it resembles the set of almost any MTV event held over the past two decades. But the footage that makes it onto the tube tells only part of the story. The intimate photos gathered here offer an insider’s view of the planet’s coolest ongoing party.
That hippy-dippy biker hugging presenter Mike Myers at 1999’s MTV Movie Awards? It’s best male performance winner Jim Carrey (for The Truman Show), who assumed an alter ego to protest being passed over for an Oscar. “I realized,” he said, “that answerin’ to the man just ain’t where it’s at.”
Ricky Martin (in 1999) contemplated la vida loca before serenading TRL fans in Times Square.
Funksters George Clinton (middle) and Lenny Kravitz tangoed past E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos wiseguy Steven Van Zandt (left) at 1993’s Video Music Awards.
‘N Sync-ers Joey Fatone (left) and JC Chasez showed why they’re so fly during rehearsals for the ’99 VMAs in L.A.
A 17-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio warmed the bench at 1992’s Rock’N Jock Basketball Jam.
Cher and ex-flame Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi proved they believed in love backstage at the 1989 VMAs.
Cyndi Lauper partied with then beau David Wolff (center) and VJ Alan Hunter (left) at MTV’s ’85 New Year’s Eve bash in New York City.
Jenny McCarthy doubled up with Suzanne Somers to spoof Three’s Company in 1997 on The Jenny & McCarthy Show.
Carson Daly and Britney Spears recovering from knee surgery) launched Spring Break ’99 in New Orleans.
Contest winner Lisa Barber (left) teams with VJ Martha Quinn to introduce a toothy Prince at the ’86 premiere of Under the Cherry Moon in Sheridan, Wyo.
Smells like Bean spirit: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love toted daughter Frances Bean at the ’93 VMAs as Sinéad O’Connor (right) looked on.
Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Will Smith proved a trio grande at the ’99 MTV Movie Awards.
A pixie-legged Snoop Doggy Dogg prepared to rap a softball at 1998’s Rock ‘N Jock in Long Beach, Calif.
Axl Rose gunned it in a motor cart with then girlfriend Stephanie Seymour backstage at the ’92 VMAs.
At the MTV studios circa 1983, VJ Mark Goodman interviewed Madonna, then on the brink of greatness.
Michael Jackson (across from model Naomi Campbell) hosted a carnival-esque “My Dinner with Michael” for some 30 contest winners on the set of his “In the Closet” video in Palm Springs, Calif., in ’92.