The dynamic talent born Denise Katrina Matthews who dazzled the world as Vanity throughout the 1980s, has died at age 57. The former Prince protégé and frontwoman of the funk-pop trio Vanity 6 that scored the hit “Nasty Girl,” succumbed to long-term issues related to kidney ailments.
In addition to her musical achievements, Vanity lit up movie screens in a number of cult classics. She’s most famous for co-starring in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (1985), but Vanity also brought heat and depth to fan favorites such as Action Jackson (1988), 52 Pick-Up (1986), Never Too Young to Die (1986), and Tanya’s Island (1980).
Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Denise Matthews’ natural beauty and luminous star power won her a modeling contract at age 17. In 1980, Denise met Prince at the American Music Awards. The musical genius said he could see his “female reflection” in Denise, and thus renamed her “Vanity.” She then fronted Prince’s group project, Vanity 6, on their self-titled (and only) album in 1982.
Vanity went solo in ’84 and released a pair of LPs on Motown. Shortly thereafter, her movie career took off. John Stamos, Vanity’s co-star in Never Too Young to Die, remembers her having fun on the set. “She was pretty wild,” he said. “She was like Al Pacino in Scarface, blasting the [prop] machine guns all over the place. We weren’t even rolling!”
Following her split from Prince, Vanity dated Billy Idol and Adam Ant before getting serious enough in 1987 with Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx to announce their engagement (Vanity joked that she would be known anew as “Vanity Sixx”). Tragically, that’s also when Vanity’s drug addiction got serious, as well.
The health issues to which Vanity ultimately succumbed resulted from the star’s previous substance abuse. She was always up front about that issue, having gotten clean and turning to Christianity in 1994. She returned to her original name, Denise, and spent the next twenty years preaching the gospel and showing others how to escape addiction. Cheekily, Denise titled her 2010 autobiography, Blame It on Vanity.
A recent message from Denise on a GoFundMe page set up to assist with her medical expenses read: “Boy it is not fun suffering in this body of weak flesh… but Jesus is straightening out all my crooked places in my heart as I go thru this time of pain.”
Sheila E., another Prince protégé who went on to her own brilliant career, tweeted “SADDEN my FRIEND IN CHRIST gone 2day. MISS YOU DEARLY. U ARE IN HIS ARMS NOW, NO Pain.” Questlove added, “Vanity was everything to me.” Denise’s dear friend MC Hammer tweeted, “She absolute loved God unto salvation.”
Tributes and outpourings of emotion continue to spread online. Join us in saying goodbye to a truly one-of-a-kind performer and a beautiful soul. Rest in peace, Denise Matthews, even as Vanity will continue to rock our world forever.