Vanity dies at 57; protege of Prince, lead singer of ‘80s pop group Vanity 6

Vanity in Chicago in 1982. The singer and actress, who renounced her sexy stage persona in the 1990s to become a minister, has died at 57.
(Paul Natkin / WireImage)

Vanity, a Prince protege who renounced her sexy stage persona to become a Christian minister, has died. She was 57.

The singer and actress, born Denise Matthews, died Monday at a hospital in Fremont, Calif., said Gisela Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Health Care System. Hernandez did not give a cause of death, but Matthews had struggled with kidney disease for years.

A native of Niagara Falls, Canada, Matthews first rocketed to stardom through her association with Prince and the 1980s girl group Vanity 6. During her time in music, Vanity released four albums with Motown and Warner Bros. and was known for her sultry appearance and sexually themed music, including “Nasty Girl.” She also appeared in films in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including “The Last Dragon,” “52 Pick-Up” and “Action Jackson.”


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Matthews’ health took a turn for the worse in 1992, when she was hospitalized for kidney failure, which she blamed on cocaine and other drug use.

“I was sick inside. I was a crack cocaine addict and didn’t even know how to wake up in the morning without some smoke,” she said in an Associated Press story in 1999.

She renounced her Hollywood lifestyle and became a Christian minister. She married former Oakland Raider Anthony Smith in 1995, and they divorced the next year.

On a GoFundMe page aimed at helping her pay her medical bills, Matthews said four months ago she had gone through 23 surgeries and was on dialysis three times a week. She said she was also diagnosed with sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis, a rare benign cause of small bowel obstruction.

Matthews said she had no regrets about leaving her celebrity lifestyle behind.

“When I was Vanity, it was all about me,” she said in 1999. “But when I’m preaching the word of God, it’s Jesus Christ speaking through me. I don’t want people to know who I was back then, but the new creature that God has made me.”

Prince, who was touring in Australia, dedicated several songs to Matthews during a show, according to the Herald Sun. They “used to love each other deeply,” Prince said, according to the newspaper. “She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be.”


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