Prince protegé Denise “Vanity” Matthews died Monday, February 15 in a Fremont, California hospital. The cause of death was kidney failure, reportedly the effect of crack cocaine abuse years ago.
As the A.V. Club reports, Matthews, born in Ontario in 1959, met Prince at an awards show in 1980—she had moved to New York at age 17 with plans to become a model. Prince was quick to spot potential in Matthews and set about making her a star.
As the namesake and leader for the trio Vanity 6, Matthews had a classic in 1982's “Nasty Girl,” a Prince-written number that hit Number One on Billboard’s US Dance Club Play charts (it never broke the Top 100 of the Singles chart, however, because mainstream, non-R&B radio stations thought it was too racy to play).
In 1983, Vanity recorded a demo for “Sex Shooter” and was cast as the lead woman in Prince’s debut film, Purple Rain.
That same year, though, Matthews had a falling out with the group and dropped out of Purple Rain before it could begin filming; she was later replaced by Apollonia Kotero as the lead in both the film and in the group, rechristened Apollonia 6.
After Vanity 6, Matthews released two solo albums and starred in a number of films, among them cult classic The Last Dragon. But years later, Matthews “[developed] a crack cocaine addiction that caused her to suffer near-fatal renal failure in 1994.” After her recovery, Matthews renounced show business, embraced sobriety, and became, as The Hollywood Reporter notes, “a born-again Christian.”
“Back when I was Vanity, it was all about being sexy, getting slimmer, and getting cuter,” Matthews told VIBE’s Keith Murphy in a 2007 interview. “Things have changed. Now it’s not the outward appearance, it’s the inward that I’m trying to change. And that’s the message I bring to the people.”
Matthew’s friend rapper MC Hammer paid tribute to her on Twitter Monday night:
As did Prince himself:
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