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.

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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.

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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.”

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Matthew’s friend rapper MC Hammer paid tribute to her on Twitter Monday night:

As did Prince himself:


Contact the author at rachel.vorona.cote@jezebel.com.

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Top Image via Getty. Embedded Image via Twitter.