Vanity, circa 1984
Denise Katherine Matthews
January 4, 1959
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
|Died||February 15, 2016 (aged 57)|
Fremont, California, U.S.
|Other names||Denise Matthews–Smith,|
D. D. Winters
|Occupation||Singer, songwriter, dancer, model, actress, evangelist|
(m. 1995; div. 1996)
Nikki Sixx (1986–87)
Denise Katherine Matthews (January 4, 1959 – February 15, 2016), better known as Vanity, was a Canadian singer, songwriter, dancer, model, and actress who turned away from her music and acting career to concentrate on evangelism. Her career lasted from the early 1980s until the early/mid-1990s. She was the lead singer of the female trio Vanity 6 from 1981 until it disbanded in 1983. They are known for their 1982 pop hit "Nasty Girl". Vanity's music career also included two solo albums on the Motown Records label, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin, as well as the minor hit singles "Pretty Mess", "Mechanical Emotion", "Undress" (from the movie Action Jackson), and "Under the Influence". She also had a successful film career, starring in the movies The Last Dragon, 52 Pick-Up, and Action Jackson. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Vanity appeared in many magazines around the world. She died on February 15, 2016, at the age of 57, due to kidney failure.
Vanity was born on January 4, 1959 as Denise Katherine Matthews in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the daughter of Helga Senyk and Levia James Matthews. Her mother was of German and Polish Jewish descent, and was born in Germany, while her father was of African-American descent and was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. Matthews had two sisters, Patricia and Renay. She revealed to Jet in 1993 that her father physically and verbally abused her for years. The abuse caused her to have a negative self-image. "For 15 years, he beat me badly... I wish I could see my father in heaven, but I won't. He's in hell," she said.
Vanity began entering local beauty pageants before moving to Toronto, where she modeled. She won the Miss Niagara Hospitality title in 1977 and went on to compete for Miss Canada in 1978. At age 17, she moved to New York City to further her career. She signed with Zoli Model Agency. However, because she was short in stature, her modeling career was limited to commercials and photo shoots and included no runway work. Vanity appeared in ads for Pearl Drops toothpaste, before completing a modeling stint in Japan.
In 1980, she had a small role in the horror movie Terror Train, which was filmed in Montreal a year earlier. She then went to Toronto to film the lead role in the B-movie Tanya's Island. At the time of both film roles, she was billed as D. D. Winters. She met Prince when she was Rick James' date at the American Music Awards. Prince renamed her Vanity, as he considered her to be the female form of himself. After learning that Vanity could sing, Prince asked her to become the lead singer of the girl group Vanity 6. "Prince created the whole Vanity Six image. It bothered me at the time. I lied and said it was the image I wanted. I did it because he told me I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get paid. I got into it. I wanted the old Diana Ross image," she said. Vanity 6 recorded one album, and had some success internationally with the single "Nasty Girl". Vanity then left the group (and Prince's organization), and signed with Motown Records as a solo artist in 1984. She released two albums for Motown in the mid-1980s, and had mild success on the US pop and R&B charts with a handful of singles.
After her music career started, as Vanity she starred in a number of movies, including The Last Dragon (1985), which featured her underground hit "7th Heaven." In 1986 she starred in Never Too Young to Die opposite John Stamos. She went on to appear in 52 Pick-Up and 1988's Action Jackson, her highest profile role, in which she starred opposite Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, and Sharon Stone. From the mid–1980s to the early–1990s, Vanity guest–starred on numerous TV shows. She played a villain who tortured Nancy Allen's character in the 1990 TV movie Memories of Murder, guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice's third season, and in 1992 appeared in an episode of Highlander: The Series. She also appeared in Friday the 13th: The Series in the episode entitled "Mesmer's Bauble". She appeared nude in Playboy in April 1988.
In 1980, Matthews attended the American Music Awards with Rick James where she met Prince. Matthews and Prince then began dating shortly after. Vanity was linked romantically to Adam Ant (who wrote the track "Vanity" about her on his Strip album) and Billy Idol. On The Late Show in 1987, Matthews announced that she and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx were engaged. She joked to host Arsenio Hall that she would become Vanity 6 (Sixx) again. They never married. In his memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, Nikki Sixx details their volatile relationship and drug use. Matthews was addicted to crack cocaine at the time.
On her first anniversary of sobriety, Matthews married football player Anthony Smith of the Oakland Raiders in 1995. Matthews was working as an evangelist in San Jose when she read about Smith's philanthropic activities in Los Angeles. "The Lord told me that I would go down to L.A. and minister him," she told Ebony. Three days after they met she proposed to him. They married after a one-month whirlwind romance. The wedding took place at Smith's home in Playa de Rey. Smith revealed that they often argued because of her kind nature. Matthews had a habit of inviting homeless people into their home for food and offering them showers, she would also give out her number. Smith was volatile and the marriage ended in 1996. After they separated, Smith was arrested for domestic violence involving another woman and he was later convicted of three murders.
In early 1992, Vanity became a born-again Christian, and explained in several interviews that she would not take any more sexualized roles. Her roles in 1992's Lady Boss and Highlander: The Series had Matthews play different kinds of characters. Simultaneously, she renounced her stage name Vanity and reverted to Denise once again. She traveled extensively throughout the South with her friend/agent Benjamin Jimerson-Phillips, giving her testimony of conversion to Jesus Christ. In 1994, Matthews was hospitalized for three months for near-fatal kidney failure from a drug overdose. She recalled later that after being rushed to the hospital, doctors said she had three days to live while on life support. Her friend Benjamin Jimerson-Phillips was by her hospital bedside. Later it was revealed, he was the one who notified Prince by Western Union Telegram that she had been hospitalized. She stated that Jesus appeared to her at this time and spoke to her, saying that if she promised to abandon her Vanity persona, he would save her. Upon her recovery, she fully ended her performing career and devoted herself to being a born-again Christian. In 1995, she said, "When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ, I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine— every interview, every tape, every video, everything." Jimerson-Phillips stated: "I was there at her apartment at The Grand in Sherman Oaks, when she just started dumping things down the incinerator. I grabbed some of the items including a painting titled Tailspin, by famed artist Olivia; a cassette hand painted by Prince of unreleased music; and an assortment of other items I didn’t want to see go into the trash. I even had to go down to the office and ask them to retrieve her gold album she had thrown away." She stated that she had chosen not to receive any further revenue from her work as Vanity, and cut off all ties with Hollywood and her former life in show business. After a kidney transplant in 1997, she dedicated the rest of her life full-time to Christ. She made speaking engagements at churches across the United States and worldwide. In 2010, she released her autobiography, Blame It On Vanity: Hollywood, Hell and Heaven, in which she thanks Jimerson.
Illness and death
Due to kidney problems from her 10-year crack cocaine addiction, Matthews had to undergo peritoneal dialysis five times a day (each session was 20 minutes long). Matthews underwent a kidney transplant in 1997, but her health worsened in 2015 after she was diagnosed with sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis, an inflammatory condition of the peritoneum-a membrane which lines the inner abdomen and the abdominal organs. Matthews died in a Fremont, California, hospital on February 15, 2016, from kidney failure, aged 57. Matthews left much of her estate to her church. A dying wish of hers was to have her ashes scattered over the coast of Hawaii, and for her loved ones to celebrate her life with festivities and "no tears".
with Vanity 6
- Vanity 6 (1982)
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions|
|1984||"Pretty Mess"||75||15||13||Wild Animal|
|1985||"7th Heaven"||—||—||—||The Last Dragon (soundtrack)|
|1986||"Under the Influence"||56||9||6||Skin on Skin|
|1988||"Undress"||—||—||—||Action Jackson (soundtrack)|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart.|
- 1982: 1999, Prince; "Free" (backing vocals)
- 1982: What Time Is It?, The Time; "The Walk" (spoken vocals)
- 1986: El DeBarge, El DeBarge; "Secrets of the Night" (backing vocals)
Vanity appeared in seven released music videos:
- 1982: "Nasty Girl", "He's So Dull" and "Drive Me Wild"
- 1984: "Pretty Mess"
- 1985: "7th Heaven" (video clips were from the movie The Last Dragon)
- 1986: "Under the Influence"
- 1988: "He Turned Me Out", a song performed by The Pointer Sisters from the soundtrack of Action Jackson. Vanity's co-star in the movie, Carl Weathers, appears alongside her in the video.
- 1985: The Last Dragon; "7th Heaven"
- 1988: Action Jackson; "Undress", "Faraway Eyes", and "Shotgun" with David Koz and featuring vocalist Kareem
|Adventure, based on the writings of Jack London. Vanity plays a background dancer
near the beginning of the film.
|Terror Train||Merry||Horror (credited as D. D. Winters)|
|Tanya's Island||Tanya||Fantasy (credited as D. D. Winters)|
|1985||The Last Dragon||Laura Charles||Martial arts drama (a.k.a. Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon)|
|1986||Never Too Young to Die||Danja Deering||Action/crime thriller (co-starring with John Stamos and Gene Simmons)|
|52 Pick-Up||Doreen||Crime thriller|
|1987||Deadly Illusion||Rina||Action/drama (co-starring with Billy Dee Williams)|
|1988||Action Jackson||Sydney Ash||Action/crime thriller|
|1991||Neon City||Reno||Post-apocalyptic science fiction (a.k.a. Anno 2053 in Italy and Neonski Grad in Serbia)|
|1993||South Beach||Jennifer Derringer||Action/crime thriller (Directed by Fred Williamson)|
|Da Vinci's War||Lupe||Action/thriller Directed and co-written by Raymond Martino|
|1997||Kiss of Death||Blair||Thriller (Filmed in April/May 1993, Vanity's last role.)|
|1987||D.C. Follies||Vanity (guest)||Episode: "Comedy Parody" (1.6)|
|The New Mike Hammer||Holly||Episode: "Green Lipstick" (3.21)|
|Miami Vice||Ali Ferrand||Episode: "By Hooker By Crook" (3.20)|
|1988||T. and T.||K.C. Morgan||Episode: "A Secret No More" (2.6)|
|1989||Friday the 13th: The Series||Angelica||Episode: "The Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble" (2.20)|
|Booker||Tina Maxwell||Episode: "Deals and Wheels: Part 1" (1.8) (a.k.a. 21 Jump Street 4.10)|
|1990||Memories of Murder||Carmen||Lifetime Television Network (a.k.a. Passing through Veils)|
|1991||Tropical Heat||Maria||Episode: "Mafia Mistress" (2.2)|
|Tales from the Crypt||Kathrine||Episode: "Dead Wait" (3.6)|
|Sweating Bullets||Maria||Episode: "Mafia Mistress" (2.2) (a.k.a. Tropical Heat)|
|1992||Silk Stalkings||Chantel||Episode: "Powder Burn" (1.20)|
|Lady Boss||Mary Lou Morley||Miniseries, based on Jackie Collins' novel of the same name with the teleplay by Jackie Collins|
|Highlander: The Series||Rebecca Lord||Episode: "Revenge Is Sweet" (1.10)|
|1993||Counterstrike||Sandra||Episode: "Muerte" (3.21)|
- Rosenberg, Eli (February 16, 2016). "Denise Matthews, Pop Singer Known as Vanity, Dies at 57". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
- Vanity 6 Lives Out Daring Fantasies On Stage. Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. January 24, 1983. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
- Law, John (December 10, 2007). "Her name was Vanity; Barely into her '30s, she had become an old woman on the inside ...the beauty queen from Niagara Falls was told she had three days to live. It was her lowest point. And the one..." Welland Tribune. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
- Courtland, Milloy (June 4, 1997). "Former Siren Is Singing A New Song". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 31, 2016.: "Denise K. Matthews, of Niagara Falls... daughter of an African American father and a Polish Jewish mother..."
- "BOSSIP Exclusive: 80s Singer Vanity Leaves Most Of Her Estate To Church". Bossip. February 18, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- "Vanity Tells Why She Gave Up Sexy Image And Became Born-Again Christian". Jet. Vol. 83. January 11, 1993.
- "Denise Matthews: The Niagara Falls beauty queen who became Vanity". Niagara Falls Review. February 16, 2016.
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- Williams, Stereo (February 20, 2016). "The Sexy, Holy Saga of Vanity: Prince's Muse Who Found God". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- Christian, Margena A. (November 26, 2007). "Vanity". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 112 (21): 49. ISSN 0021-5996.
- "Vanity Weds Pro Football Star Anthony Smith After Monthlong Courtship". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 87 (23): 14. April 17, 1995. ISSN 0021-5996.
- "At Home With Vanity And Her New Husband". Ebony. 50 (8): 54–58. June 1995.
- Dobie, Kathy (January 24, 2013). "Ex-Raider Anthony Smith's Murder Trial and Violent Past". GQ.
- Rettenmund, Matthew (1996). Totally Awesome 80s: A Lexicon Of the Music, Videos, Movies, TV shows, Stars, and Trends Of That Decadent Decade. Macmillan. p. 57. ISBN 0-312-14436-9.
- "Wow! After Smoking Crack Cocaine, Vanity Says Jesus Came To Her And Said..." I Love Old School Music. October 5, 2014. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
- "Former Prince Protege', Denise "Vanity" Matthews of Vanity 6, Dies At 57". Blame It On Vanity. February 15, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2010.
- Ellise, Aria (February 15, 2016). "Former Prince Protege', Denise "Vanity" Matthews of Vanity 6, Dies At 57". BlackDoctor.org. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
- Lenker, Margaret (February 15, 2016). "Denise ‘Vanity’ Matthews, Singer and Protege of Prince, Dies at 57". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- Whitburn, Joel (2005). Bubbling Under The Billboard Hot 100 1959–2004 (2nd ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 277. ISBN 0-89820-162-4.>
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (10th ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 739. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- (((Vanity > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles))). allmusic. Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
- "Album: What Time Is It? - Prince Vault". www.princevault.com. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
- "South Beach". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "Da Vinci's War". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "Memories of Murder". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "Vanity (singer)". Jet. 78 (20): 62. August 27, 1990.
- "TV Review: Memories of Murder". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. August 10, 1990. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- Tim Brooks; Earle Marsh (2003). "Sweating Bullets (Detective)". The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946–Present (Eighth ed.). New York City: Ballantine Books. p. 1158. ISBN 978-0-345-45542-0.
- "Lady Boss". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "Lady Boss (miniseries)". JackieCollins.com. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- Vanity Official website
- Vanity on IMDb
- Vanity at AllMusic
- Denise "Vanity" Matthews from The Last Dragon Tribute
- Stutz, Colin (Feb 15, 2016). "Vanity, Former Prince Protégé & Leader of the Vanity 6, Dies at 57". Billboard. Obituary.