Vanity (singer)

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Vanity in 1984
Denise Katherine Matthews

(1959-01-04)January 4, 1959
DiedFebruary 15, 2016(2016-02-15) (aged 57)
Other namesDenise Matthews-Smith,
D. D. Winters
Occupation(s)Singer, model, actress
Years active1977–1993
(m. 1995; div. 1996)
Partner(s)Prince (1982–1983)
Nikki Sixx (1986–1988)
Musical career

Denise Katherine Matthews (January 4, 1959 – February 15, 2016), known professionally as Vanity, was a Canadian singer, model, and actress. Known for her image as a sex symbol in the 1980s, she became an evangelist and renounced her career as Vanity in the 1990s.[1]

Vanity was the lead singer of the female trio Vanity 6, which was created by the musician Prince. Known for their 1982 hit song "Nasty Girl", they disbanded in 1983, when she decided to embark on a solo career. Vanity released two solo albums on the Motown Records label, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin. She had minor hit singles with "Pretty Mess", "Mechanical Emotion", "Under the Influence", and "Undress" from the 1988 film Action Jackson. Vanity also had a successful career as an actress, starring in the films The Last Dragon (1985), and 52 Pick-Up (1986), and Action Jackson.

After years of drug abuse, which caused health issues, Matthews became a born-again Christian in 1992. She later devoted herself to her church in Fremont, California. Matthews died on February 15, 2016, at age 57, due to kidney failure.[2]

Early life[edit]

Denise Katrina Matthews was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on January 4, 1959,[3] the daughter of Helga Senyk and Levia James Matthews.[4] Her mother was of German-Jewish and Polish-Jewish descent, and she was born in Germany, while her father was of African-American descent and was born in Wilmington, North Carolina.[5] Matthews had three sisters, Patricia, Deborah, Renay and several half siblings.[6]

Her father died when she was 15 years old.[7] Matthews 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.[8]


Early career: 1977–1981[edit]

Matthews 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.[9] At age 17, she moved to New York City to further her career. She signed with Zoli Model Agency.[10] However, because she was short in stature, her modeling career was limited to commercials and photoshoots and excluded runway work. Vanity appeared in commercials for Pearl Drops toothpaste before completing a modeling stint in Japan. She also appeared on Nightlife Unlimited’s album cover Let's Do It Again (1980) [11]

Matthews had a small role in the horror movie Terror Train (1980), which was filmed in Montreal in 1979. She then went to Toronto to film the lead role in the B-movie Tanya's Island (1980).[12] She was credited as D.D Winters for both films.

Music and acting career: 1982–1993[edit]

Matthews appeared on the cover of the funk band Cameo's album cover, Alligator Woman, released in March 1982.[13] She had met musician Prince at the American Music Awards earlier that year.[14] After learning that she could sing, Prince later invited her to front a girl group he had formed called The Hookers.[15] Prince initially wanted to name her "Vagina," pronounced "va-geen-na," but she refused so they settled on Vanity, as he considered her to be the female form of himself.[16] The group was renamed Vanity 6.[17]

The group recorded one album, and had some success internationally with the single "Nasty Girl". They wore lingerie and Vanity's image became that of an erotic and sexy "nasty girl".[8] "Prince created the whole Vanity 6 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.[8]

Vanity and Prince appeared on the cover of the April 28, 1983, issue of Rolling Stone magazine.[18] In August 1983, she abruptly left the group and turned down a role in the 1984 film Purple Rain, which went to her replacement, Apollonia Kotero.[15][19] In 1984, Vanity signed with Motown Records as a solo artist and recorded the funk-pop album Wild Animal.[20] She had mild success on the US pop and R&B charts with the singles "Pretty Mess" and "Mechanical Emotion".[21]

In 1985, Vanity made her mainstream film debut in The Last Dragon, which featured her song, "7th Heaven."[22] She wanted a role in the 1985 film The Color Purple, but Steven Spielberg thought she looked too young.[23] In 1986, she released her second and last album, Skin on Skin, which produced the top 10 R&B hit "Under the Influence".[21] That year, she also starred in Never Too Young to Die opposite John Stamos and she appeared in 52 Pick-Up .[19]

In 1987, Vanity guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice's third season.[22] She went on to co-star in the 1988 film Action Jackson, her highest profile role, in which she starred opposite Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, and Sharon Stone.[24] Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave a negative review to Action Jackson, but believed Vanity's performance was "the movie’s one redeeming merit".[25] She also appeared nude in the April 1988 issue of Playboy magazine.[22]

Vanity had a role on numerous TV programs. She appeared in Friday the 13th: The Series in the episode entitled "Mesmer's Bauble" in 1989. She played a villain who tortured Nancy Allen's character in the 1990 TV movie Memories of Murder and appeared in an episode of Highlander: The Series in 1992. Her last role was in the film Kiss of Death in 1993.

Personal life[edit]


Matthews attended the American Music Awards where she met Prince in January 1982;[22][26] they then began dating shortly after.[14] She was also linked romantically to Adam Ant, who wrote the track "Vanity" about her on his 1983 Strip album, and Billy Idol.[27]

During an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1987, Matthews announced that she and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx were engaged. She often joked that she would become Vanity 6 (Sixx) again.[24] In his memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, Sixx detailed their volatile relationship and drug use.[28][29] He stated that Vanity taught him how to freebase cocaine.[30]

On her first anniversary of sobriety, Matthews married football player Anthony Smith of the Oakland Raiders in 1995.[31] While working as an evangelist in San Jose, she read about Smith's philanthropic activities in Los Angeles. "The Lord told me that I would go down to L.A. and minister to him," she told Ebony. They met in late February 1995, and three days later, she proposed to him. After a one-month whirlwind romance, they married at Smith's home in Playa del Rey in April. Smith later revealed that they often argued about her kind nature, which caused her to habitually invite homeless people into their home for food and showers and give out their home number to complete strangers.[32] Due to his volatility, their marriage ended in 1996. After they separated, Smith was arrested for domestic violence involving another woman and was later convicted of three murders.[33]


In 1992 Vanity met actor Sam J. Jones during the filming of Da Vinci's War. Jones invited Vanity to read the Bible with him during a lunch break.[34] Shortly thereafter, Vanity became a born-again Christian, and in several interviews, she stated that she would not play any more sexualized roles.[8] Simultaneously, she renounced her stage name Vanity and reverted to Denise Matthews. She traveled extensively throughout the South with her friend/agent Benjamin Jimerson-Phillips, giving her testimony of conversion to Christianity.[citation needed]

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. It was Jimerson-Phillips, who then sent Western Union telegrams to Prince, notifying him of her condition. She explained 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.[citation needed]

Upon her recovery, Matthews ended her performing career by cutting off all ties with Hollywood and shunning her former life in show business. She devoted herself to being a born-again Christian.[35] 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."[36] 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."[citation needed]

After a kidney transplant in 1997, Matthews dedicated the rest of her life full-time to Christ. She made speaking engagements at churches worldwide and she headed Pure Hearts Ministries in Fremont, California.[37][27]

In 2010, Matthews released her autobiography, Blame It On Vanity: Hollywood, Hell and Heaven.[38]

Illness and death[edit]

Due to kidney problems resulting from her decade-long cocaine addiction,[32] Matthews had to undergo 20 minutes of peritoneal dialysis five times a day.[27][35][39] She underwent a kidney transplant in 1997, but her health worsened in 2015 after she was diagnosed with sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis.[40]

Matthews died in a Fremont, California, hospital on February 15, 2016, from kidney failure, aged 57.[41] She left much of her estate to her church. After cremation, her ashes were scattered off the coast of Hawaii.[6]


Studio albums[edit]

Vanity 6[edit]

Solo singles[edit]

Year Title Peak chart positions



1984 "Pretty Mess" 75 15 13 Wild Animal
"Mechanical Emotion" 107 23
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.

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

Guest vocals[edit]

Music videos[edit]

  • 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.



Year Title Role Notes
1980 Klondike Fever Uncredited

Background Dancer

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 (co-starring with Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret)
1987 Deadly Illusion Rina Action/drama (co-starring with Billy Dee Williams)
1988 Action Jackson Sydney Ash Action/crime thriller (co-starring with Carl Weathers)
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 (co-starring with Fred Williamson and Gary Busey). Directed by Fred Williamson[46]
Da Vinci's War Lupe Action/thriller Directed and co-written by Raymond Martino[47]
1997 Kiss of Death Blair Thriller (Filmed in April/May 1995, Vanity's last role) directed by Andrei Feher[48]


Year Title Role Notes
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)[49][50][51]
1991 Tropical Heat (a.k.a. Sweating Bullets) Maria Episode: "Mafia Mistress" (2.2)[52]
Tales from the Crypt Kathrine Episode: "Dead Wait" (3.6)
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[53][54]
Highlander: The Series Rebecca Lord Episode: "Revenge Is Sweet" (1.10)
1993 Counterstrike Sandra Episode: "Muerte" (3.21)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (February 16, 2016). "Denise Matthews, Pop Singer Known as Vanity, Dies at 57". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  2. ^ Stutz, Colin (February 15, 2016). "Vanity, Former Prince Protégé & Leader of the Vanity 6, Dies at 57". Billboard. Archived from the original on February 16, 2016. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
  3. ^ Vanity 6 Lives Out Daring Fantasies On Stage. Johnson Publishing Company. January 24, 1983. Retrieved February 18, 2016. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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..."
  6. ^ a b "BOSSIP Exclusive: 80s Singer Vanity Leaves Most Of Her Estate To Church". Bossip. February 18, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  7. ^ "Vanity Explains Why She Called Her Father A 'Gorilla'". Jet: 58–59. January 5, 1987.
  8. ^ a b c d Collier, Alldore (January 11, 1993). "Vanity Tells Why She Gave Up Sexy Image And Became Born-Again Christian". Jet: 58–60.
  9. ^ "Denise Matthews: The Niagara Falls beauty queen who became Vanity". Niagara Falls Review. February 16, 2016.
  10. ^ Perrone, Pierre (February 23, 2016). "Vanity: Prince protégée who fronted the synth-pop trio Vanity 6". The Independent. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  11. ^ "I Don't Like This Groove: From Denise Matthews to Vanity and Back (EUR Video Throwback)". EURweb. February 15, 2021. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  12. ^ "Trailers from Hell: Mick Garris on Pseudo-Sexploitation Fantasy 'Tanya's Island'". IndieWire. March 22, 2013. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  13. ^ "Vanity: From Sexy Prince Protégé to Evangelist • EBONY". EBONY. July 23, 2016. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  14. ^ a b Tudahl, Duane (November 15, 2018). Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-5381-1643-2.
  15. ^ a b Draper, Jason (November 1, 2016). Prince: Life and Times: Revised and Updated Edition. Chartwell Books. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7603-5363-9.
  16. ^ Tudahl 2018, p. 13.
  17. ^ Buchalter, Gail (October 15, 1984). "Her Romance with Prince Hit the Rocks, but Vanity's Singing Career Is Going Grrr-Eat". People. Retrieved August 18, 2010.
  18. ^ Miller, Debby (April 28, 1983). "Prince's Hot Rock: The Secret Life Of America's Sexiest One-Man Band". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  19. ^ a b "Vanity Talks about Love, Prince and New Career in Records, Films". Jet: 60–62. May 5, 1986.
  20. ^ "Vanity 6 Lead Singer Cutting Motown Record". Jet: 62. August 13, 1984.
  21. ^ a b "Vanity Songs ••• Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography". Music VF, US & UK hits charts. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  22. ^ a b c d "Remembering Vanity Five Years Later". Spin. February 15, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  23. ^ "Vanity is HOT". United Press International. January 27, 1988. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  24. ^ a b "Carl Weathers and Vanity Talk About Hot Romance In 'Action jackson'". Jet: 56–58. February 15, 1988.
  25. ^ "Action Jackson movie review & film summary (1988) | Roger Ebert".
  26. ^ Williams, Stereo (February 20, 2016). "The Sexy, Holy Saga of Vanity: Prince's Muse Who Found God". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  27. ^ a b c Christian, Margena A. (November 26, 2007). "Vanity". Jet. 112 (21): 49. ISSN 0021-5996.
  28. ^ Williams, Stereo (February 20, 2016). "The Sexy, Holy Saga of Vanity: Prince's Muse Who Found God". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  29. ^ "Remembering Vanity, The Prince Protégé Who Got a Second Chance". Pitchfork. February 16, 2016. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  30. ^ Daly, Sean (October 14, 2007). "Motley Crue memoir not for squeamish". Monterey Herald. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  31. ^ "Vanity Weds Pro Football Star Anthony Smith After Monthlong Courtship". Jet. 87 (23): 14. April 17, 1995. ISSN 0021-5996.
  32. ^ a b "At Home With Vanity And Her New Husband". Ebony. 50 (8): 54–58. June 1995.
  33. ^ Dobie, Kathy (January 24, 2013). "Ex-Raider Anthony Smith's Murder Trial and Violent Past". GQ.
  34. ^ "Vanity interview". Daily Press ( July 12, 1997.
  35. ^ a b "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.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ "Evangelist Denise Matthews (formerly Vanity of Vanity 6 with Prince) to Speak at A Positive Force LDC's African Fashion Show, Youth Benefit and Gospel Extravaganza on December 5, 2005 at CSUS University, Sacramento Grand Ballroom". PRWeb. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  38. ^ "Former Prince Protege', Denise "Vanity" Matthews of Vanity 6, Dies At 57". Blame It On Vanity. February 15, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2010.
  39. ^ Ellise, Aria (February 15, 2016). "Former Prince Protege', Denise "Vanity" Matthews of Vanity 6, Dies At 57". Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  40. ^ Grow, Kory (February 16, 2016). "Prince Collaborator Vanity Dead at 57". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  41. ^ Lenker, Margaret (February 15, 2016). "Denise 'Vanity' Matthews, Singer and Protege of Prince, Dies at 57". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  42. ^ 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.>
  43. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (10th ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 739. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  44. ^ (((Vanity > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles))). AllMusic. Retrieved August 18, 2010.
  45. ^ "Album: What Time Is It? – Prince Vault". Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  46. ^ "South Beach". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  47. ^ "Da Vinci's War". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  48. ^ "Kiss of Death". IMDb database. IMDb. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  49. ^ "Memories of Murder". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  50. ^ "Vanity (singer)". Jet. 78 (20): 62. August 27, 1990.
  51. ^ "TV Review: Memories of Murder". Entertainment Weekly. August 10, 1990. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  52. ^ 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.
  53. ^ "Lady Boss". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  54. ^ "Lady Boss (miniseries)". Retrieved February 16, 2016.

External links[edit]