Denise Matthews, best known as 80s pop star and actress Vanity, has died at age 54. According to TMZ, the former Prince protege and Vanity 6 frontwoman died after years of battling kidney failure and a recent unspecified abdominal illness.
Vanity rose to fame in the early 1980s after spending the late 1970s modeling and an association with funk legend Rick James. Attending the American Music Awards led to her meeting Prince, who formed the girl group Vanity 6 around her and wrote and produced their self-titled debut album and hit 1982 single “Nasty Girl.” By 1984, she’d left Vanity 6 and disassociated from Prince, but was signed to a solo deal with Motown Records and appeared in the Motown-produced film The Last Dragon as a sexy pop star harassed by an evil music mogul. The movie was a moderate box office success that would go on to become a cult classic; nonetheless, Vanity left Motown and signed with A&M and Geffen Records, but her recording career floundered.
She appeared in the 1988 hit film Action Jackson opposite Carl Weathers, Sharon Stone and Craig T. Nelson and also began a romantic relationship with Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx; a relationship she later revealed was driven by hardcore drug abuse. After a few guest appearances on popular television shows in the early 1990s, Vanity stepped away from the spotlight.
She would suffer a nearly fatal overdose on crack cocaine in 1994 and the experience led to her Christian conversion. After a 1997 kidney transplant, she would spend the remainder of the 1990s and 2000s as an evangelist, renouncing her old music and image entirely while speaking solely as “Denise Matthews.”
TMZ reports that Matthews passed away in a Fremont, CA hospital on Monday according to sources close to her family. A GoFundMe page had been set up for the former star revealing that she’d been diagnosed with sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis — an inflammation of the small intestines.
Our condolences to her family.