Vanity, the singer who led the Prince-formed group Vanity 6, has died of kidney failure at age 57. Active from 1981 to 1983, Vanity 6 were best-known for their Prince-penned 1982 hit “Nasty Girl.”
Born Denise Matthews, the future star grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Rechristened Vanity, she recorded one album with Vanity 6 and then resumed an acting career that included roles in Action Jackson and The Last Dragon as well as a role opposite John Stamos in the James Bond send-up Never Too Young to Die.
Prior to her music career, Matthews was a model and actress who met Prince at the American Music Awards and impressed him with her charisma; she was asked to front Vanity 6, a girl group that recorded and performed pop and dance music. (The group’s name enumerated the number of breasts among its three members.)
For a time romantically linked with Prince, Vanity appeared with Prince on his first Rolling Stone cover and was a contender for the Purple Rain role that ultimately went to Apollonia when Vanity left the group to pursue a solo career that yielded two albums. For a period, she was engaged to Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx.
In recent years Matthews’s health declined, due in part to fallout of years of hard partying and drug abuse — though she went sober after a 1994 overdose and became an ordained minister. “My great sister and friend in Christ died today,” wrote Sheila E. in a memorial Facebook post.
Prince learned of Vanity’s death just before he went onstage in Melbourne for the first show of his solo tour in Australia and New Zealand. He mentioned the late performer several times during his set, and changed the lyrics of “The Beautiful Ones,” which Matthews in part inspired, to pay tribute to her.
“Her and I used to love each other deeply,” said Prince about Vanity. “She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was very headstrong ’cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that.”