Iconic 1980s R&B funk singer-songwriter Vanity (born Denise Matthews) from pop group Vanity 6 passed away from kidney disease at the age of 57. News broke on social media during the Grammy Awards’ live telecast. Her sister, Renay Matthews, confirmed that she had checked into a hospital in Fremont, Calif., on Sunday night. Sources close to her family say that she attended church earlier on that day and told her congregation that she was ready to go be at home with the Lord.
Vanity was one of the few triple threats that set the bar high with a thriving career in various aspects of entertainment. After moving to New York at young age of 17, the Canadian-born beauty started her career in modeling. She graced Playboy twice in the late ’80s among other magazine spreads, and even became the cover on Cameo’s 1982 album cover art, Alligator Woman.
However, it was her first encounter with Prince that launched her successful music career as Vanity. He gave her that name after claiming to see his female reflection in her. She immediately became his protégé and lead singer of Vanity 6. Vanity, along with Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie toured all around the world with Prince and The Time.
On stage she was sensual, fearless and feisty, and crept in every man’s dream as he slept. She often danced provocatively and frequently appeared in racy lingerie. Her alluring charisma on stage helped the group’s biggest hit, “Nasty Girl,” skyrocket to the top of Billboard Black Singles list and Hot Club Play list at #1 and #7, respectively.
After recording one album with the group, Vanity launched out her own to begin her own solo career on Motown Records. The star released Wild Animal which spawned the groovy funk rock hit, “Pretty Mess,” and Skin on Skin which stayed on the Billboard R&B Album charts for 19 weeks.
The model turned singer also took her acting chops to the small screen. She appeared in a string of television shows and movies that included Action Jackson, Highlander: The Series, Never Too Young to Die and The Last Dragon.
Although she’s has a versatile time in the spotlight, life hadn’t been all that easy for the superstar. Vanity revealed in her 2004 autobiography, Blame It on Vanity, that she was recovering from a drug addiction to cocaine which led to a detrimental effect on her kidneys. Her decline in health was so bad that she had to undergo peritoneal dialysis.
In 1993, she told Jet magazine her wild, care free lifestyle was becoming too fast pace to handle. “There was a lot of cocaine,” she said. “I tried men, women, everything. I didn’t snort cocaine, I smoked it.”
After experiencing losing both kidneys in the early ’90s and doctors telling her she only had three days to live, Vanity made the decision to become a Christian evangelist and eventually an ordained minister. It was her way of closing a door to chapter to opening a new one. She married football player Anthony Smith in 1995, but they divorced a year later.
As fans started to mourn her passing online, an emotional Prince reminisced about the special times he shared with Vanity while kicking off the first Australian show on his Piano and a Microphone tour.
“She loved me for the artist I was,” Prince said, “I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was headstrong ’cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that.”
With a heavy heart, Prince dedicated performances of “Little Red Corvette” and “The Ladder” to her memory. As he segued into “The Beautiful Ones,” he told the audience, “I am new to playing this alone. I thank you all for being so patient. I’m trying to stay focused, it’s a little heavy for me tonight. Just keep jamming… She knows about this one.”
A host of other celebrities and fans shared their condolences on social media.
Sinbad expressed on Twitter, “I just read that Denise Matthews aka ‘Vanity’ from Vanity 6 passed away today. She was a beautiful sister inside and out.”
Marsha Ambrosius tweeted, “Always some BULLSH*T around Grammy time man!!! *Plays everything Vanity 6