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Denise Matthews AKA Vanity, Prince’s Muse, Had Lived a Troubled Life until Her Religious Conversion in the ‘90s

Titi Dokubo
Sep 24, 2021
02:00 P.M.
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Denise Matthews, popularly known as Vanity in the '80s, lived a troubled life that almost led to her death before she converted to Christianity in the '90s.

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At the peak of her career, she was Prince's muse and inspired his "Purple Rain" film. From modeling to singing and acting, Vanity seemed to have lived a fulfilling life.

Before her untimely death, she had given up life in the entertainment industry and chose to be an evangelist. Let's take a look at her life before her death.

A photo of Vanity and Prince | Photo: twitter.com/TheWrap

A photo of Vanity and Prince | Photo: twitter.com/TheWrap

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ABOUT VANITY

Vanity moved from Canada, her native country, to the United States with the ambition to get her career off the ground. Before her move, she was considered "one of the most gorgeous women in Niagara Falls."

In 1977, she had won the Miss Niagara Hospitality Pageant at age 18. This led to her debut as a model in the United States. After she left the catwalks, she made way for the music scene.

Portrait of Vanity for the cover for funk and soul group Cameo's album, 'Alligator Woman' in New York, 1982 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Vanity for the cover for funk and soul group Cameo's album, 'Alligator Woman' in New York, 1982 | Photo: Getty Images

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At only 21, she caught Prince's eye. The pop icon believed in the young woman's potential and decided to take her under his wing.

The singer was propelled to the front of the stage and became the lead singer of the group Vanity 6. After two tours and a huge hit, "Nasty Girl," released in 1984, she embarked on a solo career.

She released two albums, "Wild Animal" in 1984 and "Skin on Skin" in 1986. She also starred in a few films in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "The Last Dragon" and "52 Pick-Up."

Photo of Vanity Six circa 1970 | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Vanity Six circa 1970 | Photo: Getty Images

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VANITY'S HEALTH AND SALVATION

However, the flip side of success is never far away. The end of the 1980s marked the beginning of her downfall. She fell into the abyss of drugs and was affected by health problems as early as 1992.

Her use of crack and cocaine became an open secret. In 1994, she overdosed and narrowly escaped death, but her organs did not come out unscathed. The diagnosis was final: Vanity had suffered from kidney failure.

Photo of Vanity in 1989 | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Vanity in 1989 | Photo: Getty Images

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Vanity underwent peritoneal dialysis five times a day, each for twenty minutes, following this overdose until the end of her life. The doctors had said she would die in three days.

She revealed that her blood pressure was 250 over 190 and that she lost both kidneys, had internal bleeding, and had blood clots on her brain. She was completely blind and deaf and suffered from a heart attack and stroke.

Portrait of Vanity in Chicago, Illinois, April 3, 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Vanity in Chicago, Illinois, April 3, 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

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Determined to find the right path, she withdrew from the entertainment industry and had succeeded in putting an end to her drug addiction.

She even became an evangelist and was deeply invested in her local church, where she stayed busy with speaking and ministry engagements. In 1999, she published a book titled "Blame It On Vanity."

Vanity on November 7, 1986 at Tramp's Club in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

Vanity on November 7, 1986 at Tramp's Club in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

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After becoming an evangelist, she retained her husband's last name, becoming Denise K. Smith, and even shared her life testimony with about fifty women at Christ Church in Hampton. She said,

"The closer I get to Jesus, the farther that Vanity woman seems to be."

She did not become an evangelist out of the blues. On the movie set of "Davinci's War," actor Sam Jones invited her to his car during lunch break and read the Bible with her. From then on, she became a changed being.

Vanity at the premiere of "The Last Dragon" on March 21, 1985 at the Plitt Theater in Century City, California | Photo: Getty Images

Vanity at the premiere of "The Last Dragon" on March 21, 1985 at the Plitt Theater in Century City, California | Photo: Getty Images

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VANITY'S LOVE LIFE AND DEATH

When she was Prince's protégé, they dated for several months after their memorable meeting at the 1979 American Music Awards before she moved on to start her solo career. In 1983, they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. She once said of Prince,

"He's the most romantic man that I've ever met in my life."

During their time together, she helped with the "Purple Rain" script and was to play the female lead whose story was partly inspired by her own life story. However, they split before filming and parted ways in 1983.

Vanity at the premiere of "Coming To America" on June 26, 1988 at Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

Vanity at the premiere of "Coming To America" on June 26, 1988 at Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

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In 1995, Vanity got married to pro football star Anthony Smith of the Oakland Raiders. The couple didn't date for long, seeing as they met in February and were married by March. She said she knew he was the man God had chosen for her.

Vanity died on February 15, 2016, at 57, in a hospital in Fremont, California. Weakened for years by kidney failure, the singer was admitted to the hospital before succumbing to her untimely demise.

Vanity at Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 1989 in Cannes, France | Photo: Getty Images

Vanity at Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 1989 in Cannes, France | Photo: Getty Images

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After her demise, Prince paid tributes to her the following day at his Piano and a Microphone solo-tour concert in Melbourne, Australia. He said,

"She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be."

That night, he performed songs such as "Little Red Corvette" and "Dirty Mind," written when they were together. He revealed that she would have wanted them to celebrate her life rather than to mourn her.

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