Denise Katrina Matthews, more popularly known by her stage name Vanity, was a Canadian singer, actress, and model. After beginning her career as a local beauty pageant winner, Vanity moved to New York to pursue modelling. After landing a few commercials and photoshoots, she managed to make her way to the big screen with the slasher film ‘Terror Train’. At the same time, her relationship with American singer, Prince, hit the news and the duo often collaborated. She joined the girl group ‘Vanity 6’ as their lead singer and also released the album ‘Vanity 6’. Later, she decided to work as a solo artist and released the two popular albums: ‘Wild Animal’ (1984) and ‘Skin on Skin’ (1986). While they were successful, Vanity decided to try her luck with acting and was seen in a series of TV shows and films in the 1980s and 1990s. Her most popular roles included appearances in ‘The Last Dragon’, ’52-Pick Up’, ‘Action Jackson’, and ‘Deadly Illusion’. However, her conversion to evangelism in the early 1990s narrowed her selection of roles and she was last seen in the movie ‘Kiss of Death’ in 1997. Vanity lived a pious and quiet life afterwards until her death.
Childhood & Early Life
Denise Katrina Matthews was born on 4 January, 1959 to Helga Senyk and Levia James Matthews, in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Vanity’s career into the world of glamour began with beauty pageants. She entered local beauty pageants as a teen and won the Miss Niagara Hospitality crown in 1977. Later, she competed for the Miss Canada title in 1978.
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After recognizing that her talent lay in entertainment, she moved to New York to carve a modeling career and signed up with Zoli Model Agency. She was seen in a string of commercials and photoshoots from 1977 to 1980.
In 1980, she made her first appearance on the big screen with the film ‘Terror Train’, a Canadian slasher film. In the same year, she also appeared in other movies such as ‘Tanya’s Island’ and ‘Kondlike Fever’.
Her fortuitous meeting with Prince, an established American singer and musician, in the early 1980s, helped her enter the world of music. Renamed Vanity by Prince, she was announced the lead singer of the girl group ‘Vanity 6’. The group released a self-titled debut album in 1982 and the song ‘Nasty Girl’ became a hit.
Her relationship with Prince also helped her appear in many other musical acts in 1982. She was the backing vocalist for ‘Free’, ‘The Time’, and ‘The Walk’. She also appeared in the music videos for ‘Nasty Girl’, ‘He’s So Dull’, and ‘Drive Me Wild’.
Despite the success with Vanity 6, Vanity decided to leave the group. She joined Motown Records as a solo artist in 1984. With Motown Records, she managed to release two studio albums: ‘Wild Animal’ (1984) and ‘Skin on Skin’ (1986).
Her albums were moderately popular and some of the singles even raced up on the pop and R&B charts in the US. Her most popular singles included ‘Pretty Mess’, ‘Mechanical Emotion’, Under the Influence’, ‘Animals’, and ‘Undress.’
In 1985, she started actively working in films and was seen in a major role in ‘The Last Dragon’ as Laura Charles. In the next year, she played the role of Danja Deering in ‘Never Too Young to Die’ and Doreen in ’52 Pick-Up’.
In 1987, she made her entry in TV as well and appeared in an episode of ‘The New Mike Hammer’ as Holly and in ‘Miami Vice’ as Ali Ferrand. Her sole movie appearance in the year included the action crime thriller ‘Deadly Illusion’, where she played the character of Rina.
In 1988, she starred in the action film ‘Action Jackson’. Despite poor ratings, the movie performed well at the box office. She also appeared in an episode of ‘T. and T.’ the same year.
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For the remainder of the decade, she played minor roles on TV. In 1989, she was seen in ‘Friday the 13th: The Series’ as Angelica and later as Tina Maxwell in ‘Booker’. In 1990, she appeared as Carmen in ‘Memories of Murder’.
In 1991, she appeared in the sci-fi movie ‘Neon City’. Later in the year, she made guest appearances in the TV series ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and in ‘Sweating Bullets’ as Maria.
In 1992, she appeared in an episode of ‘Highlander: The Series’ as Rebecca Lord and as Chantel in the crime drama series ‘Silk Stalkings.’ In the mini-series adaptation of ‘Lady Boss’, Vanity reprised the role of Mary Lou Morley.
Her religious conversion around the same time narrowed possible roles for Vanity owing to strict prohibitions. She was seen sparingly on the big screen. Her last appearances included the movies ‘South Beach’ (1993), ‘Da Vinci’s War’ (1993), ‘Counterstrike’ (1993), and ‘Kiss of Death’ (1997).
In 1997, she decided to retire from the world of glamour after repeated health problems and devoted herself to the services of the Lord. Later in 2010, she released her autobiography ‘Blame It on Vanity: Hollywood, Hell, and Heaven’, which chronicled her life.
Vanity’s popularity mainly stems from her early days as a singer and songwriter with Prince. Her first association with the band ‘Vanity 6’ catapulted her to fame. In particular, the single written by Prince titled ‘Nasty Girl’ helped her become a popular cultural figure.
Vanity’s most popular and remembered movie is the comedy drama ‘The Last Dragon’ in 1985. She played the role of Laura Charles and starred opposite Taimak, Christopher Murney, and Julius Carry. The movie was a hit at the box office.
Personal Life & Legacy
Vanity first met her future partner, the musician Prince Rogers Nelson, at the American Music Awards in 1980. The couple dated for almost three years before parting ways in 1983.
She was next linked to Adam Ant, the English songwriter, after he released the track ‘Vanity’ in 1983. However, they only dated for a year and their relationship ended in 1984. Vanity was rumored to be in a relationship with Billy Idol next, but neither of them confirmed these speculations.
In 1987, she announced that she was dating Nikki Sixx, an American bassist, for almost a year. However, despite being engaged, their relationship didn’t culminate in a marriage owing to Vanity’s addiction to cocaine.
After suffering through many intense heartbreaks, addictions, and experiences, Vanity decided to become a born-again Christian in 1992 and changed her name back to ‘Denise.’ A near-death experience because of drug overdose triggered this change. She also decided to cut off ties with her previous life.
In 1995, she married Anthony Smith, a footballer of the Oakland Raiders fame. Despite dating for less than a month, the duo decided to marry. However, it wasn’t a happy marriage as Smith’s violent nature took over the relationship and they divorced in 1996.
Despite staying sober, Vanity’s 10-year cocaine addiction took a toll on her health and she suffered from kidney problems. She died from renal failure on February 15, 2016. After cremation, her ashes were scattered across the Hawaii coast.