Denise Matthews, best known for fronting the three-girl group Vanity 6 and her relationship with 80s pop culture icon Prince, has died at age 57 due to alleged kidney failure.
Matthews enjoyed a promising career in the music industry that began in the 80s and ended in the mid-90s. She had success with Vanity 6 as well as with her solo career under Motown Records. As a triple threat, she got her start in the industry with modeling, and acted in several successful 80s films (see: The Last Dragon).
Though Matthews experienced considerable career success, a tumultuous relationship with drugs led to a near-death experience that prompted her to find faith. She turned her back on the entertainment industry in the mid-90s to become a born-again Christian, totally denouncing her stage name and cutting off all ties with the entertainment industry to eventually become a minister.
(“I would much rather be a fish stuck in a pond with a starving shark than take on such a foul name of nothingness,” she would say of her stage-name later on).
Prince dated Matthews for several years in the 80s. In fact, Prince gave Matthews her stage-name of Vanity after saying that looking at her was like looking at a female version of himself.
Though Prince helped Matthews get her start by inviting her to front
Vanity 6 after meeting her at the American Music Awards, Matthews continued experiencing solo success through her musical endeavors and also through several other famed romances- she dated rock icons Billy Idol and was engaged to Nikki Sixx.
“I never thought, ‘Oh God, I’m in Prince’s shadow,’ ” she said to People Magazine in 1984.
Indeed, Vanity 6 can be considered a major 80s success group- and even viewed as the predecessor to later 90s girl groups like TLC.
Before TLC was singing about not wanting scrubs, Vanity 6 was singing: “There’s two things we can’t stand. One is a jive-talk man; the other is a jive-talk man with no money.”
Before her death, Matthews had been battling a long history of kidney problems. Her crack-cocaine addiction resulted in serious health problems; in 1997, she had a kidney transplant. She had to undergo dialysis 3 times a week.
In 2014, Matthews created a GoFundMe page to ask for donations to help republish her 1999 autobiography, Blame It on Vanity. She hoped to use revenue from the republishing to cover her on-going surgery bills, indicating troubled times.
After hearing of her death, many celebrities took to social media to morn the loss.
I am really sad to hear of Vanity/ Denise Matthews’ passing. I will always treasure our time together.
— Billy Idol (@BillyIdol) February 16, 2016