Vanity, the ’80s pop star and Prince protege, has died. TMZ reports that she’d been fighting kidney failure and abdominal illness in recent years, and she passed away yesterday at a hospital in Freemont, California, She was 57.
Vanity was born Denise Katrina Matthews in Niagara Falls, Ontario. She started out as a model in Toronto, and that’s her on the cover of Cameo’s 1982 album Alligator Woman. At the 1980 American Music Awards, she met Prince, who immediately took her under his wing. Prince changed her name to Vanity — she rejected his request to name herself “Vagina” — and he installed her as the leader of the girl group Vanity 6. They released one self-titled album in 1982, and Prince wrote, produced, and did the instrumentation for nearly all of it. Their biggest hit was the sex jam “Nasty Girl,” which got major play in clubs but which was banned from radio stations for being too explicit.
Vanity was Prince’s original choice to star in his 1984 movie Purple Rain. But instead, she left Vanity 6 and signed a solo contract with Motown, and the role went to Apollonia. Vanity released two fairly successful mid-’80s solo albums. She also played the female lead in the great Berry Gordy-produced ’80s action-cheese classic The Last Dragon and also landed major roles in the movies 52 Pick-Up and Action Jackson. She dated Prince, Adam Ant, and Billy Idol, and was briefly engaged to Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx. She also battled addiction, and after a near-fatal 1995 crack overdose, she became a born again Christian. She left show business behind completely and became an Evangelist preacher.
Below, watch some videos of Vanity at work.