Denise Matthews — far better known by her stage name, Vanity — has died at age 57 from kidney failure, the result of years of crack cocaine abuse, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.
The singer and actress died Monday in a hospital in Fremont, Calif., the Bay Area city she called home.
“She absolute loved God unto salvation,” her friend MC Hammer tweeted Monday night as the Grammy Awards got underway. “She fell ill during the night [and] ended up on life support.”
A sex vixen fashioned in the image of her rock-star mentor and one-time lover, Prince, Matthews had several provocative hits in the early 1980s as lead singer of the group Vanity 6.
The biggest by far was 1982’s “Nasty Girl.” An infectious synth-funk single with overtly sexual lyrics, the song stalled on mainstream radio but managed to reach No. 1 on the Billboard dance charts. It has since gone on to become a dance-floor classic.
Matthews disbanded Vanity 6 after the group’s debut release and signed with Motown Records in 1984, under which she released two solo records, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin. She also embarked on an acting career, starring in the Berry Gordy-produced musical martial-arts film, The Last Dragon, in 1985.
The following year, she was cast opposite John Stamos in Never Too Young to Die, a disastrous send-up of James Bond movies that featured KISS’ Gene Simmons as a cross-dressing villain.
“She was pretty wild,” Stamos recently told THR about his co-star. “She was like Al Pacino in Scarface, blasting these f—ing [prop] machine guns all over the place. We weren’t even rolling!”
Matthews’ reputation as a hard partier in those early years of fame was both widely known and well-founded. As she cycled through rocker boyfriends (Billy Idol, Adam Ant and Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, among them), she developed a dangerous addiction to crack cocaine.
In 1994, that addiction led to near-fatal renal failure. She later said that Jesus Christ appeared to her at that time and offered her a second chance at life if she abandoned her Vanity persona.
Matthews spent the years since sober and a born again Christian. After a kidney transplant in 1997, she became a Christian evangelist. She told her story in a self-published 2010 autobiography, Blame It on Vanity.
Matthews’ health woes took a turn for the worse late last year, however, and she set up a crowdfunding effort to pay for her medical treatment after being diagnosed with sclerosis encapsulating peritonitis, a severely painful kidney condition. She raised $6,599 of the $50,000 she had sought.