Denise Katrina Matthews (January 4, 1959 – February 15, 2016), formerly known as Vanity and sometimes credited as Denise Matthews-Smith or D.D. Winters, was a Canadian singer, songwriter, dancer, actress and model who turned away from her acting and music career to concentrate on evangelism. Vanity's career lasted from the 1980s until the early mid-1990s.
She was the lead singer of the female trio Vanity 6 from 1981 until it disbanded in 1983. The group was well known for their 1982 R&B/funk hit "Nasty Girl". Vanity's music career, also included two solo albums on Motown Records; Wild Animal and Skin on Skin, as well as the hit singles, "Pretty Mess", "Mechanical Emotion", and "Under the Influence".
She also had a successful acting career, starring in films The Last Dragon,52 Pick-Up, and Action Jackson.
Vanity was born Denise Katrina Matthews in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the daughter of Helga Senyk and James Levia Matthews. Her mother is of Polish and Jewish descent and was born in Germany, while her father wasAfrican American, Hawaiian and Native American.
Vanity began entering local beauty pageants before moving to Toronto, where she modeled. She won the Miss Niagara Hospitality title in 1977 and went on to compete for Miss Canada in 1978. At age 17, she moved to New York City to further her career. She signed with Zoli Model Agency. Because she was short in stature, her modeling career was limited to commercials and photo shoots; it included no runway work. Matthews appeared in ads for Pearl Drops toothpaste, before completing a modeling stint in Japan. As Vanity, she posed twice for Playboy magazine, in May 1985 and again in April 1988. Throughout the 1980s to the mid-1990s, Vanity appeared in many magazines around the world. Additionally, she was the cover model for the funk/R&B band Cameo's 1982 album Alligator Woman.
In 1980, she met Prince at the American Music Awards. Prince renamed her Vanity because, he said, he saw his female reflection when he looked at her. After learning that Vanity could sing, Prince asked her to become the lead singer of the group Vanity 6. This group was known for its sexually explicit lyrics, performances, and costumes (the "6" in their name referred to the female trio's breasts). The group's biggest hit, "Nasty Girl", was produced by Prince. In late 1982, the group and The Time toured with Prince on his 1999 Tour until spring of 1983. Vanity 6 was known for their provocative performances during the tour.
After one album, Vanity decided to leave Vanity 6. Several songs for Vanity 6's proposed second album were recorded. They were later released as bootlegs.
Vanity signed a record deal with Motown Records in 1984 and recorded two solo albums, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin. Extended versions of the single "Pretty Mess" from Wild Animal b/w "Mechanical Emotion", were released as a 12" by Motown. Her solo albums were moderate successes. Her biggest hit was "Under the Influence" from her 1986 album Skin On Skin. Not long after Vanity's second album was released, she either left or was dropped from Motown and signed withA&M Records. Later she signed with Geffen Records.
In 1988, under the production of friend/former The Time member Jesse Johnson, she recorded songs for the Action Jackson movie soundtrack, including the song "Faraway Eyes," which became one of her most well-known hits. That year Vanity also worked on a third album with two of her peers from her days with Prince, former Time members Jimmy Jamand Terry Lewis, as well as Tony LeMans, but the project did not yield an album release. Vanity's work as a recording artist ceased.
In 1980, Matthews had a small role in the horror movie Terror Train, which was filmed in Montreal a year earlier. She then went to Toronto to film the lead role in the B-movie Tanya's Island. At the time of both film roles, she was billed as D.D. Winters. After her music career started, as Vanity she starred in a number of movies, including The Last Dragon, which featured her underground hit "7th Heaven." In 1986 she starred in Never Too Young to Die opposite John Stamos. The film also featured Gene Simmons. She went on to appear in 52 Pick-Up and 1988's Action Jackson, her highest profile role, in which she starred opposite Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, and Sharon Stone.
From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Vanity guest-starred on numerous TV shows. She played a villain who torturedNancy Allen's character in the 1990 TV movie Memories of Murder, guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice's third season, and in 1992 appeared in an episode of Highlander: The Series. She also appeared in Friday the 13th: The Seriesin the episode entitled "Mesmer's Bauble".
Besides Prince, Vanity was linked romantically to Adam Ant and Billy Idol. In 1987, she stated that she and Mötley Crüebassist Nikki Sixx were engaged. She joked that she would become Vanity 6 (Sixx) again. They never married. In Sixx's 2007 autobiography, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, he describes his 1987 drug use with Vanity, who was addicted to crack cocaine at the time. In 1995, Vanity married football player Anthony Smith of theOakland Raiders, but they divorced the following year. Due to the effects on her kidneys of years of drug use while a performer, she had to undergo peritoneal dialysis five times a day (each session was 20 minutes long). Matthews lived in Fremont, California until her death.
In 1994, Vanity overdosed on crack cocaine and suffered from near-fatal renal failure. She recalled that after being rushed to the hospital, doctors said she had three days to live while on life support. She said that Jesus appeared to her at this time and spoke to her, saying if she promised to give up her Vanity persona, he would save her. Upon her recovery, she completely renounced her stage name and career and became a born-again Christian. In 1995, she said, "When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ, I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine—interview, every tape, every video. Everything." She stated that she had chosen not to receive any further revenue from her work as Vanity, and cut off all ties with Hollywood and her former life in show business. After a kidney transplant in 1997, she decided to devote her life to evangelism. She made speaking engagements at churches across the United States and worldwide.
In 2010, Matthews released her autobiography, Blame It On Vanity.
Matthews suffered from sclerosis encapsulating peritonitis, a complex form of a kidney disease, and died in a Fremont, California hospital on February 15, 2016, at the age of 57.
Studio albums With Vanity 6
- Vanity 6 (1982)
- Wild Animal (Motown, 1984)
- Skin on Skin (Motown, 1986)
- (1985) The Last Dragon: the song "7th Heaven"
- (1988) Action Jackson: the songs "Undress", "Faraway Eyes", and "Shotgun" with David Koz and featuring vocalist Kareem
- (1982) provided backing vocals for Prince's song "Free" on his album 1999.
- (1982) provided spoken vocals for The Time's song "The Walk" on the album What Time Is It?.
- (1982) along with other Vanity 6 members, provided spoken vocals for The Time's song "Wild and Loose" on the album What Time Is It?.
- (1986) provided backing vocals for El DeBarge's "Secrets of the Night", on his album El DeBarge. In the liner notes, Vanity's backing vocal contributions are referred to as "sensuous".
- (1994) on Prince's track "Orgasm", from his album Come. Prince sampled Vanity's moaning which was originally recorded on an unreleased track from 1983 entitled "Vibrator". In the liner notes for "Orgasm", Vanity is simply credited as "she knows".
Other work and unreleased songs
- In 1982 and 1983 three unreleased recorded tracks which were originally scheduled to be on a second Vanity 6 album before Vanity left the group:
- "Sex Shooter", which was given to Apollonia 6 was re-recorded for the group's 1984 debut album
- "G-Spot", which was given to Jill Jones
While the versions with Vanity's vocals remain officially unreleased, all three have been leaked extensively to the internet.
- In 1989, Vanity performed a cover version of "Nature Boy" during a guest appearance on the TV show Friday the 13th: The Series in the episode 'The Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble' as a pop star named 'Angelica'. It was thought this song may have been from Vanity's unreleased/never completed third solo album.
- (1980) Klondike Fever (uncredited)
- (1980) Terror Train (as D.D. Winters)
- (1980) Tanya's Island (as D.D. Winters)
- (1985) The Last Dragon
- (1986) Never Too Young to Die
- (1986) 52 Pick-Up
- (1987) Deadly Illusion
- (1988) Action Jackson
- (1992) South Beach
- (1992) Neon City
- (1993) Da Vinci's War
- (1997) Kiss of Death
- (1987) Miami Vice (episode: By Hooker By Crook)
- (1987) The New Mike Hammer (episode: Green Lipstick/Mike's Daughter)
- (1988) T. and T. (episode: A Secret No More)
- (1989) Friday the 13th: The Series (episode: The Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble)
- (1989) Booker (episode: Deals and Wheels: Part 1)
- (1990) Memories of Murder [made-for-TV-movie]
- (1991) Tales from the Crypt (episode: Dead Wait)
- (1991) Sweating Bullets aka Tropical Heat (episode: Mafia Mistress)
- (1992) Silk Stalkings (episode: Powder Burn)
- (1992) Lady Boss [TV mini-series]
- (1992) Highlander: The Series (episode: Revenge Is Sweet)
- (1993) Counterstrike (episode: Muerte)
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