Vanity, ‘80s Pop Star, Passes Away at 57

By Victoria Kim 02/16/16

The 57-year-old Canadian-born star had been sober for over 20 years. 

Vanity, ‘80s Pop Star, Passes Away at 57
via A.J. Dugger III

Denise Katrina Matthews, who rose to stardom in the ‘80s as the pop singer and actress “Vanity,” passed away on Monday. She was 57.

The Canadian-born star had been fighting a rare condition called sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis, according to her GoFundMe page, which she created in 2014 to seek help in paying for her medical treatments.

Matthews had struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine in the ‘90s, but an overdose in 1994 left her with kidneys so damaged she required regular dialysis. “I didn’t want to die,” she told The Fix in an interview last year. “I was rushed into the hospital with 250 high blood pressure, heart attack, blood clots in my brain, bleeding internally and I suffered a small stroke. Both my kidneys had failed me, along with complete blindness and I was deaf in one ear.”

Matthews’ singing career began after meeting Prince in 1980. She soon rose to fame as the lead singer of ‘80s R&B/funk group Vanity 6, whose hit singles include "Nasty Girl," "He’s So Dull," and "Drive Me Wild." Prince wrote and produced the group’s first and only album, Vanity 6. The group toured with Prince on his 1999 tour, before Matthews decided to pursue a career of her own. She signed a solo record deal with Motown Records and released two solo albums, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin, and the hit singles "Pretty Mess," "Mechanical Emotion," and "Under the Influence."

She also starred in the films The Last Dragon (1985), 52 Pick-Up (1986) and Action Jackson (1988).

She told The Fix last year—she had been sober for over 22 years at the time—that she had already left the entertainment industry almost a year before she was hospitalized for overdosing. She described her back and forth affair with drugs. “[Cocaine] almost took my life, so I gave my life to Christ…then after some valuable time in Christ, I returned to sin again and almost died because of it. I repented and repented hard, begging Jesus to do whatever it took to ultimately save my life. Funny, but I did not return to sin of being or wanting to be Vanity, but I did return to the drugs,” she said. “Days later, I was laid up on a gurney going in for my first surgery. I have learned some awfully hard lessons but I can assure you of this—I thank Jesus for every single one of them.”

She eventually quit drugs and rededicated her life to Christianity in the mid-‘90s. TMZ reports that Matthews was at church as recently as Saturday evening, when she told the congregation that she was “ready to go home.” 

It seems she saw death as a long time coming. “I’m looking forward to going to Heaven. I’m not afraid of death,” she told The Fix last year.

After straying so far from her faith, Matthews eventually found her way home and made peace with herself long before her passing. “Boy, has my life changed drastically,” she said last year. “I must admit I wish I’d had this life from the beginning, but I wandered off the real path of true success. Call him Jesus.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr