How Did Vanity Singer Denise Matthews Die? The Life And Death Of The 80s Star

how did vanity singer denise matthews die
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Last updated on August 4th, 2023 at 06:40 am

The death of Denise Matthews, lead singer of the 1980s pop group Vanity 6, caused an outpouring of grief worldwide. 

Matthews was more than just a singer. She was also a songwriter, model, dancer, and actress. A protégé of Prince, she lived a wild life before becoming a Christian minister. 

Many people today wonder what became of the “Nasty Girl.” How did Vanity singer Denise Matthews die? Read on to find out.  

How Did Denise Matthews Die?

Mathews’ sister, Renay, announced that the Vanity singer’s cause of death was due to long-standing health problems related to her kidneys. 

Although she had a kidney transplant many years earlier, the damage she had done to her body through years of drug abuse could not be reversed. 

Vanity’s drug use meant she had been on dialysis for years and eventually succumbed to sclerosis-encapsulating peritonitis. 

She was survived by her two sisters, Renay Matthews and Patricia Dalton Matthews.

Related: How Did Amy Winehouse Die? The True Story Behind the Singer’s Tragic Death 

Who Is Denise Matthews?

Vanity singer Denise Katrina Matthews was born on January 4, 1959, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Her father was physically and verbally abusive, so her parents divorced while she was young. 

She desperately wanted to become a model and left for New York City at the age of 19. 

However, having a height of five-foot-six inches meant that ramp modeling was not an option for her, and she had to settle for photo shoots and commercials.

What Ethnicity is Vanity? 

Denise Matthews’ mother was Jewish, of Polish-German descent, while her father was an African American.

What Is Vanity’s Net Worth?

At the time of her death, the Vanity singer’s net worth was estimated to be $104,000. Her videos and interviews on YouTube still get between 10,000 and 261,000 views.

How Did Vanity Meet Prince?

Matthews met Prince in 1980 at the American Music Awards. 

The two became romantically involved, and he invited her to front the girl group he had formed called Vanity 6. 

Prince was the one who named her Vanity. 

The group, known for their raunchy lyrics and dance moves, toured with Prince and released their hit “Nasty Girl” in 1982, which appeared on their only album, Vanity 6.

Related: How Did Prince Die? The Story Behind his Drug-Related Death 

Vanity 6

The female trio, made up of Vanity, Brenda Bennett, and Susan Moonsie, was backed by Prince himself. Naturally, they sang a similar style of music to Prince, combining R&B/funk with rock and pop. 

However, Vanity 6 was short-lived.

Two years after their only hit, Vanity left the group and launched her solo career at Motown Records. 

Susan and Brenda got together with Appolonia, another Prince protégé, to form Apollonia 6. They proved to be another one-hit-wonder girl group.

Related: How Tall was Prince? 23 Interesting Facts About the Musical Legend 


Career After Vanity

After releasing two albums, Wild Animal and Skin On Skin, the Vanity singer appeared in some films and TV series in the late-80s. 

Her film appearances include The Last Dragon and 52 Pick-Up. She played minor roles in Miami Vice and Friday the 13th: The Series.

During this period, Denise became addicted to cocaine. “There was a lot of cocaine,” she admitted in an interview with Jet magazine in 1993. “I tried men, women, everything. I didn’t snort cocaine; I smoked it.” 

The Vanity singer’s cocaine addiction and use of other drugs took their toll on her health, and she was once admitted to the hospital with renal failure. 

When interviewed by Associated Press in 1999, she said, “I was sick inside. I was a crack cocaine addict and didn’t even know how to wake up in the morning without some smoke.”

Vanity Turns Her Life Around

After almost dying from kidney failure, the Vanity singer turned her life around. Writing on her website, “All I had become was thus painted on my face – vanity,” and she decided to change.

After successful kidney transplant surgery in 1997, she became a Christian evangelist and retold her story in churches worldwide. 

Matthews released her autobiography in 2010, aptly titled Blame It On Vanity: Hollywood, Hell & Heaven.

Related: Who is Justin Timberlake? Everything You Need to Know 

Who Was Denise Matthews Married To?

She gave up her wild lifestyle and changed her name back to Denise Matthews. 

Matthews was married briefly to the professional football player Anthony W. Smith, but that ended a year later after he was convicted and sent to prison for life for the murders of three people.

Where Did Denise Matthews Die?

The Vanity singer had been admitted to the Washington Hospital Health Care System in Fremont, California, on the evening of Saturday, February 13, 2016. 

She never left the hospital, dying two days later of kidney failure.

In his tribute to her, rapper MC Hammer tweeted, “Vanity left the church after giving a beautiful testimony of appreciation for her Pastors and thanks to her savior Jesus, I was there. I was looking for her on Sunday, and the announcement came that she fell ill during the night.”

How Old Was Vanity When She Died?

Denise Matthews was only 57 years of age when she died. 

Denise Matthews Funeral

The Vanity singer’s funeral was held on February 27, 2016, at Union City Apostolic Church. 

Initially, it was announced that the funeral would be open to the public, but later it was declared private. Organizers were worried that multitudes of people would arrive hoping to see Prince. 

Roxane Harper, Matthews’ close family friend and co-pastor at church, said they weren’t expecting Prince to attend the funeral, although “He was the love of Denise’s life.”

According to her wishes, Matthews’ ashes were scattered off the coast of Hawaii.

Related: 19 Best Pop Songs for Your Playlist 

Prince On Vanity’s Death

Prince had just learned of Vanity’s death when he was about to step out on stage at Melbourne’s State Theatre. 

Feeling understandably emotional, he told the audience, “Can I tell you a story about Vanity? Or should I tell you a story about Denise? She and I used to love each other deeply.”

Ironically, Prince died just two months after Matthews, on April 21, 2016, from an accidental drug overdose. He was also only 57 years old.

How Did Other Stars React To Vanity’s Death?

British rock star Billy Idol tweeted, “I am really sad to hear of Vanity/ Denise Matthews’ passing. I will always treasure our time together. RIP.” 

Another celebrity, Sheila E, also a protégé of Prince, bid her friend goodbye by tweeting, “SADDEN my FRIEND IN CHRIST gone 2day. Vanity, Denise Matthews. MISS YOU DEARLY. U ARE IN HIS ARMS NOW, NO Pain.”  

There’s no doubt that Vanity singer Denise Matthews will be remembered for years to come.

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The Best Female Musicians of All time 

The Best Female Singers of All Time: No Auto Tune Allowed 

What We Know About the Death of Marvin Gaye 

Written by Anna Paulson


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