From Prince’s girlfriend to Vanity: how God helped Denise Matthews transform her life

by spicyray

D

enise Matthews Vanity remembers standing in the corner, as a shadowy figure lurking and watching herself as she alters her ego, Vanity. They were in a room full of people sniffing cocaine, engaging in sexual activity with any willing partner. And the cocaine made Vanity look disheveled but not lazy. Vanity was what is routinely known as a “junkie.” Denise felt for the lost souls in the room, especially the version of herself that she thought of as a twin sister.

Denise Matthews spent years learning to craft an image that was well-polished and tenacious, enthusiastically endorsing the impact of turning one’s life over to God. It didn’t seem to make any sense that she couldn’t make her actions fit her vision. But when a person is lost psychologically and spiritually, the way she was as Vanity. The power of God isn’t enough to make a difference. Denise knew that if Vanity didn’t get off her destructive path, the only result was death, something she feared she couldn’t stop.

In Denise Matthews’ book Blame it on Vanity, she detailed her life events. She was developing a reputation as sex goodness that took the name Vanity to its furthest point. “Vanity was dying. It was drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, that whole sexual thing. Vanity was praying to die because she was lost and hurting inside,” she told an interviewer.

Late Prince

Denise Matthews was given the nickname Vanity by her former boyfriend, the late Prince. Later she reflected on how much she despised the name. “Prince created the whole Vanity Six image. It bothered me at the time. I lied and said it was the image I wanted. I did it because he told me I had to do it,” she told a magazine. “If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get paid. I got into it.”

Prince was known for rampant partying, and dressing in women’s clothes. And she was performing on stage in X-rated outfits, with lyrics that enhanced and surpassed his dirty image. Matthews started dating Prince in 1983, but before that relationship. She had been dating the singer Rick James, who was even worse for her than Prince.

James was known as merely nasty and flouted his drug use at a time. In the ’80s, when most celebrities tried hard not to let their substance use issues become public. He wrote the song “Mary Jane” about marijuana and wrote “Super Freak,” a song that puts James on the musical map even to this day. James, who would eventually die due to years of drug abuse and poor health, hoped to start an all-girl group. He planned to create a group whose image and music excited male fans and invoked powerful feelings of jealousy in the average woman.

Prince Was Rumored

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Prince was rumored to have taken James’ vision of a raunchy girl group and ran with it. He renamed Denise “Vanity” and asked her to join the group Vanity Six. Then succeeded in writing songs for the group, including “Nasty Girls” and “Drive Me Wild.”

Denise Matthews was easy prey due to the ongoing physical and psychological abuse that she suffered at her father’s hands, growing up in Canada. The physical and psychological scars left her with a deep-seated dislike for her father. “The Bible says there will come a day when the mother will go against the father, and children will stand up and shoot their parents. And it’s happening. Kids are shooting their parents. I wish I could see my father in heaven, but I won’t. He’s in hell,” she said.

As time went on, Vanity fell deeper into depression. Her chronic drug use went from casual to hardcore, lasting over ten years. “Vanity was dying,” she said in an interview. “Vanity was praying to die because she was lost and hurting inside. God said you have to go through darkness until you find His light.”

Broke off her relationship

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After she broke off her relationship with Prince in 1983, Vanity returned to acting and landed roles in movies such as “The Last Dragon,” “Action Jackson,” “Never Too Young to Die,” and “52 Pick-Up,” all low budget and low quality. She was still pursuing her musical career as well. Motown records took an interest, and Vanity released two C.D.s. True to her reputation, the songs reflected the image that she had crafted with Prince. “Pretty Mess” and “Under the Influence of a Four-Letter Word on My Mind” had some success but were not hits. The titles of her C.D.s, “Wild Animal” and “Skin on Skin,” were symbolic of how empty Matthews felt, living as Vanity.

“While engaged in the behavior or substance, people have a sense of being transformed from feelings of low self-worth to false feelings of great worth and value,” writes renowned addition specialist Claudia Black in her book Straight Talk. “The substance or behavior transforms people from a feeling of being ‘less than’ to feelings of being ‘greater than’ and takes one from a sense of shame to grandiosity.”

When Matthews, still living as Vanity, announced her engagement to Motley Crue bass player Nikki Sixx, it was surprising but not shocking; Sixx is known for his drug use and womanizing. Sixx claimed that he and Matthews had done drugs for days and nights and almost died from a drug overdose.

“I would truly hate what I was doing, but I was all caught up in it. It’s like someone caught up in a lie who wants to tell the truth. You put this big façade up, and you don’t want to give anyone the idea that you’re weak,” said Matthews.

Back to herself

Vanity Net Worth | Celebrity Net Worth
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As the years went on, Matthews, now Denise again, was determined to get and stay sober. After meeting former L.A. Rams football player Anthony Smith, the two married in a misguided move. Smith, who is now serving a sentence of life in prison for killing two men, said he grew tired of Matthews’ charitable ways. “If I don’t watch out, she will even hand out the furniture in our house,” he said in an interview. “She is constantly giving out her number and offering meals and showers to people.”

Girlfriend to Vanity

Matthews’ zeal for teaching about the Bible and connecting every thought and action to God raised the possibility that she had developed an addiction to religion. “As the black-and-white, all-or-nothing people that we are, we assume that if a little religion is good, a whole lot more must be a whole lot better,” said a staff member at Elements Behavioral Health in an article called 5 Signs You May Be Addicted to Religion. “After all, finally, we’re feeling good and getting our lives back on track. We’re starting to understand the meaning of a spiritual experience, and we can’t deny how good the spiritual highs make us feel. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing and addiction, in any form, has the power to be destructive.”

In Matthews’ case, Vanity’s carelessness had caused significant pain that Denise would have to live. “My blood pressure was 250 over 190. I lost both kidneys,” she told Jet magazine. “I had internal bleeding with blood clots on the brain. I was completely blind and deaf. I had a heart attack and a stroke.”

Hospitalized

In 1992 she was hospitalized for kidney failure as a result of cocaine and other drug use. “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,” she told the Associated Press in 1999. But she did find a way forward out of her drug addiction. And she devoted herself entirely to her newfound walk of faith. “As I stand here without any kidneys in my body… I have given it up to Christ so much that I am not taking a kidney from another man or another woman,” Matthews said on one of her mission talks. “I am waiting on the Lord. He’s going to put those kidneys by His hands in my body.”

At the age of 57

In 2015, at the age of 57, Denise “Vanity” Matthews passed away from kidney failure. Days before her death, she posted a moving message on Facebook. “I want everyone to remember what Jesus has done for me. I wrote a whole biography on the subject. Blame it on Vanity. My Lord ordained this testimony.” Her former boyfriend Prince died three months after Matthews from an overdose.

Matthews could do what her selfish alter ego, Vanity, could never have done at the time of her death. In her will, she left her church members a 2007 Saturn, a Buick Encore, a $39,000 diamond ring, $7,000 in jewelry, part of her house, a sword collection, and 40% of the publishing and movie rights to her autobiography; I Blame Vanity.

She replaced one addiction with another, devoting her life to religion with the same abandon she had previously dedicated to drugs. But she spent much of her life unable to tell who she was, living with a name a boyfriend gave her because he liked the way it reflected on him. And in the end, she was able to decide how she left this world and what her legacy would be. That is something Denise could be proud of.

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