If you came of age in the 1980s like I did, you can’t help but remember Denise Katrina Matthews, aka Vanity, an unforgettable beauty who fronted Vanity 6, a sexually charged, all-girl group who fused R&B and pop into 1982’s “Nasty Girl,” a massive dance club hit written by Prince, the pop legend who discovered Matthews as a young model. A few more hits would follow but the group would only make that one album together.
Vanity would go on to cut some moderate solo hits. Her star really took off in Hollywood, though, where her beauty and charisma overcame admittedly limited acting skills. Between 1985 and 1987, Vanity appeared in 5 feature films, including “Action Jackson,” John Frankenheimer’s “52 Pick-Up,” and Motown founder Berry Gordy’s profitable disaster, “The Last Dragon.” As an icon of the eighties, naturally Vanity appeared on “Miami Vice.”
On paper, Vanity was living the dream. In reality, her life was one filled with the worst kind of celebrity decadence imaginable. Acute drug abuse and celebrity-lovers who ranged from Prince to Billy Idol to Adam Ant to Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, all took a harrowing toll. In 1994, Vanity was just 35 years old when an overdose of crack cocaine put her on life support. She was diagnosed with kidney failure and given 3 days to live.
It was then, Matthews says in her 2010 biography, that Jesus appeared to her. She repented her old ways, including her entire Vanity persona. Everything related to her old life went in the trash, including, she says, more than a thousand videotapes. Here is her “700 Club” testimony from 1994.
Here she is 9 months after finding Jesus talking to Joan Rivers. How many people doubted then that she would stay on the right path for the rest of her life? Well, she did:
Here is Denise preaching in 1995
Last year she told Rolling Stone:
“I was young and irresponsible, a silly woman laden with sin, not caring for anything except fame and fortune and self,” she tells Rolling Stone. “But I have lived seeking truth in Jesus Christ and found it has made me free.
“According to God’s word, we haven’t done a very good job concerning our little ones, nor our teens,” she continues. “I haven’t given the song any thought [in many years]. I don’t listen to my old music of Vanity’s unless I have to hear it playing in a mall or something place like that. I sing to Jesus for Jesus now. This gives me pure joy … worship! I apologize profusely to those I have offended deeply a million times over.”
For two decades she kept her promise to Christ by becoming an outspoken evangelist.
Unfortunately, the health damage had been done, and from most media accounts and a GoFundMe page Matthews’ herself launched four months ago, this is what took her life Tuesday.
Obviously, if she was trying to raise money in order to pay her medical bills, Denise Matthews was struggling financially. Nevertheless, she never cashed in, never sold out, never broke her promise to Jesus, even though the riches were there for the taking.
From that same GoFundMe page:
Prior to finding my Lord and Savior I lived in the bottomless pit of Hollywood’s deception. Lust, drugs Rock n Roll… I was living in the depths of iniquity versed with carnality and suicidal thoughts of leaving this world… Sinking down into deep depression I camouflaged my pain with even more makeup and a fake smile.
My shocking testimony of 250 high blood pressure over 190, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blood clots to the brain and blindness complete, as well as deafness, left me with only three days to live. With the devil breathing down my neck, trying desperately to snatch and strangle me for hell, I repented.
Yes, one sweet day my Jesus reached down with his long extended love and pulled my wretched body up from the darkness. Him only do I worship with a tremendous blast of fiery passion. I live, move, breath, love and have my being in Jesus The Christ. Enslaved to His truth.
I am Denise! no longer Vanity, for the name means WORTHLESSNES… We are not worthless.
There is a beautiful angel up in Heaven today.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC