Denise Matthews came up with her stage name after beginning to collaborate with Prince in 1982. According to the April 28, 1983 Rolling Stone cover story “Prince’s Hot Rock,” Mathews explained the process of creating her persona and forming the girl group Vanity 6:
She picked her nickname because “a girl’s best friend is her pride,” she says. Like her cohorts, Brenda and Susan, Vanity gave a demo tape of her songs to Prince a year ago. “He said there were a couple other girls whose minds seemed to run alongside mine,” she says. Prince then arranged to bring Vanity, a twenty-two-year-old former model from Toronto, to Minneapolis to meet the other two, flying Brenda in from Boston. Soon, the three were writing songs like “Drive Me Wild” and “Nasty Girls,” in which Vanity coos, “I can’t control it/I need seven inches or more.”
Posted below is a clip of Vanity 6 opening for Prince in Bloomington, Minnesota during his tour to support his breakthrough album 1999.
After this early success, Vanity was successfully lured away from Prince by music mogul Berry Gordy, and signed a deal with MoTown Records in 1984. Posted below is a press clipping from a 1985 appearance in Canada to promote her debut solo album, “Wild Animal.”
Vanity left to embark on a solo career before the filming of the movie Purple Rain, in which she was originally supposed to star as Prince’s love interest. William Blinn, the executive producer of the TV series Fame, wrote the first draft of the script with her in mind. In another Rolling Stone cover story, from August, 30th, 1984, titled, “Prince Scores: A Hit Album, A Hot Movie,” they describe the writing process and Vanity’s mysterious departure from the project:
Blinn began pounding out a script called Dreams, a dark story in which the parents of the Kid — the character to be played by prince — were both dead, the mother dispatched by the father who in turn killed himself,. Prince’s Minneapolis music scene was in here too and so was the beautiful Vanity, lead crumpet with Vanity 6. Born in Ontario of Scottish and Eurasian parents (her original name was Denise Matthews). Vanity had been a model and sometime nudie actress who, under the name D.D. Winters, appeared in such Canadian-made films of the early Eighties as Terror Train and Tanya’s Island. Vanity was also Prince’s girlfriend – or one of the them – and in Dreams she was to play the stabilizing influence in the Kid’s otherwise chaotic life.
No one will say why she left – rumors range around money, ego and a faded relationship with the film’s diminutive star.
The parting was not amicable. Vanity told People magazine in 1984:
I needed one person to love me, and he needed more,” she says of Prince, conceding that she hasn’t even seen Purple Rain, because “it would bring back old memories, and I don’t want to cry.
Vanity released two albums and starred in a string of feature films and movies for television throughout the rest of the 80s. Her film debut was in the MoTown produced, big budget, Kung Fu feature, The Last Dragon in 1985. Her performance was well received. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, film critic Roger Ebert said:
Of Vanity, let it be said that she has the sort of rapport with the camera that makes us like her instantly; she has a sunny smile, and what can only be described as a sort of inner happiness, and in the middle of this plot about gangsters and night clubs and bloody fights, she floats serenely, a joy to behold. In less than 12 months, Prince has introduced two electrifying actresses, Appolonia Kotero from “Purple Rain” and now Vanity.
The Last Dragon Trailer (1985):
52 Pick-Up Trailer (1986):
Never Too Young To Die TV spot (1986):
Action Jackson Trailer and clip, featuring Vanity singing the song, “Undress.” which was also released as a single (1988):
During a 2007 appearance on The Howard Stern Show to promote his book The Heroin Diaries, which detailed his excessive partying and use of illicit drugs, Nikki Six, the bassist for the band Mötley Crüe, talked about his relationship with Vanity at the height of her drug addiction:
I was so miserable the entire time that I was Vanity. I spent so many days and nights crying, hating who I’d become. I knew I needed to get out, but I didn’t know how to get out.