Vibe – Denise Interview
And You Are?… Vanity of Vanity 6
By: Keith Murphy
May 30, 2007
Every week, we locate a seemingly missing person and ask the question, “And you are?…” This installment: Denise Matthews aka VANITY.
Throughout the ’80s, Denise Matthews, who gained infamy as Vanity – the remarkably gorgeous girlfriend and pin-up protege of music icon Prince – was the proverbial wet dream. And a coked-out drug addict. By the mid-’90s, the former charismatic front woman for sex-drenched girl group Vanity 6 and part-time actress cheated death, put away the lingerie and became a Christian Evangelist (she heads the evangelical organization Pure Heart Ministries). So what gives? We tracked down Matthews, who is set to release self-published, tell-all memoir The Black Box, to find out what made the former nasty girl turn to God – and what it was like going toe-to-toe with the Purple One.
When you began going around the country to preach, was it hard for folks to get past the fact that you was the same chick that was moaning “Nasty Girl” in her underwear?
Getting past my past? Well, that was a process, a very serious process indeed. My God. As a person, [I’m] constantly changing, trying to be better. Back when I was Vanity, it was all about being sexy, getting slimmer, and getting cuter. Things have changed. Now it’s not the outward appearance, it’s the inward man that I’m trying to change. And that’s the message I bring to the people.
How often do you get the ‘Aren’t you Vanity?’ line?
[Laughs] You know, it depends on where I’m at. If I’m going into a different city, like in the Midwest or back East, I get it quite a bit. Where I live today [Fremont, California], I believe that God chose this place for me because I don’t get a whole lot of people that recognize me. And that doesn’t bother me. The ones that do recognize me, I always switch [the question] that they give me to salvation.
Your book is very open about your wild partying lifestyle and past cocaine abuse. At one point you were nearly on your deathbed in 1994, blind and deaf, after suffering a stroke, kidney failure and a heart attack. What do you say to the cynical bastard that thinks that most celebrities find religion when it’s convenient?
Well, we all make the mistake of thinking, and I did too so many times, that God did this to us. But we kill ourselves and choose who we want to be. I put the drugs in my mouth, I did the fornication, I had all the lust, and I chose the way of “sex sells.” I wanted to be famous and rich. I chose to be Vanity.
Matthews with Prince in 1983
Your turbulent romantic relationship with Prince, who gave you the name Vanity and created and produced Vanity 6, is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend. Is it true that when you first met Prince at the American Music Awards in January of ’82, that you arrived with Rick James and left with Mr. Nelson?
People have so many renditions of what I did [laughing]. I remember one time somebody said that the reason I left Prince was because I was having his baby [laughing]. Do they make this stuff up? You have to read my book to find out what really happened.
Are you shocked at Prince becoming a Jehovah’s Witness? This from the same cat who basically inspired explicit lyrics stickers and was a walking sex act in high heels.
I believe that God is calling him (Prince) like he is calling many others. I cannot judge Prince’s heart. Everything takes time, so my heart is just to pray for him and that he finds what he’s looking for just as I pray for myself as I continue to find my own way because you can be on the path one day and then go off the wrong path the next.
Obviously, some fans are going to buy your book to read about your wild days as a sex symbol. But what do you really want readers to get out of The Black Box?
I think it’s important to understand the title of my book. The black box is the only thing that survives a plane crash, and I want people to know that I’m a survivor. I go to wherever God calls me, wherever the church calls me to come to minister and preach the word of God. God told me, “Speak the kingdom of God with all your heart, mind, body, soul, and strength. . . seek the kingdom of God first.” In the beginning I was planning on naming it Blame It On Vanity. . . Denise, but I wanted to separate myself from the sinful name that made me famous. Vanity means worthlessness, and that’s the last thing I want to be known for. And I’m not worthless anymore. My name is Denise.
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