Canadian-born Denise Matthews, the singer known as Vanity whose career took off in the 1980s under Prince before it was derailed by drugs and she turned to religion, has died in California at age 57.

Matthews died Monday in a hospital in Fremont, Calif., according to Gisela Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Health Care System. She had been undergoing  years of dialysis battling kidney failure, according to reports.

Born in Niagara Falls, Ont., Matthews turned to modelling as a teenager and competed in Miss Canada in 1978. Soon after, she appeared in a pair of low-budget Canadian movies.

Her career took off when she met Purple Rain superstar Prince at an awards show in 1980.

"I was obsessed with him and he was obsessed with me," she told the Toronto Star several years later.


In this March 22, 1985 file photo, Vanity is seen with actor Leroy Green at a premiere event for their martial arts film The Last Dragon in Los Angeles. (Liu Heung Shing/The Associated Press)

In a prolific phase of writing for his own nascent career as well as side projects, he developed a concept that would put her front and centre of an all-female group. He christened her Vanity after she rejected a more profane choice beginning with the same letter.

Clad in lingerie and with suggestive songs such as Drive Me Wild and Wet Dream, the trio Vanity 6 released their only album in 1982, scoring a hit on the R&B charts with Nasty Girl.

Matthews appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with Prince in 1983, and was slated to be the female lead in his movie, Purple Rain, before the pair had a falling out that she blamed on his unfaithfulness.

According to Australia's Herald Sun newspaper, Prince dedicated Little Red Corvette at Tuesday's Melbourne show to Matthews, and also spoke about her later in the concert during the encore.

"Her and I used to love each other deeply," said Prince. "She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was very headstrong 'cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world.:

Leaving Prince personally and professionally didn't hamper her career initially as she released a pair of solo albums as Vanity for Motown and landed her two biggest film roles, in Action Jackson and 52 Pick-Up. She also posed twice for Playboy.

Drugs, failed relationships

But her personal life was tumultuous.

Matthews was engaged to Motley Crue bass player Nikki Sixx for a time, both later admitting to spending many drug-fuelled days together. She also dated Adam Ant and Billy Idol in the 1980s, and had a short-lived marriage early in the following decade to NFL player Anthony Smith.

Lead parts in film began to dry up. She later made guest appearances in Canadian-made TV series such as Da Vinci's War, Highlander and Counterstrike.

By the late 1990s, she had shed her stage name and career and found religion, publishing an autobiography, Blame It On Vanity, for a Christian book company.

"I was a wicked person," she told The Associated Press in 1999 before preaching at a Pittsburgh church. "There was nothing under the sun I didn't do in sin."

She blamed her cocaine addiction for a kidney ailment that required dialysis. Her health reportedly took a turn for the worse late last year, with an online fundraising campaign started to help pay for her medical bills.