Shock and sadness would best describe my feelings when the news broke this past Monday that Denise Matthews AKA Vanity had passed away. Vanity had been diagnosed with a rare life-threatening condition known as Encapsulating Peritoneal Sclerosis. This condition is believed to have been brought on by the dialysis treatments she would undergo for a kidney ailment. While not official, it is believed that these medical complications were the cause of her untimely death.
Many believe that Vanity got her start in show biz as a protege of Prince. This is not entirely true. While Prince was revolutionizing the music scene in Minneapolis in the 1980’s and he hand picked Denise Matthews to front an all female group known as Vanity 6 (This is also where she would get the stage name of Vanity). But as Denise Matthews she had actually done some acting work in low budget films in her native Canada prior to her association with Prince.
In 1985, Vanity would get her first big movie break in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. The movie has become a true cult classic of the 1980’s and I saw more than one tweet this past Monday where guys were proclaiming that Vanity’s character in the film, Laura Charles, was their first crush. The premise of the film features the hero, “Bruce” Leroy Green, on a quest to master a rare martial arts skill known as “The Glow”. Along the way he falls in love with Laura Charles, a singer and host a musical variety show titled 7th Heaven. Charles is being harassed by unscrupulous music promoter, Eddie Arkadian. It all builds up to a showdown between Leroy and Arkadian’s hired muscle, Sho’nuff the Shogun of Harlem. I think every man watching The Last Dragon would have fought for the honor of Laura Charles.
Vanity would follow up her work in The Last Dragon in another action movie called Never Too Young to Die. Vanity had the opportunity to work with an eclectic group of actors in Never Too Young to Die, including John Stamos, Gene Simmons, George Lazenby and Robert Englund.
Next up for Vanity was a pair of crime thrillers. First 52 Pick Up with Hollywood veterans Roy Scheider and Ann-Margaret, a movie many critics say featured Vanity’s best work as an actress. The second was Deadly Illusion starring Billy Dee Williams and Morgan Fairchild.
In 1988, Vanity would star along side Carl Weathers in the criminally underrated Action Jackson. As Sydney Ash in Action Jackson, Vanity was soooo hot. (How hot was she?) She was so hot I’m positive Peter Dellaplane wasn’t the only one giving her a standing ovation. And she didn’t just look good either, Vanity did a great job in the role, her character was flawed, yet likable and I thought she had great chemistry with Weathers. It is a damn shame that the movie did not perform as well as it should have at the box office and that we didn’t get at least one more movie featuring the continuing adventures of Jericho “Action” Jackson and the lovely Sydney Ash.
Vanity’s acting career would continue in the 90’s with more work in the action entertainment genre including a guest spot on the Highlander TV series and lesser known movies like Neon City with Michael Ironside and Lyle Alzado and South Beach with Fred Williamson and Gary Busey.
By the mid-90’s, Denise Matthews renounced her Vanity name and the demons that were in her life and found religion leaving the bright lights of Hollywood behind. And while her show biz career and sadly her life were cut short, the multi-talented woman known as Vanity to millions of fans around the world left a lasting impression with her music and her films.
Everyone at Bulletproof Action would like to extend our condolences to the family, friends and fans of Vanity. She will not be forgotten by those who had the pleasure of enjoying her work.
I have included one of Vanity’s musical performances from Action Jackson for your viewing pleasure.