By Jerry Honigman
Denise Matthews was a beautiful girl. Prince dubbed her Vanity. They were involved, and he launched her career as a singer by producing an act around her called Vanity 6. I met her through my friend, Jamie Shoop. At that time, her friends called her “V.”
As the holidays approached near the end of 1982, V invited us to her home for Thanksgiving Dinner. She lived on Mount Olympus in the Hollywood Hills off of Laurel Canyon. It was a small, intimate gathering – only five people. In addition to V and me and Jamie, there was a small, cute and shy girl named Sheila Escoveda, who was a percussionist just off tour with Lionel Richie. Rounding out the gathering was Mickey Free, a guitarist who would soon find success with the band Shalamar, and later win a Grammy for his contribution to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack album.
V would go on to have a brief movie and TV career, and the cute and shy Sheila Escoveda would morph into the sexy and not-so-shy Sheila E.
After years of damaging excess, including an engagement to Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, V once again became Denise Matthews, becoming re-born and renouncing her time as Vanity, while traveling the country giving testimony and witness to others at churches and other various gatherings. She even came to talk to the Pentecostals of Alexandria a few years back. Unfortunately, the harm to her well-being had already been done and she passed away too young in 2016 of kidney failure.
Back to Prince. He had released the album “Controversy” a couple of weeks after the Stones debacle, and followed it the next year with “1999,” which finally put him in the upper echelon of the music culture. And, to paraphrase John Lennon, “here’s another clue for you all”, the Little Red Corvette was white! I know. He and I both used to drive it.
I was aware that during the ’83-’84 period that Prince was working on “something big.” Turns out, he was making a movie back in Minneapolis. Turns out, it was “Purple Rain.” It was originally to co-star Vanity as his love interest, but some sort of falling out had him cut her from the film, replacing her with Apollonia.
The movie, produced by Jamie’s firm Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli, was set for a July release. That’s how it came to be that, on July 27, 1984, I attended the Purple Rain premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
For the occasion, Prince’s entourage arrived at the red carpet in a half dozen purple stretch-Caddy limos. Jamie and I were in number five. This is the only time I ever attended such an event and the only time I ever walked the red carpet. And it was weird that the paparazzi had to snap photos of me as well as actual celebrities just in case, you know, I might be somebody.
After the more than successful screening of the film the star-studded after party was held at the famed Palace Theater. The affair was broadcast live on MTV, and I can’t begin to list the names of the dozens of luminaries in attendance. (I will mention bellying up to the bar to have a beer with Lindsey Buckingham).
To cap off the occasion, Prince and the Revolution took the stage to perform a triumphant concert (with help from the no longer shy Sheila E. providing the on-stage sexy foil for Prince. (She had just released “Glamourous Life” the previous week).
All-in-all this was the booster rocket that was fired to launch Prince into the stratosphere of show business where he became ensconced in the pantheon of all-time music legends. It had been my pleasure and privilege to bear witness to the past four years of warp-speed creative development.
And I had a front row seat.