Vanity began entering local beauty pageants before moving to Toronto, where she modeled. She won the Miss Niagara Hospitality title in 1977 and went on to compete for Miss Canada in 1978. At age 17, she moved to New York City to further her career. She signed with Zoli Model Agency. Because she was short in stature, her modeling career was limited to commercials and photo shoots; it included no runway work. She appeared in ads for Pearl Drops toothpaste, before completing a modeling stint in Japan. As Vanity, she posed twice for Playboy magazine, in May 1985 and again in April 1988. Throughout the 1980s to the mid–1990s, Vanity appeared in many magazines around the world. Additionally, she was the cover model for the funk/R&B band Cameo's 1982 album Alligator Woman.
Vanity signed a record deal with Motown Records in 1984 and recorded two solo studio albums, Wild Animal and Skin on Skin. Extended versions of the single "Pretty Mess" from Wild Animal b/w "Mechanical Emotion", were released as a 12" by Motown. Her solo albums were moderate successes. Her biggest hit was "Under the Influence" from her 1986 album Skin On Skin. Not long after Vanity's second album was released, she either left or was dropped from Motown and signed with A&M Records. Later she signed with Geffen Records. In 1988, under the production of friend/former The Time member Jesse Johnson, she recorded songs for the Action Jackson movie soundtrack, including the song "Faraway Eyes," which became one of her most well-known hits. That year Vanity also worked on a third album with two of her peers from her days with Prince, former Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Tony LeMans, but the project did not yield an album release. Vanity's work as a recording artist ceased.
In 1980, she had a small role in the horror movie Terror Train, which was filmed in Montreal a year earlier. She then went to Toronto to film the lead role in the B-movie Tanya's Island. At the time of both film roles, she was billed as D.D. Winters. After her music career started, as Vanity she starred in a number of movies, including The Last Dragon, which featured her underground hit "7th Heaven." In 1986 she starred in Never Too Young to Die opposite John Stamos. The film also featured Gene Simmons. She went on to appear in 52 Pick-Up and 1988's Action Jackson, her highest profile role, in which she starred opposite Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, and Sharon Stone. From the mid–1980s to the early–1990s, Vanity guest–starred on numerous TV shows. She played a villain who tortured Nancy Allen's character in the 1990 TV movie Memories of Murder, guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice's third season, and in 1992 appeared in an episode of Highlander: The Series. She also appeared in Friday the 13th: The Series in the episode entitled "Mesmer's Bauble".
Besides Prince, Vanity was linked romantically to Adam Ant and Billy Idol. In 1987, she stated that she and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx were engaged. She joked that she would become Vanity 6 (Sixx) again. They never married. In Sixx's 2007 autobiography, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, he describes his 1987 drug use with Vanity, who was addicted to crack cocaine at the time. In 1995, Vanity married football player Anthony Smith of the Oakland Raiders, but they divorced the following year.
Due to her kidney problems which were caused by years of drug use while she worked as a performer, she had to undergo peritoneal dialysis five times a day (each session was 20 minutes long). She suffered from sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis, a rare complication of a peritoneal dialysis, and died in a Fremont, California, hospital on February 15, 2016, at the age of 57 from renal failure.
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