The seductress formerly known as Vanity, ex-girlfriend of the artist formerly known as Prince, was in the pulpit of a church in Prince George's County on Sunday trying not to seem so sexy now that she has been born again.
"I want to apologize for the things I used to say and show to you," said the woman now known as Denise Smith, of San Jose. "The other day, I heard that stupid song I used to sing, Nasty Girls.' You don't listen to stuff like that, right?"
Several people in the audience confessed sheepishly, "Yes, we do."
"Keep praying for the Holy Spirit," Smith advised, "and you won't be listening much longer."
Smith, 38, wore a black ankle-length skirt and an orange double-breasted jacket with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. And she looked good. Not so long ago, though, she might have showed up in a bustier with black fishnet stockings, a garter belt and spiked heels. And she would have looked great.
But looks can be deceiving, and Smith's story of how all that glitters is not gold drew a full house to Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ, in Riverdale. To the music of a guitar, an organ and bongos, tambourines and drums, Smith waved her hands above her head and bowed from the waist, joining the audience in a foot-stomping performance of gospel songs that made the church floor shake.
"When I was Vanity, all I wanted was wealth and glamour, to be a star," Smith said. "My prayers were for those things -- plus, if I was going to have sex with a man to get what I wanted, at least let it be a man that I liked. And you know who I met after that?"
The audience answered, "Prince!"
Prince Rogers Nelson, of Minneapolis, the doe-eyed seducer of black and Italian parentage, would become known as much for his taste in women as for his musical prowess. Denise K. Matthews, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., daughter of an African American father and a Polish Jewish mother, was a big part of the reason.
She and Prince met in New York, where she was working as a model. He asked her to his home in Minnesota, where she joined his retinue of women and he dubbed her Vanity. He then sent her into his studio to front a racy all-girl group that he would call Vanity 6.
"We eventually fell in love, but it was a fornication love,' " Smith said. "We were two wild personalities, the kind of couple that pleases the Demon."
Vanity began touring with Prince in 1982, but all was not well. In one review, Geoffrey Himes of The Post wrote that "Vanity did burlesque grinds in scanty camisoles and spoke/sang the kind of contrived monologues one finds in badly printed porno novels."
Two years later, at 25, Vanity began using cocaine. She said the drug made her feel confident enough to stand up to Prince. So she began arguing with His Royal Badness over her role in the film "Purple Rain," whose female lead was based partly on her life. Prince ended up replacing her with another siren, Appolonia Kotero, and Vanity set out on her own.
She posed for Playboy, earned $1 million in recording contracts and starred in more than a dozen movies, including "The Last Dragon" and "Action Jackson." But 12 years after taking that first hit of cocaine, Vanity had a $200-a-day habit and was living with a drug dealer and praying to die.
One of her albums, "Wild Animal," included the prophetically titled hit single "Pretty Mess."
"I was hospitalized with my blood pressure at 250 over 190," she said. "I was suffering from kidney failure, and I was going blind. I was placed in intensive care and given three days to live."
Vanity did die, so to speak, in that hospital room, and Denise was reborn, transformed through prayer and meditation, Smith recalled.
After she stopped using drugs, the next thing she did was to change the way she dressed.
"One morning, I went to my closet and reached for a bustier, but I just couldn't touch it again," Smith recalled.
"Amen," said the crowd.
Smith said she also stopped relying on horoscopes and psychics and began trying to think more about others instead of just about herself.
In June 1995, she celebrated her first anniversary of sobriety by marrying Anthony Smith, a defensive end with the Los Angeles Raiders, and moved into a Cinderella-like home in the Los Angeles hills.
But in a subsequent interview with Ebony magazine, Anthony Smith revealed that he and Denise argued as often as 10 times a day because she invited homeless people into their mansion for food and clothes.
"If I don't watch out, she will even hand out the furniture," the article quoted him as saying.
They recently divorced. Last year, Denise Smith received a kidney transplant. After her recovery, she began work as an evangelist for the Church of Jesus Christ for All Nations.
"When I was out in the world, I lived by lies. And people called that glamour," she said. "What was bad was seen as good, and the more I shocked, the more I was loved.' But I hated myself."
Now, she had figured out which end was up, and to a standing ovation she declared, "You couldn't pay me a billion dollars to go back out into the world and mess up." Finally, she had a message to match her good looks. CAPTION: When known as Vanity, Smith says, "I lived by lies."