“There’s a madness that happens to people who get that famous,” said Whitney’s long-time manager, Jerry Griffith. “You’re spinning around, and there’s nothing to hold onto.”
Whitney Houston tried holding onto many things throughout her life. She held onto her husband, Bobby Brown, who had abused and humiliated her over the years, likely out of jealousy. She held onto her faith, which led her on a seemingly odd journey to the deserts of Israel. And she held onto her mom, who, despite being a supportive figure, made her life a bit difficult.
When Whitney started acting strange, the press assumed she had simply gone cuckoo like any washed-up celebrity. But after she passed away, the skeletons in her closet came out, one by one. Her long-time friend, Robyn Crawford, revealed a forbidden love that had flourished once between the two women. And her brother, Gary, revealed a dark family secret that threatened to ruin them all. But arguably, the most tragic part of Whitney’s story was how her troubling habits affected her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.
On a cold February day back in 2012, Whitney Houston was found face down in a bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, mere hours before she was scheduled to perform at the pre-Grammy party. Cause of death: accidental drowning. The culprits: heart disease and far too many white lines.
On a cold January day back in 2015, Bobbi Kristina Brown was found unconscious in a bathtub at her home in Georgia. She was rushed to the hospital, still breathing, but was never able to recover. She was in a coma for half a year until she finally passed away on July 26th. Cause of death: accidental drowning. The culprit: a toxic cocktail, allegedly given to her by her husband.
The eerily similar fates of Whitney and her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, haunt us to this day. How did things get to this point?
Let’s talk about Bobby Brown, the R&B singer who many believed weighed Whitney down. The two rising stars met in 1989, and let’s be honest, they could not have been more unfit for each other. Whitney was a mesmerizing, classy soul princess, and Bobby was an erratic bad boy who took his clothes off on stage whenever he had the chance. Yet, somehow, they clicked. “Bobby is the man of my life,” Whitney made sure to say in nearly every one of her interviews.
But—and as normally happens in every relationship—once the honeymoon phase was over, the dirty laundry started creeping up. And in Whitney and Bobby’s case, it came in the form of DUIs, speeding tickets, illegal possessions, and even public urination (Bobby once peed in the back of a police car). But, incredibly, no matter how messy things got at times, Whitney stood by her man’s side, always.
In truth, no one really understood what she saw in him (sorry Bobby). But her public relationship wasn’t the only thing troubling her. In fact, it was her secretive one that was no less painful.
Robyn Crawford was known to the public as Whitney’s long-time friend and personal assistant. But she was so much more than that. She was her anchor, her mentor, and years later, it would be discovered that she was also Whitney’s romantic lover. Too bad the two women had to hide it.
Robyn and Whitney were teenagers when they first crossed paths at a community center in East Orange, New Jersey. Robyn was studying and shooting hoops in college, while Whitney was still a wide-eyed high schooler with big dreams in mind. “There was an instant connection,” Robyn recalled.
It soon became evident to both of them that their relationship was a little bit more than friendly. Their curiosity grew over time, until eventually, Robyn and Whitney gave in to their desires, exploring each other’s bodies with youthful playfulness and hunger. But not without trepidation.
Both girls were raised in Catholic homes, where the eyes of God followed them around, and the fear of doing him wrong was above all else. So, they kept it a secret and tried not to over-analyze what was going on. In her memoir, Robyn wrote that they never felt the need for labels: “We never talked labels, like lesbian and gay. We just lived our lives, and I hoped it could go on that way forever.”
Whitney was only 20 years old when her first album became the best-selling female debut album in pop history. Her status skyrocketed, and she was immediately boxed into this good-hearted persona who needed to serve as a role model for little girls all around the nation.
As a result, Whitney knew she had to put an end to her “sinful” affair. She walked over to Robyn’s house one day, Bible in hand, handed her the sacred texts, and told her they would have to quit having sex because “if [the press] found out, they’d use it against [her].”
Whitney and Robyn’s relationship lasted for nearly two decades, with Robyn working close by as her manager. It’s crazy how she was able to remain loyal and friendly with Whitney, while having to hide her feelings from the public and having to witness Whitney’s relationships come and go, from Jermaine Jackson to Eddie Murphy to Bobby Brown.
Robyn admitted that it was extremely difficult at times. And not because she was necessarily jealous, but because she felt like Whitney was keeping her out of the loop for fear of hurting her feelings. “I wanted her to call me and say, ‘Guess what, this is happening [with Jermaine].’ And she wasn’t doing that, and that hurt more than anything,” she wrote, “It didn’t feel like she was cheating on me–it felt more like she was leaving me out.”
For years, Robyn was the person Whitney would go to when the pressures of stardom intensified. She was one of the few people Whitney felt truly loved her for who she was. Whitney’s mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy about it. She never liked Robyn, describing her as too outspoken and loud.
“She just spoke too much, disrespectfully sometimes, like she had something over Nippy,” Cissy told Oprah in 2009. When Oprah confronted her with the question, “Would it have bothered you if your daughter was gay?” Cissy looked her straight in the eye and answered, “Absolutely.”
Robyn was able to influence many of Whitney’s choices, but there was one thing she couldn’t put an end to and that was the singer’s tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown. The troubled R&B singer was bad news. According to multiple witnesses, he was violent, abusive, and manipulative.
According to Robyn, Whitney returned from her honeymoon with Bobby with a small scar on one side of her face. The singer told her that it happened during a fight she had with Bobby, a fight involving a lot of yelling and a couple of broken glasses. One of the shards sliced her cheek.
Even though Whitney had her hands wrapped around Bobby and her mouth speaking all sorts of homophobic comments in interviews, she was still uncontrollably jealous when it came to Robyn. But it wasn’t a loving kind of passionate jealousy. It was a possessive, childish one.
After finding out that Robyn had kissed one of her dancers, she slapped her right across the face. “I would say Whitney was possessive,” Robyn shared. “The jealousy I’ve witnessed was volatile–that which my mother experienced with my father, and quite frankly, the way I saw Bobby treat Whitney–that’s jealousy. Hers was possessiveness: You’re mine.”
After nearly two decades of working together, enough was enough. For her own well-being, Robyn knew it was time to step away. She could no longer dedicate her life to Whitney, who was, tragically, falling apart right before her very eyes.
She was offered an incredible marketing job at Arista Records, but shortly before agreeing to it, the offer was withdrawn. Months later, she found out that it was Whitney who pulled the strings on that opportunity. According to head Arista Records, Whitney wasn’t comfortable having her work there.
Whitney’s songs gradually became the soundtrack of a generation. And for several successful years, she was the undisputed queen of pop, her pearly white teeth smiling from the covers of nearly every trendy magazine at the time. So, when things started going south, people desperately wanted to know why.
Whitney began canceling concerts, city after city, on shorter and shorter notice. Fatigue, sore throat, and migraines were all part of her repertoire of excuses. Everyone’s main suspicion was, of course, drugs. No one knew exactly what kind of substances, but they knew it had to do with drugs.
In truth, when I first heard Whitney’s radio interview with Wendy Williams, I was on Whitney’s side. Yes, her responses were unhinged and aggressive. Yes, she was completely avoiding Wendy’s questions. But YES, she was also sick of being harassed and interrogated by people she had never met.
For those of you who haven’t listened to it, it went something like this:
“Wendy Wendy Wendy! Oh, my Lord, have I waited for this day,” Whitney first said. And after some polite small talk, Wendy got straight to it, asking her, “Do you smoke marijuana?”
At first, Whitney laughed. But then she angrily responded, “Don’t ask me questions like I’m a child. Because I’m not a child, Wendy.” She then added, “You don’t even know what I do. You never met me, you don’t know me. You ain’t been in my house, you don’t live with me, you don’t sleep with me, you don’t do sh*t with me but talk about me.”
I must say, she had a point. Even if Wendy was asking that out of concern, it was still an unbelievably tactless thing to ask on air.
By the late ’90s, the tabloids were all over Whitney’s business, accusing her of different kinds of substance abuse. Nick Mayer, editor from The National Enquirer, revealed that there were so many stories of stupors, binges, and overdoses at the time, enough to fill a whole book.
But Whitney really crossed the line at the 2000 Oscars ceremony where she was scheduled to perform the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” During rehearsals, witnesses said she was muttering (some of) the words and floating around the stage playing a fake piano with her fingers. She never made it to the stage that night.
One can find many reasons for Whitney’s substance abuse. Fame, money, temptation and her rocky relationship with Bobby are all plausible explanations for her destructive behavior. But above all, lay one hidden story that many believe was the catalyst for all that was yet to come: her disturbing relationship with her cousin, Dee Dee.
In the 2018 documentary centering around Whitney’s life, her brother, Gary, spoke up about alleged molestation they both suffered as kids in the hands of Dee Dee. He pointed to the incident as the underlying reason for his drug addiction and assumed that was the case for Whitney as well.
In the documentary, Whitney’s long-time assistant, Mary Jones, recalled a sad talk between her and the late singer. One where she confessed to her childhood nightmare. “[Houston] looked at me and said, ‘Mary, I was molested at a young age too. But it wasn’t by a man—it was a woman,'” Jones recalled in the film.
Jones asked her if she had told her mother about it, to which Houston rapidly responded no. With tears rolling down her face, she told Jones that it would break her mom’s heart. Jones hugged her and said “One day when you get the nerve, you need to tell your mother. It will lift the burden off you.'”
Whitney never managed to tell her mom about the incident. She died before being able to do so. But when the documentary was released in 2018, Gary’s confession was all over the news and right in front of Cissy Houston’s face. There was no running away from it.
Pat Houston, Whitney’s sister-in-law told reporters that the news came as a complete shock to the family. “It can become an embarrassment in some ways,” she noted, “it’s one of those things where people just don’t talk about it… and it causes silent suffering.”
While Whitney never spoke publicly about the alleged molestation, she did drop hints about it in interviews. When asked by the press what ticked her off the most about the world, she responded in sudden rage, “Child abuse makes me angry.”
It bothered her that children are helpless in the face of adults and that certain people are malicious enough to take advantage of it. She would also note that when possible, she always preferred to take her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, along with her on tour instead of leaving her at home in the hands of others.
The director of Whitney (2018), Kevin MacDonald, said that getting information from her close relatives was virtually impossible at first. He said that he had never encountered that much lying as he did when talking to her close associates.
“So many people I spoke to were just untruthful to me, just bullshitting,” he mentioned; “I’ve never experienced that in any documentary before. And I had to interview many more people, many more times than I ever have on anything else, in order to try and still get some bit of truth.”
Whitney Houston had a smile that would wipe away your worries and a face so mesmerizing in its beauty that it was impossible to think straight when looking at her. That being said, Kevin MacDonald shared that in his eyes, “she seemed kind of asexual in a strange way” and that he believed it was due to her childhood trauma.
The director told Vanity Fair that she never looked too comfortable in her own skin. “I’ve seen and done some filming with people who have suffered childhood sexual abuse,” he explained, “and there was just something about her manner that was reminiscent to me of that sort of shrinking—a lack of comfort in her own physicality.”
By the early ‘00s, there was no doubt it—Whitney was using. And a lot. Her friends and family knew it, her fans knew it, and the press knew it. But when Whitney’s close friends would suggest to her parents that they do an intervention, they were met with some resistance by her father John.
John insisted that his daughter didn’t need rehab and that she could pull herself together whenever she wanted to. In MacDonald’s film, Whitney (2018), the director admitted that the sad part of all this was discovering that John had once sent one of his co-workers to rehab, but “at the same time, his own daughter, who was on drugs, he didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t try to stop the train.”
Being as famous as she was, and as unbelievably rich as she was, it was hard to maintain clean relationships with her loved ones, even her own family. In 2002, her dad filed a $100 million lawsuit against her for “breach of contract.”
What contract? The one she signed when she asked her dad to save her after she was caught in a Hawaiian airport with a bit of marijuana on her. Whitney reportedly never paid him and his workers back. And granted that there were many more people other than her dad involved in the issue, John felt he had to take matters to court.
The lawsuit was thrown out. Because a year later, John Houston passed away from heart disease.
While many people demonized Bobby Brown for all the trouble he put Whitney through, he wasn’t the only bad boy in her speed dial log. Her brother, Gary, was also her loyal companion when it came to drug binges and late nights out. Next to Gary, Bobby was considered lightweight.
In the Whitney documentary (2018), Gary revealed that he and his sister would abuse substances daily. “S**t that usually kills motherf**kers,” he stated, adding, “[Whitney and I] used to pass Bobby by lapping him. Trust me.”
2003 was a crazy year for Whitney. Her father passed away, her latest CD, “Just Whitney,” was “just awful” according to critics, and her drug use was all over the news. It was time for a change, she believed. Which is exactly why she boarded a plane and flew halfway across the world to Israel.
In the holy land, Whitney took a bus all the way to the heart of the desert to meet with a group of African Americans who believe they’re members of the lost tribes of Israel. “I’m here on a spiritual retreat,” she told the press.
Whitney believed that becoming famous had blinded her and steered her farther away from the path. It was time to reconnect with God, she insisted.
For most of her life, Whitney’s source of pride and sense of meaning came from her music. But all that changed in 1993 when she and Bobby Brown gave birth to a baby girl. “There’s been nothing more incredible in my life than having [Bobbi Kristina],” the singer told Rolling Stone a few months after giving birth.
“God knows, I have been in front of millions and millions of people, and that has been incredible, to feel that give-take thing. But man, when I gave birth to her and they put her in my arms, I thought: ‘This has got to be it. This is the ultimate.’ I haven’t experienced anything greater,” she added.
For some reason, Whitney’s drug problems worsened after Bobbi Kristina was born. It could have been due to the pain of having to be on tour and away from her for so long, or the longs months of pregnancy where she wasn’t able to put any harmful thing in her body. Either way, being a mom did little to help her take care of herself better.
“She resumed [taking drugs] with a vengeance,” Bobby Brown wrote in his memoir. He added that Bobbi would often see both of them high: “[She] was around the two of us when we were f***d up. Our daughter saw it all. When I think about it now, I just feel enormous pain.”
As Bobbi grew up, she became more and more aware of her parents’ obscene behavior. Still, the love she felt for them was strong, and when they divorced in 2007, she came to the help of her mother, who was struggling to put the pieces of her life back together.
Whitney was often seen in public events, aloof and dazed looking, being dragged by her teenage daughter through the paparazzi mobs and their blinding camera flashes.
Seeing the effects drugs had on both her parents, Bobbi made sure to steer clear of them. Until she started dating Nick Gordon.
In 2000, Whitney decided to take Nick Gordon in as one of her own after discovering that his mother couldn’t take care of him. Even though she never legally adopted him, she promised to remain faithful to her decision. All she wanted was to give him a better life.
As a result, Nick and Bobbi Kristina were raised as siblings, but as time went on, the lines between brotherly love and romantic love started to grow a little fuzzy. Especially after Whitney’s death. That’s when, in the midst of the grieving, they found comfort in each other’s arms and took their relationship one step further.
In 2012, news broke that the couple was engaged. It came as a shock to many who believed that their relationship was a little weird and very destructive. Or better phrased–Nick was destructive. In Bobby Brown’s memoir, he shared that his daughter never touched drugs until she started dating Nick.
He believes that Nick dragged her into a life of intoxication and is the one to blame for her tragic fate. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that Brown is trying to remove some of the responsibility from himself. Clearly, Nick isn’t the only one to blame. Seeing her parents high as kites on a daily basis surely had something to do with how Kristina ended her life.
Seeing how strikingly similar both Whitney and her daughter’s deaths are, Bobby Brown concluded that Nick Gordon, who was present in both cases, is the one to blame. In an interview with “Red Table Talk,” Brown stated:
“He was the only one there with her in both situations, with my ex-wife, and with my daughter, and they both died the same way,” he said, adding, “Being around [both of them], I think Nick was more so a provider of, you know, party favors.” In other words, Bobby believes Nick provided them with the poison that took their lives.
Bobby Brown never filed criminal charges against Nick Gordon, but he was found legally responsible for the young girl’s death. And in 2016, he was ordered to pay $36 million in return. Nick never appeared at the hearings in the civil case of Bobbi Kristina’s death, so her family won by default.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Brown said, “You know, if there was something concrete, I think I’d be in cuffs,” adding, “You know what I was? I was a prince, and then I became a pawn, somebody just to point the finger at.” Brown stated that he wasn’t going to stand by and succumb to the accusations.
Whitney died in 2012, Bobbi Kristina died in 2015, and, finally, Nick Gordon died in 2020. All three of them collapsed due to the crippling effects of drugs.
Gordon’s attorney, Joe Habachy, told the L.A. Times: “It’s been truly heartbreaking to have witnessed firsthand the total devastation that drug addiction has wreaked upon a group of young friends, all of whom were loved and had immense potential.”
Gordon was 30 years old when he died, Bobbi Kristina was only 22, and Houston was 48. Three souls that perished way too young. Bobby Brown is still alive, left to contemplate the things he could have done better, and the choices both he and Whitney could have made to prevent Bobbi Kristina’s death. “We failed her,” he wrote in his memoir.
It’s tempting to look at the bad and the ugly in someone’s life. But remembering Whitney Houston for her troubled times is the last thing this phenomenal artist deserves. She gave the world incredible performances, a voice like no other, and a loving smile that took our breaths away.
In her honor, several institutions decided to call themselves after her. In her hometown of East Orange, New Jersey, Franklin School was given a new name: the Whitney E. Houston School of Creative and Performing Arts. And the National Birth Disorder Center in Boston, Massachusetts was renamed the Whitney Houston Hearing and Language Disorder Clinic.
A stunning girl with an angelic voice, Whitney Houston’s journey began at the New Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey, where she sang her heart out with the choir every Sunday morning. To her friends and family, she was known as Nippy.
It was clear as daylight that Nippy’s voice was something else. It moved, softened, strengthened, and stunned you all at once. But it wasn’t just her voice that caught people’s attention, it was her whole aura. Her unwavering faith in God emanated from her, empowering every syllable and note she let out.
Gospel ran in Whitney’s blood. Her cousin, Dionne Warwick, was known for her powerful vocals and had already released several albums herself, and her mother, Cissy Houston, was a well-known soul singer, who often performed in clubs around New York and brought Whitney along with her.
By the time Whitney was 17, she had become a regular on stages around the city. One evening, talent scout Jerry Griffith spotted Whitney with her mother, and the first thought that came to his mind was “this lady has got the guts of life.” Soon after, he introduced her to his boss, record producer Clive Davis, who made Whitney his prodigy and led her into one of the most successful careers in music history.
In 1992, Whitney dipped her feet in acting when she was cast as Rachel Marron in the film The Bodyguard. To no one’s surprise, she played a huge role in the film’s soundtrack. The movie, which grossed around $400 million, released an album that became one of the most successful ones to date.
Her deliverance of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is arguably one of the most romantic and tear-jerking ones the world has ever heard. The quiet beginning, the gradual buildup, and the dramatic high notes were executed perfectly. The record spent 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Whitney’s debut album Whitney Houston (1985) was praised immensely and would go on to become her most iconic one. But at the time of release, some people still struggled to accept her status as an African American star on the rise.
As it turns out, the singer sent MTV the music video of one of her first singles, but they refused to air it. When the album blew up, and people began noticing her, the channel regretted its decision and played every single video she released. “[MTV] had no choice but to play [the video]” Whitney reported.
Just before she walked down the aisle with Bobby Brown, she got a call from one of her closest friends, Eddie Murphy, who reportedly begged her not to do it. He called Bobby Brown a mistake and told her she could do way better than him.
For years, there had been rumors that Whitney and Eddie had been romantically involved at one point, although neither of them confirmed the rumors. Still, they were good friends. And Eddie always wanted the best for Whitney. Clearly, Bobby wasn’t the best in his eyes.