A gifted R&B-pop-gospel singer possessing the most astonishing vocal range since Barbara Streisand, the model-turned-songstress Whitney Houston hit the scene in a big way in 1985, successfully alternating danceable mainstream pop with plush ballads on her self-titled debut album. Over a short period, she became one of the most successful female solo artists in the history of recorded music. No slouch in the acting department, Houston had the looks and talent for the big screen as well. Without question, she made her biggest onscreen splash as the damsel-in-distress in the iconic romantic-drama, “The Bodyguard” (1992) opposite Kevin Costner. She would later draw favorable reviews for other memorable films, including “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) and the “Preacher’s Wife” (1996), but it was impossible to top the success of her freshman film effort and its seemingly omnipresent song, “I Will Always Love You.” Unfortunately, a decade later, things began going downhill for Houston, with rumors of drug abuse, cancelled stage appearances and overall chaos reigning between the singer and her husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown running rampant in the press. Following her divorce from Brown and a period of seclusion, she attempted a comeback with a new album in 2009 and world tour in 2010. Unfortunately, Houston’s return to outpatient rehab a year later suggested the struggling diva had more work to do on herself. Despite setbacks, fans remained devoted to Houston, universally regarded as one of the greatest voices of all time.
Born Aug. 9, 1963 in East Orange, NJ to her father, John, and her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston. The baby girl received additional luster to her musical pedigree by being first cousin to famed pop vocalist Dionne Warwick and goddaughter to Aretha Franklin. At age 11, Houston started performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist church in Newark, NJ, and would later go on to accompany her mother in concert. After singing background on her mother’s 1978 album Think It Over, she started as a back-up singer for many other established acts, such as Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and Lou Rawls. In the early 1980s, she joined the famed Wilhelmina Agency and started appearing as a fashion model in various magazine advertisements and snagged the cover of Seventeen magazine.
Though music had played a consistent part in her life, she had yet to really make things happen for her in a big way. Fortunately fate stepped in when an Arista Records executive caught Houston performing onstage with her mother in 1983 and was so impressed, he lobbied for the head of the label, music impresario Clive Davis to come check her out. She was immediately signed to a worldwide contract and released her first hit album, Whitney Houston, two years later. With the success of four singles – three of which went to No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart – “You Give Good Love,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All” – a star was indeed born. Both with her self-titled debut, its 1987 follow-up album, Whitney, and her recording of the 1988 Olympics theme song, “One Moment in Time,” Houston was showered with awards, including several Grammys and American Music Awards – even an Emmy. Her fresh-faced beauty began popping up everywhere, most famously while singing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, which was later released as a single and received a push in sales, following the country going to war with Iraq at that time. She also paid tribute to among others, her mother, as well as such varied celebs as Nelson Mandela, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra and Mickey Mouse on various TV specials. Her performance at a 1994 concert in Johannesburg, South Africa, was broadcast on HBO.
With all her work on her own music, Houston also provided songs for the films “Perfect” (1985) and “School for Vandals” (1986), but did not make her acting debut until her much-ballyhooed starring role as a singer in the midst of an interracial romance with her hired protector (Kevin Costner) in the extremely popular film, “The Bodyguard” (1992). The film itself helped catapult its award-winning single, “I Will Always Love You” to the stratosphere, becoming her signature song from that moment on. With the success of “Bodyguard,” she began landing roles in other films, including her second role as one of the “girlfriends” in the 1995 adaptation of Terry McMillan’s novel, “Waiting to Exhale.” As Savannah Johnson, Houston portrayed one of four black career women in Phoenix trying to come to terms with friendship and romance. She followed this up with a co-starring role opposite Denzel Washington in Penny Marshall’s fantasy “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996), a remake of the 1947 Loretta Young-Cary Grant vehicle, “The Bishop’s Wife.” The following year, Houston graced the small screen as the fairy godmother in the TV movie remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” (ABC), attracting a record-breaking television audience of over 60 million U.S. viewers. The fairy tale film went on to win an Emmy Award and to hold the record of the highest selling video of a made-for-TV film.
Though fans did not realize it at the time, Houston’s career, like Cinderella’s gilded coach, was about to turn into a pumpkin. The TV movie marked Houston’s last foray into acting, aside from a brief appearance as herself in a 2003 episode of the Fox high school drama, “Boston Public” (2000-04). Aside from an array of musical performances on various televised specials – including on the 1999 Academy Awards, the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, the inaugural 2001 BET Awards, and the 2002 and 2003 VH1 “Divas Live” broadcasts – Houston largely retreated from the spotlight following the 1999 release of her fourth album My Love Is Your Love. She did however, work behind the scenes as a producer of the hit film, “The Princess Diaries” (2001) and provided a tune for the soundtrack, as well.
By the dawn of the new millennium, however, things were changing for Whitney Houston and the public could not help but notice. She would unwillingly resurface in tabloid headlines, following one of the many arrests faced by her troubled husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown, whom she had married on July 18, 1992. Often Houston would be included in Brown’s dramas, or eclipse them with her own, such as when in 2000, Hawaiian security guards discovered half an ounce of marijuana in her baggage. That same year, she was dropped from the Academy Awards telecast – officially, due to a sore throat – but reputedly due to a poor rehearsal performance, which resulted in singer Faith Hill stepping in at the last minute to replace her. At one point, the troubled singer was even erroneously reported deceased, sparking rumors that the couple’s speculated drug use had finally done her in. Things only seemed to get worse for the once pristine-pop princess, when her own father sued her for $100 million for breach of contract, which was later thrown out of court.
Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard
Trying to stifle the naysayers, Houston unwisely granted an interview to “Primetime Live” (ABC, 1989- ) shortly before the December 2002 release of her fifth studio album,Just Whitney. In one of most uncomfortable, unfiltered and ill-advised interviews ever given by a celebrity, Houston croaked through the Q&A with a hoarse voice, looking exhausted, as she confessed to Diane Sawyer that, yes, she had abused drugs in the past – including marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and pills – but that she had beaten her addictions through prayer. She ended her confessions with her oft-quoted, much-maligned comment, “Crack is whack” and that she was “too rich to do crack.” As her husband sat, sweating profusely on the sidelines, she also defensively claimed to be the one doing the hitting in the couple’s relationship after Sawyer pushed for information on Brown’s reported spousal abuse arrests. It went without saying that the interview was the water cooler topic du jour.
Not surprisingly to some, a year after the interview, police responded to a domestic violence call made by the singer against her husband, and found Houston with a cut upper lip and a bruised cheek. Within three months, she checked into a drug rehab treatment but abruptly left within weeks. A year later, Houston was court ordered to check into Crossroads, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Antigua, West Indies, founded by guitar icon Eric Clapton. Despite their apparently tumultuous union, Houston and Brown remained together and continued to present a united front through the years of headlines. While she had seemed to withdraw willingly from the spotlight, Brown’s career had remained stalled in his heyday of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In a bid to recapture his fame, Brown opted for life as a reality TV star in “Being Bobby Brown” (Bravo, 2005), in which Houston and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also appeared. The show was so shocking – from the couple’s random fits of singing in public, to their gluttonous ordering of food at restaurants, to their constant fighting in front of the children – that viewers were transfixed as if watching a car accident in slow motion. Seeing the raw Houston hollering “Aah, hell-to-the-NO!” on a regular basis did amuse some, who were happy to see her sense of humor still intact, as well as her still luminous beauty. However, most agreed the show did her career no favors. After much speculation of a second season, it never materialized and little reason was given by those involved. Some questioned whether the next round of bad Houston press had something to do with the decision. In early 2006, Brown’s sister released damning photos to of her Houston’s alleged in-home “crack” den, as well as grim details of the singer’s then on-going battle with hard-core drug addictions. After years of Houston fans blaming bad-boy Brown for causing their favorite singer’s fall from grace, the couple announced their separation in September 2006. Much to the delight of all who loved the once glamorous performer, the divorce was finalized in April 2007.
After a long road back, Houston began working closely with her old mentor, Clive Davis, again, resulting in her long-awaited “comeback” album, I Look to You, which was released at summer’s end, 2009. Greatly hyped with an appearance on “Good Morning America,” which raised some eyebrows for airing the performance as a pre-taped segment, as well as for the hoarse voice and odd behavior she exhibited onstage. All of this was nothing compared to the heavy promotions of her also pre-taped interview with Oprah Winfrey on her season’s premiere episode. The pressure was on for Houston to come back in a big way, but the question seemed to remain – was she up to it after all the lost years? Fans certainly hoped so as, once again, they stood behind their favorite diva.
Whitney Houston movies
Filed Under: Actor Profile