"Deeply moving, truly tragic" is how one critic sums up "Whitney," a new documentary that chronicles the glorious rise and terrible fall of Whitney Houston. Click though for 20 things that may surprise you about one of the most gifted singers ever.
Talent Runs in Her Family
Whitney Houston grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a gospel star who had been a backup singer for Elvis and Aretha, and her father, John Russell Houston Jr., was an entertainment executive. Darlene Love was Whitney's godmother, and Dionne Warwick was a cousin. Whitney sang onstage with both her brothers, Michael and Gary, and she and Michael co-wrote "Count on Me," which became a Top 10 single from the soundtrack of 1995's "Waiting to Exhale."
She Turned Down "The Cosby Show"
Whitney was cast as Sondra Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" in 1984, but decided not to take the role. She told director Jay Sandrich that she couldn't commit to acting because she was a singer and needed to be free to tour—even though she had no record deal yet.
Clive Davis Guided Her Career
"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," said Clive Davis, founder and president of Arista Records, who became Whitney's manager, mentor and friend. Whitney was 19 when he first heard her sing. Davis signed her immediately, chose her songs and guided her from gospel to pop immortality. He even persuaded Kevin Costner to re-edit "The Bodyguard" to showcase Whitney's amazing vocals. "To know why she needed a bodyguard," he said, "you've got to let her do her thing."
She and Michael Were Tight
In 1987, Michael Jackson wanted Whitney to record "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" with him. But since her second album, "Whitney," had just been released, Arista Records declined Jackson's offer, fearing she'd be overexposed. Still, Whitney and the King of Pop became close friends. He often invited her to his home, where they would sit together without saying a word.
She Did a Lot of Fundraisers
One of Whitney's New York concerts generated a quarter-million dollars for the United Negro College Fund. At a London celebration of then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday in 1988, she helped raise more than $1 million for charities while bringing awareness to apartheid. An HBO concert, "Classic Whitney Live From Washington DC," brought in more than $300,000 for the Children's Defense Fund. Her philanthropic projects also included a foundation for homeless children suffering from AIDS and cancer.
She Turned the National Anthem Into a Hit Single
During the Gulf War, Whitney sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl. Her thrilling, heartfelt rendition rose to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100—and hit the charts again in 2001, after September 11, with Arista's profits going to firefighters and victims of the 9/11 attacks. Whitney donated her share of the proceeds to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund. The success of the national anthem single impressed even Dionne Warwick: "When she sold a million copies of 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' I looked at her and said, 'Well, I guess the telephone book is next, huh?'"
She Went From Eddie Murphy to Bobby Brown
Whitney was dating Eddie Murphy when she met rapper Bobby Brown at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. They married in 1992—she was 29; he, 23. In 2004, he began a reality TV show, "Being Bobby Brown," but Whitney scored equal screen time. The show was canceled when Whitney announced she would no longer appear in it. The turbulent marriage, riddled with drug abuse and domestic violence, was canceled in 2007, with industry insiders saying Bobby couldn't handle Whitney's growing stardom. "It may have seemed dysfunctional," said Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, "but ... she loved him like crazy, and he loved her like crazy."
Kevin Costner Suggested Casting Her in "The Bodyguard"
Costner, who was the film's producer as well as Whitney's co-star, suggested Whitney for the role of singer Rachel Marron. When the studio balked at hiring a novice actor, Costner fought for her. It was also his idea for her to start "I Will Always Love You" a capella. He gave Whitney acting lessons while she gave him singing lessons on set. In a moving eulogy at her memorial service, Costner noted how much he and Whitney had in common—particularly that they both grew up in the Baptist church.
She Became an Instant Movie Star
Despite uneven reviews, "The Bodyguard" made Whitney a box-office star, though she made only three more films: "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), "The Preacher's Wife" (1996) and "Sparkle," released after her death in 2012. Producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmunds wanted only Whitney for the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, but she fought for other African-American artists to join her. Whitney hesitated to play a frowsy housewife in "The Preacher's Wife," but she did, earning her best reviews to date.
Her Biggest Hit Had Staying Power
Whitney's cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" became her trademark, as well as winning Grammys for Best Female Pop Vocal, Record of the Year and (for "The Bodyguard" soundtrack) Album of the Year. The song became the best-selling single by a woman in music history. It was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks straight and became a Top 10 hit again two decades later, after Whitney's death.
Her Daughter Had Her Own Tragic Story
Whitney suffered at least three miscarriages before she and Bobby became proud parents to Bobbi Kristina Brown in 1993. Bobbi was 14 when her parents divorced, and Whitney received full custody. Devastated by Whitney's death. Bobbi decided to pursue a singing and acting career to carry on her mother's legacy. She was angered when director Angela Bassett refused to cast her as Whitney in a Lifetime biopic, though she later tweeted apologies. Tragically, Bobbi was found unconscious in a bathtub at age 22, in circumstances eerily similar to those of her mother, and died a few months later.
She Broke All Kinds of Records
Whitney released seven studio albums, two soundtrack albums, live albums and compilation albums. She's the only artist ever to chart seven consecutive No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Her debut album, "Whitney Houston" (1985), was the first album by a solo female artist to produce three No. 1 singles. Her next LP, "Whitney" (1987), was the first by a female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. The soundtrack to "The Bodyguard" became the best-selling soundtrack of all time, and the 1996 soundtrack to "The Preacher's Wife" is the best-selling gospel album in history.
She Wore Many Hats
In addition to acting and singing, Whitney served as an executive producer on "Sparkle," having acquired the rights to remake the 1976 film. She also produced 2001's "The Princess Diaries" and its 2004 sequel. Earlier, In 1997, Whitney produced the made-for-TV musical "Cinderella," with Brandy Norwood in the title role and herself as Fairy Godmother. The multi-racial cast—including Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg and Bernadette Peters—was notably ahead of its time.
Some Considered Her Music Too Whitebread
Whitney sang in her church choir while growing up in Newark, New Jersey, and got her professional start as a backup singer for Lou Rawls, Chaka Khan and her mother. And yet many in the black community called her "White-ney" and chided her for forsaking her roots. "What's black? I've been trying to figure this out since I've been in the business," Whitney said. "I don't know how to sing black and I don't know how to sing white, either. I know how to sing. Music is not a color to me. It's an art."
She Had Her Favorites
Favorite color: Purple (at Whitney's wedding, her bridesmaids wore purple dresses, and groomsmen wore purple tuxedos). Favorite subject in school: History. Favorite actress: Jessica Lange. Favorite cereal: Fruity Pebbles. Favorite movie: The original "Sparkle" (that's why she remade the film). Favorite hangout: Home. Favorite kind of housework: Vacuuming (because she liked immediate results).
She and Robyn Crawford Were Inseparable
Whitney was 16, working at a summer job, when she first met Robyn Crawford. When Whitney got her own apartment, Robyn was her roommate. Robyn left a college basketball scholarship to become Whitney's executive assistant, and she tried to keep Whitney off drugs. Rumors swirled that Robyn and Whitney were more than friends. Then Whitney married Bobby. He and Robyn hated each other, and Cissy openly disliked Robyn. In 2000, after 20 years together, Robyn walked out. After Whitney's death, Bobby admitted that Whitney and Robyn had been lovers. "I really feel that, if Robyn was accepted into Whitney's life," he said, "Whitney would still be alive today,"
She Had Her Demons
Whitney's brother Michael taught her to freebase cocaine in the late '80s, and her marriage to Bobby Brown only escalated her drug use. The drugs took a toll: Whitney's extraordinary mezzo-soprano voice grew raspy and hoarse. She often showed up late at rehearsals, photos shoots and interviews—or missed her appointments altogether. She forgot lyrics and cancelled concerts. In and out of rehab, Whitney denied she was using. After her death, Sharon Osbourne tweeted: "It always takes for them to die before we shower them with praise and adulation. They were addicts… Don't mock them, just help them."
"Jesus Loves Me" Was the Last Song She Sang
In 2012, Whitney sang "Jesus Loves Me" with friend Kelly Price at a pre-Grammy party in Hollywood—her last public performance. She was later found submerged in her Beverly Hills hotel bathtub. Whitney was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m., February 11, 2012. The official cause of death was accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use cited as contributing factors. An invitation-only memorial was held February 18 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that all state flags would be flown at half-mast to honor Whitney.
The Grammys Paid Tribute
Whitney was set to attend Clive Davis's famed pre-Grammy party when she died. The party went on as planned, though it was rebranded a "tribute to Whitney." Several stars condemned the festivities. Sharon Osbourne commented, "I think it was disgraceful that the party went on. I don't want to be in a hotel room when there's someone you admire who's tragically lost their life four floors up." The next night, Grammy host LL Cool J opened with a prayer for Whitney, and Jennifer Hudson offered an emotional interpretation of "I Will Always Love You."
She's in the Guinness Book
Guinness World Records listed Whitney Houston as the most honored female singer of all time. Her 400-plus awards range from an Emmy and a slew of Grammys to American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards, People's Choice Awards, Soul Train Music Awards and World Music Awards. She even has a school named after her: Whitney E. Houston Academy, in East Orange, New Jersey. Whitney was also nominated for a Stinkers Award for Worst Song in a Motion Picture—"When You Believe," a duet with Mariah Carey from 1998's "Prince of Egypt." That's one award she didn't win.
Unforgettable expressions that instantly make you think of a favorite TV show
20 essential songs from the cool rocking poet laureate of New Jersey
From Hollywood royalty to political radical to fitness guru, she has taken one unpredictable turn after another
Films that capture that feeling that comes over you when the leaves begin to change
25 essential songs, from Simon & Garfunkel hits to his solo classics
Classic comedy from a Not Ready for Prime Time Player