“When Whitney Houston died, I felt great sadness. My sadness, of course, was about our collective loss – when you listened to this nightingale sing, your body would drop into a chair, your head would tilt up, a small smile would creep across your face, and inside you knew that there was a higher power somewhere: gifted, beautiful, spiritual.”—James Belushi.
Best known for “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston was not only a great singer but also one of the most revered and successful pop artists of all time. Houston sold over 170 million records during her time, and that number will continue to increase, even after her untimely passing in 2012. Although she was famous and loved by fans, Houston’s personal life was fraught with drama, ranging from drug use to domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Here are 42 heartbreaking facts about Whitney Houston.
Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey on August 9, 1963 and later built a 13,607 square foot estate in Mendham, NJ. Two years after her death, a lifelong fan bought the vacant estate. After Houston’s death, the home failed to sell for a while and was bought by Commercial Property Management Group. The company then decided to put the house up for sale again and Matthew Krauthamer, an emergency room physician, came along to scoop it up for $1.5 million. Krauthamer was only in grade 2 when the house was actually built.
41. Poor Taste
Houston was found dead in her hotel bathroom in 2012, surrounded by drug paraphernalia and with cocaine in her system. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning. Bobby Brown’s sister, Tina, took a picture of the room following her death and the picture appeared on the cover of the National Enquirer. Kanye West then paid $85,000 to use the picture for the album cover of one of his artists, Pusha T. Pusha T said they originally agreed on another image but West changed it “around 1 AM” the night before the album was supposed to debut, May 30. Houston’s ex, Bobby Brown, and the Houston estate were obviously not happy about it. Bobby Brown said: “Something should happen to Kanye. He’s already crazy. I knew that when I first met him…He needs somebody to slap him up or something. And I’m just the person to do it.” West has yet to issue any apology or retraction.
40. Together Forever
Shortly after Houston’s death in February 2012, the Twittersphere was host to a rumor that Bobby Brown committed suicide as well. According to the rumor, Brown’s exit from the mortal coil was accompanied by a note that read “two can play at that game.”
Church became Houston’s first creative outlet, offering an arena where she honed her skills. Religion continued to play a part in Houston’s life after stardom, most evident by her covers of Jesus Love Me and I Look to You.
38. Greatly Exaggerated
It is sometimes reported that Whitney Houston won an Oscar for Best Original Song, along with Mariah Carey, for “When You Believe” from 1999. The song, featured on The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, was beautifully rendered by Houston and her partner, but the Oscar credit officially goes to Stephen Schwartz for the music and lyrics—Houston and Carey just helped to bring it to life.
37. Get My Good Side
In 2005, Houston’s husband, Bobby Brown, began filming a reality TV series. Being Bobby Brown was released in 2005 and didn’t exactly capture the couple’s honeymoon years. During this period, both were involved in drug use and quarreled often on camera. The show got good ratings initially but Houston understandably shied away from the camera. Once she refused to appear in the partially-filmed second season, the network brought it to an end. During an Oprah interview, Houston was quick to agree that the show was a “trainwreck.”
36. Coupling Rivalry
Houston and husband Bobby Brown once met the Dali Lama in the mid-2000s. By then Houston was an A-list star while Brown was for lack of a better word, washed up. He had begun with an R&B group called New Edition and had a solo career as well, but his last Top 40 hit had been in 1992. Additionally, his songs didn’t quite achieve the same level of adoration that many of Houston’s did. While the Dali Lama recognized Houston, Bobby Brown had to explain that he was her husband, since his own career hadn’t given him enough clout. The two eventually split up in 2007.
During her career, Whitney developed an addiction to marijuana mixed with a cocaine base. Her drug use peaked during the mid-2000s and the paparazzi couldn’t help but notice she was looking thinner. In a 2009 Oprah interview, Houston said she was clean and was taking her sobriety one day at a time, stating she still had the desire to return to drugs. Unfortunately, her death made it clear she later relapsed.
34. I Volunteer
By the end of 2012, Australian production company Showtime was already working on a tribute show. The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show is a two-hour live concert tribute featuring South African singer Belinda Davids as Whitney Houston. Davids began singing professionally in her teens and admits that she did “at least one Houston track” in most of the live shows she performed prior to landing her latest gig.
Houston wasn’t naïve to the pressure and scrutiny she faced as a black celebrity in America. At the time of Houston’s emergence, music charts heavily favored rock music, thereby creating a more segregated chart. Some people embrace the color-blind narrative but Houston believed that part of white America wanted to see her with a white person. In a sense, marrying a black man was an act of defiance against what society expected, she knew “the union emphasized her blackness.”
32. Stay In Your Lane
Whitney Houston was undeniably a talented singer, but it appears audiences might differ on her skills as an actress. Houston was advised not to take acting lessons for The Bodyguard by director Mick Jackson, since he wanted a natural performance. Apparently, test audiences felt the performance was downright flat and Jackson was forced to admit that Houston and Costner had “no chemistry.” Jackson’s remedy was to cut some of Houston’s longer speaking parts and add more close ups of her face.
31. Stamp of Approval
Whitney Houston’s most popular song—arguably—is actually a cover of a 1974 hit by Dolly Parton. Parton suggested “I Will Always Love You” to the producers of The Bodyguard but never received confirmation Houston would sing her song for the film. Parton heard the cover for the first time while driving and was a good sport, giving Houston a thumbs up. Parton was hooked from the a capella section at the very beginning, “That was one of the most overwhelming feelings I’ve ever had in my life. About anything.” It was probably easier to love the cover since Parton had sole writing credit and gets all the royalties from the song, no matter who sings.
30. Missed Opportunity
A movie or song can come along and leave us satisfied, but also wondering what it could have been if the rumors of another actor or singer performing it came to fruition. The 2000 hit “If I Told You That” was a well-done duet with George Michael. However, it could have been a duet with Michael Jackson, but the schedules couldn’t work. No offence to George Michael, but I can’t enjoy the song the same anymore.
29. Boxed In
By now I’m sure we’ve all picked up on the fact that fame has a price. More public adoration comes with more scrutiny and criticism. Amid all the dark things in her life, one of the criticisms Houston hated the most was that she lacked soul or “rhythm.” These allegations were partly due to Houston’s music, which some viewed as being simple pop. Some black radio stations also chose not to play her music. Houston defended her rhythm, saying “How could I come from where I come from and be rhythmless.” Houston also hated the soul criticism since it fed into the idea that pop was the white person’s domain. She wasn’t scared to break barriers.
28. Got It From My Mama
Houston’s mother, Cissy, was part of the R&B group The Sweet Inspirations. The group was probably best known as backup singers who performed with figures such as Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison and Elvis Presley.
27. Please Think of the Children
Houston wasn’t committed to becoming a singer until she was 10 or 11 years old, which is still earlier than when most people—myself included—figure out what they want to do with their life. Prior to her eureka moment, Houston wanted to be a teacher, already deciding that she wanted to work with kids. Veterinary aspirations then crept in afterward, but got pushed aside pretty quickly.
26. Girl Power
Houston still holds the title of having the best-selling single by a woman. “I Will Always Love You” stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks, and re-entered the charts after her death in 2012. In total, the single has now sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Houston’s first singing inspiration was her mother, and Houston was adamant that her mother had a better voice than her, with “greater range, greater power.” Next to her mother, Aretha Franklin stands as her biggest influence, mainly for the intangible effect Franklin’s music had on people. When I watched Aretha sing, the way she sang and the way she closed her eyes, and that riveting thing just came out…it could stop you in your tracks.” Houston joins Franklin’s ranks as another singer who captured people’s imaginations.
24. Learn the Hard Way
It’s common knowledge that men sometimes lack chivalry in general, especially when it comes to how they talk about women they have courted. Growing up with two brothers, Houston used that inside knowledge to her advantage: “Then I’d think, ‘I wonder if Sheila knows they’re talking about her like this?…I had her the other night.” Anyone trying to get with Houston had a harder time because she had already heard all the pickup lines men could throw at her.
23. Come for the Throne
By 1993, Houston never worried about competition much, due to her place as one of the forerunners among women on the charts at the time. People debuting after her, like Mariah Carey, got compared to Houston, not the other way around. That dynamic wasn’t lost on the diva: “…everybody tries to follow. But I’ve been out here since 1985, so whoever comes got to come after me.”
The media often assumed or proposed that Houston’s thin mid-2000s frame was a result of an eating disorder or drug usage. According to a 2002 interview, Houston argues that her thin frame was mainly a result of stress. Houston said that she had the habit of skipping meals when she had a bad day or week.
21. Money Maker
By the end of Houston’s career, fans and those close to her noticed that her voice wasn’t the same. The coroner’s report revealed that Houston had mild emphysema, an inflammation of the lungs, and it appears that Houston’s smoking contributed to it.
Houston was a diva straight out of the womb, a fussy baby who had the habit of kicking off her blanket when her parents tried to put her to bed. Her dad nicknamed her Nippy, after the mischievous cartoon character. Houston would then go on to form her own management company, Nippy Inc.
19. So Much in Common
We all love the stories about celebrities liking mundane or regular things, since that makes us feel like they are just like us. Jennifer Lawrence got plenty of adoration for saying she likes pizza—like everybody does, pretty much. Houston did not get the same level of adoration for saying she loves to vacuum. The activity is an odd thing to like, but Houston liked the fact that vacuuming is one of the few activities she could take part in that showed immediate results.
Once a star has conquered the world, in terms of their popularity and sales, sometimes all they want to do is live a simple life. In a 2002 interview, an interviewer asked Houston where she envisioned herself in 2012. Houston didn’t mention anything business related, saying she wanted a slower life where she could spend time with her daughter.
16. Busy Girl
Although Houston’s performance in The Bodyguard wasn’t critically acclaimed at the time, Houston appears to have some acting talent, since she won the role of Sondra Huxtable on The Cosby Show. This was the early 1980s, before Houston was a household name, but she declined the role since she wanted the time to tour if need be. While The Cosby Show went on to become iconic, Houston wasn’t too far behind.
Aside from unintentionally demonstrating how crude guys can be when talking about girls, Houston’s older brothers also provided support during her career. Michael Houston wrote several songs for her 1995 album, Waiting to Exhale.
Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina was a witness to some of her mother’s worst years of drug usage, sometimes helping to take care of her mother during a time when her mother should have been taking care of her. An anonymous family remembers recalls visiting the Houston and Bobby, and having a preteen Bobbi Kristina answer the door, advising that Bobby Brown had to put Whitney to bed. The room was covered in dirty clothes and dishes, and the family source could only describe it as “the bedroom of a junkie.”
Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, met a fate similar to her mother’s in 2015. She was found in a bathtub in her Atlanta home. After a period in a coma, Bobbi Kristina passed away. The Houston estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Nick Gordon, Bobbi Kristina’s live-in boyfriend, and Gordon was ordered to pay $36 million. The Houston family blamed him for enabling Bobbi Kristina’s drug use and their lawyer believed Gordon had a hand in her death.
12. All Aboard
Houston met her husband of 15 years, Bobby Brown, backstage at the 1998 Soul Train Music Awards. Houston invited Brown to her 26th birthday party, and the rest is history.
Some sites report that Whitney Houston dated Eddie Murphy prior to Bobby Brown. However, Houston’s mother states the two were just friends. Eddie Murphy also says the two were just “hanging out.” Then again, Murphy also asked his interviewer to confirm what “dating” means. Maybe Murphy’s idea of dating doesn’t match up with what Houston’s mother thinks of.
Recording a single song can take hours for some artists, but Houston had a reputation for being able to nail it in one take, hence the nickname Whitney “One Take” Houston.
9. No Relation
Obsessed fans almost seem like a rite of passage for stars. One persistent fan would call Houston’s office repeatedly, just to make sure Houston didn’t forget he was her “soul brother.” Persistence pays off in rom-coms, but in this case, it resulted in handcuffs for the fan. Probably for the best since police found that he owned two rifles, a shotgun, a pistol, knives and a crossbow.
Older brother Michael Houston admitted that he was the one to introduce Whitney to drugs. The two spent a lot of time hanging out as they grew up, and Whitney ended up partaking in all of the same activities he did.
7. Flip Flop
The Bodyguard was a turning point in Houston’s career, in terms of popularity and record sales, but that didn’t really sit well with her jealous husband. Bobby Brown didn’t have nearly as much clout and Houston believed “something happens to a man when a woman has that much fame.” Similar to how Houston denied her drug issues at certain points in her career, there were also times that she denied Brown’s violence. However, police did respond to a 911 call in 2003 where they found Houston with a bruised cheek and cut lip. Brown was charged with misdemeanor battery and the couple later left court arm-in-arm. An anonymous friend of Houston probably described it best when she said they were “like Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
6. So Many Choices
It’s sometimes interesting to hear an artist’s take on their own songs, hearing them sift through their favorites and seeing if it matches up with the fans. In the case of Houston, her favorite song is “Greatest Love of All.”
In 1979, at the age of 16, Houston met Robyn Crawford when both were working at the East Orange community center in New Jersey. When Houston reached the age of 18, she began living with Crawford. Afterward, Crawford became Houston’s executive assistant, traveling around the world with Houston as she became more popular. Rumors began to spread that the two were romantically involved, but no romantic relationship has been confirmed. In a 2016 interview, Bobby Brown alleged that the two were romantically involved and that Cissy Houston’s disapproval of the relationship was the main reason why it was kept quiet. Either way, Crawford still misses Houston: “Now I can’t believe that I’m never going to hug her or hear her laughter again. I loved her laughter, and that’s what I miss most, that’s what I miss already.”
4. Power Through
Houston and other members of her family have recently alleged that Houston was molested by an older cousin when she was a child. Whitney’s half-brother and her former manager also say that Houston told them about the molestation in private. Whitney’s half-brother alleges he was a victim of it as well. The cousin, Dee Dee Warrick, went on to become a singer as well but was eclipsed by her younger family members. The allegations were made public via Whitney, a documentary that premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May 2018. Warrick passed away in 2008, so we will never hear from her side.
3. Love and Sadness
The Bodyguard brings romance to mind but filming was anything but roses for Houston, who suffered a miscarriage during filming. Houston, speaking to Barbara Walters, revealed that she had returned to set the next day. Whitney would suffer two more public miscarriages in her life, but she was blessed with a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, a year after her first.
Houston’s longtime assistant, Mary Jones, alleged that Houston called her on the day of her death. Jones says Houston spoke of getting her life together and getting into heaven. Oh, what could have been.
Houston lived in a rental home in California during a period in 2011, and a former landlord found a bible she left behind. Aside from the word of the almighty, the Bible also featured Houston’s notes, ranging in topic from her ex to her daughter. The Bible was found on June 7 and went to sell at auction through the Moment in Time auction house, with a starting price of $95,000.