With the release of her spectacular new album, I Look to You, it's been confirmed: the diva is back
When Sony announced that Whitney Houston was returning to the studio to record her first new album for almost seven years, the music industry and her fans held their breath. Had the legendary singer really overcome the recent problems that had threatened to destroy her career? In this unauthorized and in-depth biography, James Robert Parish charts Whitney's amazing career, from her childhood in a rough New Jersey neighborhood to her thrilling comeback.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
James Robert Parish is also the author of The Hollywood Book of Death, The Hollywood Book of Scandals, Hollywood Divas, It's Good to Be the King, Jet Li, and Katherine Hepburn.
Read an Excerpt
Return of the Dive
By James Robert Parish
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2003 James Robert Parish
All rights reserved.
I Will Always Love You
"I married the person I was in love with, the person I was having fun with, the person I could be real with. It wasn't a game. It wasn't based on, 'I need a R&B base, and he needs some pop appeal.' People are so stupid."
WHITNEY HOUSTON, 1999
In 1992, George H. W. Bush was president of the United States. That year, on February 1, Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin issued joint statements officially concluding the Cold War. Two months later, in Los Angeles, an all-white jury acquitted four policemen alleged to have savagely beaten African-American Rodney King. The court's decision led to a riot in the City of Angels in which more than fifty people were killed, 2,000 wounded, and over 7,000 arrested.
It was also the year Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) and Emma Thompson (Howards End) won Oscars for their acting. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was a best-selling novel, and some of the most popular recordings of that year included "Baby-Baby-Baby" sung by TLC, "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "Save the Best for Last" performed by Vanessa Williams.
In mid-1992, on Saturday, July 18, twenty-five-year-old Sharon Belden of Florida would be crowned Miss World U.S.A., Helen Windsor (offspring of the British Duke of Kent) would wed Timothy Taylor, and veteran film critic Roger Ebert would walk down the aisle with Chaz Hammel-Smith.
On that same weekend afternoon, in Morris County, north central New Jersey, another celebrity wedding was about to take place. The location was scenic Mendham Township, west of Morristown, located forty miles and a hour's drive from midtown Manhattan. First settled in the early eighteenth century, the town had a population of under 5,000 and boasted such historic sites as the First Presbyterian Church (built in 1860) on Hilltop Road and the Iron Horse Inn (in continuous operation since 1742) on Main Street. While some people in the U.S. might be seriously affected by the country's $4.25 per hour minimum wage, the cost of a gallon of milk ($2.14), a loaf of bread ($0.75), a dozen eggs ($1.22), or a gallon of gas ($1.19), such was not the case in semi-rural Mendham, where multi-million-dollar homes on large lots were commonplace.
The focus of the excitement in Mendham was the bride-to-be's 9,000-square-foot home – a circular structure with no square corners amid a lush five-acre spread. (The estate even boasted a special $75,000 canine house especially for its owner's two pet Akita dogs, Lucy and Ethel.) The bride-to-be was beautiful pop diva Whitney Houston, the nearly twenty-nine-year -old singing sensation whose debut movie, The Bodyguard, costarring Kevin Costner, was due to be released in the coming months.
By now, the highly successful singer had earned millions of dollars and many industry awards for her hugely best-selling first three albums (Whitney Houston, 1985; Whitney, 1987; and I'm Your Baby Tonight, 1991). As her record label had proudly trumpeted for months before and after her astoundingly successful debut disc (which eventually sold over 13 million copies), she was born into musical royalty: her mother was acclaimed gospel and pop singer Cissy Houston, her cousin was pop legend Dionne Warwick, and her godmother was none other than music's Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The combination of Whitney Houston's pedigree, her gorgeous looks (the five-foot-eight-inch beauty was an ex-fashion model), her classy image, and, especially, her remarkable multi-octave voice with its bell-like clarity and startling volume made her the envy of her peers and the idol of a vast worldwide fan base.
Whitney's soon-to-be husband was handsome, twenty-two-year-old Bobby Brown, a former member of one-time teen-favorite pop group New Edition. Since leaving New Edition in 1986 to go solo, Brown had acquired a heady reputation as the forerunner of New Jack Swing, a musical style which melded hip-hop with rhythm and blues. His breakthrough album was 1988's Don't Be Cruel, which produced three major hit singles: the title number, "My Prerogative," and "Every Little Step." The follow-up disc, 1992's Bobby, produced the catchy single "Humpin' Around," which was currently working its way up to number three on the music charts.
Famous (or infamous) for his trademark sexy dance gyrations, Brown's "lewd" onstage choreography had occasionally gotten the singer into legal difficulties with stern-minded local authorities during his concert tours. All the way along his fast track to fame, he'd developed, encouraged, and boasted of his reputation as rock's hard-partying (and, some insisted, substance-abusing) Bad Boy. He had now matured into a fast-spending, high-living dude who could have almost any woman he set his sights on.
On the surface, it seemed that Whitney, known as "the Prom Queen of Soul," and raucous Bobby had far too little in common to make their marriage work. In fact, ever since the couple had become a serious item in 1990–1991, the media had been unrelenting in their shock, disgust, and resistance to the connection between this apparently disparate pair. But they did have at least two things in common: each of these African-American artists had been born in a ghetto – she in Newark, New Jersey, he in Roxbury, Massachusetts – and each had moved remarkably fast from rags to riches within the music industry.
What her devoted fans wanted to know was, what could the stunning Houston possibly want, long-term, with down-and-dirty Brown? After all, he'd already fathered three children (Landon, LaPrincia, and Robert Jr.) by two different women – one of whom was his childhood sweetheart, Kim Ward. He had chosen not to marry either partner. To make matters worse, his third-born (his second child with Ward) had been conceived while he was dating Whitney. His public relations person had attempted to put a positive spin on that sticky situation by rationalizing, "They were only dating casually at that point. Bobby and Kim had a relationship – they [already] had a child together. Bobby and Whitney didn't get serious until after Kim was pregnant."
Some detractors suggested that Houston and Brown were, perhaps, trying to refashion their professional images through this high-profile relationship. It was pointed out that she'd suffered a serious career backlash in the late 1980s when critics and some segments of the public began insisting that she was too "white" a singer: in short, a bland performer of commercially safe pop tunes who had insensitively turned her back on her black roots. In response, her mentor (and Svengali) Clive Davis, the savvy head of her record label Arista, had thereafter redirected her focus towards R&B and hip-hop with her third album (I'm Your Baby Tonight). Nevertheless, many in the black community said this belated turnaround was too little, too late. Meanwhile, the white establishment was not particularly captivated by the "new" Whitney. As a result, I'm Your Baby Tonight sold "only" 7 million albums. In these circumstances, joining forces with Brown might give Houston a new burst of legitimacy in the African-American community.
Other rumours about Whitney centered on her private life; in particular, on the fact that, although now in her late twenties, she had not yet married. While she had talked to reporters about believing in the traditional institutions of marriage and motherhood ("Getting married and having children. That's old stuff – but it's important to me"), the fact was there was still no Mr. Houston. Regarding this sensitive issue, Whitney explained to Vanity Fair magazine, employing her increasingly salty public vernacular: "I just never wanted to be married. I had an independence that didn't include marriage. I always thought men were full of shit. I did. For the most part, they used to talk shit to me all the time. They always had a rap. And I had two brothers, so they all told me what the deal was. They would tell me about the girls they were having and they used to say, 'Do you want to be a whore?' 'Do you want to be a slut?' 'Do you want to get treated like shit?' They made me feel guilty for being a girl."
Nevertheless, Houston had dated movie superstar Eddie Murphy in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was reputed to have had a brief fling with professional football hero Randall Cunningham. However, what truly bothered her non-supporters was her ever-so-special relationship with her female friend Robyn Crawford, two years her senior. Their bond had begun when Whitney was sixteen and the two had been counselors at a New Jersey summer camp. They had quickly become best friends. Houston soon began referring to the striking, athletic Crawford – she of the broad shoulders and mannish garb – as "the sister I never had." Because their bond was so strong, persistent, and exclusive, what had been mere gossip among the camp set and later at Whitney's high school became the province of the tabloids (and thereafter major national publications) once she attained fame as a songstress.
The supermarket newspapers alleged that Whitney "must" be gay and that Crawford "must" be her lover, pointing up that Robyn, an impressive basketball player, had abandoned plans to accept a college sports scholarship in order to become an integral part of Houston's day-to-day life on both a business and personal level. Both women continually denied these allegations. Nevertheless, their constant togetherness – whether sharing an apartment in Woodbridge, New Jersey, in the early 1980s or being soul mates on Whitney's road tours where Robyn was her executive assistant, confidant, and, some said, decision-maker, fueled the ongoing hearsay. Perhaps if the star had chosen to ignore the accusations and let the matter lie, the subject might have eventually lost its appeal for the media. However, Houston was easily baited by reporters, who never lost an opportunity to bring up her association with Crawford and all that it supposedly signified. As would become increasingly common, Whitney would lose her cool and mouth off publicly with a diatribe against her detractors, insisting that she was all woman and, besides, the blankety-blank press should mind their own damn business.
The ongoing speculation about the Houston–Crawford alliance reached a new peak of unpleasant scrutiny when Whitney announced that Robyn would be her maid of honor at her marriage to Bobby Brown. This led naysayers to conjecture wildly about the actual unusual dynamics of this threesome. Although Robyn had recently moved out of Whitney's Mendham Township home into her own place and been replaced on the estate by Bobby, the two of them – so some observers claimed – were still engaged in a fierce battle of wills over Whitney. These spectators scoffed when Brown attempted to cover over the tug-of-war between himself and Crawford by insisting that harmony existed between the two of them: "We're like sister and brother."
Other gossipers insisted that the pending marriage was nothing more than a sham, that Robyn still remained Whitney's true love and that Bobby's role in this unusual ménage was as husband in name only. (Proponents of such rumors didn't seem to care – or know – that Whitney had already become pregnant by Bobby in late 1991, a baby she miscarried in the first months of 1992 while on location for the movie The Bodyguard.)
The non-stop rumor mill also pondered what sort of pre-nuptial agreement had been established for this supposedly dubious marriage, since Houston's assets were estimated somewhere between $40 million and $70 million, while Brown only claimed holdings of about $5 million – a sum which was fast evaporating thanks to his lavish lifestyle and lack of careful financial investments.
* * *
Some 150 individuals were invited to the 2 P.M. wedding ceremony in Mendham Township, New Jersey, with a total of nearly 800 ("too many," insisted Bobby) on the guest list for the gargantuan reception to follow four hours later.
Mindful of the offensive, hysterical media circus that had surrounded such celebrity weddings as that of Sean Penn and Madonna in August 1985, Whitney hoped to avoid a similar situation. As she explained, "I didn't want anybody crashing in – no parachutes out of the sky and stuff like that. So I tried to be kind to the press. We distributed photographs." However, there were forces behind the scenes conspiring against Whitney's plans. For example, according to Kevin Ammons, the then boyfriend of Whitney's publicist Regina Brown, who later wrote Good Girl, Bad Girl (1996), "an insider's biography of Whitney Houston," several individuals (including relatives, employees, and friends of the bride) were apparently negotiating with the tabloids in the U.S. and England to sell "exclusive" information and photos of the Houston–Brown marriage, including an actual wedding invitation and minute details of the star-studded ceremony.
For her big day, Whitney, who already had an established entourage of bodyguards to protect her from too much contact with overenthusiastic fans or from the number of stalkers pursuing her, had beefed up her security force to cope with the logistics of so many guests and onlookers descending on her New Jersey estate.
Said one of Whitney's neighbors, who lived across the street in the Oak Knoll development: "It's a bit of a zoo. We're trying to have our own party here and my husband had trouble getting back into the neighborhood. Guards are stopping everybody. They want to know who you are and where you're going." Another neighbor, who resided eight doors away from Whitney's estate, noted that a computer technician had trouble reaching them that day due to the snarled-up traffic: "He said he was stopped at eight different checkpoints."
In actuality, as acknowledged by local deputy mayor Brian Phelan, nearly all of Mendham Township's fifteen police officers were tied up for the blessed event. Nevertheless, he insisted it was "well worth the effort." Phelan reasoned, "This wedding has been the talk of the town for more than a week, and it's important that Mendham put its best foot forward. As for me, I'm just looking forward to meeting Whitney and her family."
In typical fashion for major celebrity nuptials, TV news teams hovered in noisy helicopters over the site, intent on filming the comings and goings of the famous guests. Down on terra firma, the invitees included Mayor Christine Palmer and other Mendham Township dignitaries, as well as ten families from the neighborhood. Most of the VIP guests arrived in limousines with their dark-tinted windows shut, preventing the crowds of onlookers from catching a glimpse of those inside.
Later, it was recorded that attendees that day included showbusiness figures such as Gloria Estefan, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jackee, Jasmine Guy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, Blair Underwood, Charles Dutton, Gladys Knight, Valerie Simpson, Phylicia Rashad, Downtown Julie Brown, Aretha Franklin, Heavy D, Dick Clark, Queen Latifah, Natalie Cole, and Leslie Uggams; as well as entrepreneur Donald Trump, former models/actresses Lauren Hutton and Phoebe Cates, and celebrity observer Robin Leach. Guests were requested to forgo buying wedding gifts and instead encouraged to donate to a favorite charity, or, in particular, to the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, Inc.; as a result, the foundation earned approximately $500,000.
Three elaborate wedding tents had been erected on the estate grounds, including the lavish bridal tent (decorated in Whitney's favorite color, lavender), and the tennis courts were covered by wood flooring for the dancing. A strict believer in privacy, Whitney had planned that the guests for the ceremony and the reception would be ushered directly to the tents, rather than having them parade through the house. However, the weekend was cloudy with intermittent showers, and a few invitees momentarily circumvented the security squad and wandered into Whitney's mansion – muddy shoes and all – which did not sit well with the very in-charge bride-to-be.
Excerpted from Whitney Houston by James Robert Parish. Copyright © 2003 James Robert Parish. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 I Will Always Love You 1
2 From Humble Beginnings 13
3 Greatest Love of All 25
4 Finding Her Voice 34
5 Deciding on the Future 45
6 The Young Songbird 54
7 Making First Impressions 62
8 Reaching Out for the Big Break 73
9 Finding a Mentor 81
10 Cementing an Image 89
11 Riding High 98
12 Leader of the Pack 108
13 How Will I Know 116
14 The Changing Wind 125
15 That Guy from Roxbury, Massachusetts 133
16 The Super Bowl and Beyond 144
17 A Box-Office Surprise 153
18 The New Family 163
19 Storm Clouds 171
20 Waiting to Exhale 182
21 I Believe in You and Me 194
22 Walking the Tightrope 206
23 It's Not Right, But It's Okay 219
24 The Year of Living Dangerously 231
25 Just Whitney 244
26 Whatchulookinat 258
27 New Horizons 267
About the Author 291