The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Whitney Houston

Pop star Whitney Houston left millions of fans heartbroken in 2012 after she passed away in Beverly Hills, a night before the Grammy Awards. Her death was attributed to drowning, heart disease, and drug use. Her sudden demise left a void for many fans, who struggled to come to terms with her death. Whitney was a legendary singer, known for her beautiful voice and evergreen hits such as "Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know?" and "I Will Always Love You."

Whitney Houston's life was far from easy and was filled with tragedy, including a long struggle with addiction and grappling with the downsides of fame and being in the public eye. She lived through immense suffering, heartbreak, and personal issues and also fought roadblocks in her career. Here is a glimpse of the life, the trials, and the tribulations of one of America's greatest pop stars of all time.

Whitney Houston started singing as a kid in Newark

Whitney Houston's love for singing began when she was a kid. On receiving encouragement from her mom, she joined the New Hope Baptist Church choir in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Grammy-winning artist Cissy Houston, was responsible for overseeing the music program for a long time. Whitney's cousin, Dionne Warwick, was also a part of the choir. "My mother was the first singer I had contact with," Whitney told Rolling Stone in an interview in 1993. "She sang constantly to us around the house, in church. I used to watch her and the feeling ... my mother always said to me, 'If you don't feel it, then don't mess with it, because it's a waste of time.'"

When Whitney passed away in 2012, her family decided to carry out her final rites back in Newark at the same church where she grew up singing, in tribute to her roots. Whitney's funeral was private and only for loved ones. "They have shared her for 30 some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell," Carolyn Whigham, a close friend of the Houston family, told the Associated Press (via NPR). "The family thanks all the fans, the friends and the media, but this time is their private time."

Whitney Houston found fame early

Whitney Houston's first album made it to the market in 1985, when she was 21. She had been spotted by Gerry Griffith of Arista Records when she was performing in a Manhattan nightclub with Cissy. Before launching her career in the music industry, Whitney had already been modeling. She worked for the likes of the Click agency and eventually Wilhelmina.

However, Houston revealed that the pressure to be a musical success had been palpable for a long time. "People were interested in me from the time I was fifteen — it was kinda like they were just waiting for me to grow up. Everybody put their bids in," she told Rolling Stone. Griffith introduced Houston to A&R executive Clive Davis, who eventually became a big part of her career.

As soon as Whitney decided to enter the industry, she realized there would be little time for reflection. She had to learn the trade fast. "I had no time to grow up. I had no time to party," she said in an interview. "I didn't even date in my 20s. I wasn't that normal 20-year-old young woman going through her phases. I was a millionaire by the time I was 22."

Whitney Houston's childhood trauma

A 2018 documentary, Whitney, revealed that Whitney Houston was abused as a child. The film was directed by Kevin Macdonald and traced the singer's rise and fall. "There was something very disturbed about her, because she was never comfortable in her own skin," Macdonald said, speaking to Vanity Fair about Whitney. "She seemed kind of asexual in a strange way. She was a beautiful woman, but she was never particularly sexy. I've seen and done some filming with people who have suffered [childhood abuse], 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 that felt, maybe that is what it was."

While the filmmaker had an idea, he wasn't sure about how much trauma Whitney could have faced as a child until he was filming the documentary and was told on the record by the singer's former assistant, Mary Jones, that Whitney had suffered abuse as a kid. The experience changed her irrevocably.

Whitney Houston tried drugs with her brother

Whitney's brother, Michael Houston, told Oprah Winfrey in a 2013 interview that she was influenced by him when she tried drugs. However, he didn't realize things would get so out of control. "I feel responsible for what I let go so far," he said (via the L.A. Times). "We were always, you know, being together most of the time, and her following behind me — I taught her to drive. We played together — everything that you do together as you're growing up — and then when you get into drugs, you do that together too, and it just got out of hand."

When Oprah asked Michael whether he was the one who actually let her experiment with drugs for the first time, he explained that back then, in the entertainment world, drugs were everywhere. He also said that he didn't know and was ignorant about how bad it could get. "So the first time she did it, it was you, so that's the demon you live with," Winfrey said to Michael. "Every day," Houston responded. "Every day. That's something I've got to live with for the rest of my life."

Whitney Houston fought a long, hard battle with addiction

In 2002, Whitney spoke at length to Diane Sawyer about fighting addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as substances such as cocaine and marijuana. "I partied a lot. Trust me: I partied my tail off," she said. "You get to a point where you know the party's over."

She said that she was healing and that addiction was in her past. "I'm not as excited any more about it. ... It was new, I partied, and it's done," she added. Houston was asked whether she would ever touch drugs again, to which she responded that she couldn't say but that she didn't want to hurt herself. "I'm a person who has life, and wants to live," she said, before adding that she prayed that she'd be able to avoid drugs completely. "I won't break," she emphasized.

However, the battle against addiction was a long and tough one for Whitney, filled with public controversies. In 2011, she went back to rehab to recover. Her spokesperson at the time, Kristen Foster, told ABC News that Whitney had chosen to take the step on her own. "I can confirm that Whitney Houston is currently in an outpatient rehab program for drug and alcohol treatment," Foster said. "Whitney voluntarily entered the program to support her long-standing recovery process."

Whitney Houston's confidantes tried to control her career

The documentary Whitney shed light on many aspects of Whitney Houston's life. For instance, at some point in the 1990s, Whitney's close friend and former creative director Robyn Crawford, her dad John Houston, and her ex-husband Bobby Brown all tried to take control of her career and convince her to give them attention, per Rolling Stone. Things got ugly, and Crawford asked Whitney to choose between her and Brown. Whitney went with the latter. It is believed that John and Bobby weren't really looking out for Houston and had their own motives for trying convince her to trust them.

Moreover, John started taking money from Whitney's funds without her knowledge, putting her in a financially rough spot. She was already helping her family at this point, and the stealing was a tough pill to swallow. Houston was so strapped for cash that she didn't have the funds to complete a rehab stint.

Whitney Houston's relationship with Bobby Brown was toxic

Whitney Houston's relationship with Bobby Brown was tumultuous, to say the least. It's believed that she decided to get hitched to Brown to get away from the relentless pressure and speculations about her relationship with Robyn Crawford.

Houston's friend and hairstylist, Ellin LaVar, told People that Whitney was tired of the rumors. "Part of me felt like she got married to please people," LaVar said. "Just to get off of the market so people would stop questioning her." However, the couple had a difficult marriage from the beginning. For one, they made each other's addictions worse. "The problem with Whitney and Bobby was they exacerbated each other's addiction," LaVar explained. "She did more cocaine, he drank more. But when they got together they both started doing more cocaine and drinking. It just manifested itself in a really bad way."

Moreover, Brown was jealous of his wife's success and fame. When Oprah Winfrey asked Houston about this, the singer admitted that her ex-husband was indeed jealous. She also revealed that she tried to divert attention from herself and would ask people to call her Mrs. Brown. Whitney told Oprah, "He never liked the fact that people would say: 'You're jealous of her. You're just jealous of her fame and her fortune and what she has' and everything, and he would get really pissed off. But it's not abnormal for a man to feel that way. Or to feel that he was lacking."

Whitney Houston shared a close relationship with her daughter

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mom, Whitney Houston, shared a close bond. She often kept her mom company when Whitney went on tours. Bobbi would occasionally join her mother onstage, as well.

Bobbi Kristina also looked after her mom as much as she could as Whitney continued her fight against addiction. A relative told The Daily Beast about how close Bobbi was to her mom. "Honestly, Whitney in many ways depended on Bobbi Kristina more than Bobbi Kristina did on her," they said. "That was her friend, confidante, and her protector. No matter what she did or how drunk she got or how much her voice cracked at times, Bobbi Kristina still loved her so much and never gave up on her."

Bobbi Kristina wanted to be a singer like Whitney and had started recording songs with her until Houston's untimely death in 2012. Bobbi Kristina was heartbroken over her loss and spoke about it in interviews. "I can hear her voice and her spirit talking to me telling me, keep moving, baby. I can always feel her with me. She humbles me," she told ABC News. "I remember what she told me, I remember what she taught me. ... She was a sister, a comforter. The spirit that she had, no matter where she was, she touched everyone." Around three years after Whitney's passing, Bobbi Kristina was found in tragically similar circumstances, unconscious in a bathtub. She passed away several months later.

Whitney Houston's career suffered in the early 2000s

Whitney Houston's drug abuse slowly started becoming evident. Her voice quality suffered, and she was unable to deliver hits. This was a definite blow to her career in the 2000s. In a bid to retake some control of her life, the singer visited rehab a couple of times before stating that she was clean in 2010.

While touring across Europe, Asia, and Australia in 2010, she struggled. Houston found it tough to get the high notes right at her London gig. "She doesn't want to come, my soprano friend," Whitney told the crowd, according to The Guardian. Many concert-goers chose to leave the show midway, and Houston blamed the air-conditioner for her troubles. "Turn the air-con off," she requested of the organizers at her show. "I can feel it. It takes away my soprano." 

In Australia, per Rolling Stone, she couldn't recall what her backup singers were called, and she coughed relentlessly. Her show got a lot of negative feedback from the public. Close friend Aretha Franklin spoke about the incidents, supporting Whitney's efforts. "She had lost the top range of her voice, and some of the audiences were not very kind," she said. "But night after night, she stood there like a champion and gave her very best."

Whitney Houston tried to maintain her public image

Whitney Houston worked hard to put up a brave front. No matter how toxic it became for Whitney to continue giving her marriage her best shot, she persisted. She even ended up doing a reality show for the sake of her husband called Being Bobby Brown. She told Oprah, "I just wanted people to know that I was his wife."

When Oprah pressed further and asked whether Whitney stayed with Bobby despite being unhappy in order to prove her critics wrong, she agreed that she did. "I was trying to make a statement. Like: 'You guys aren't gonna win. You're not going to do that. We got married. We were in love. We were crazy for each other. We wanted to have a family. I'm just not going to let you do that to us. I'm just not,'" she said. "And so was he. He was determined. We fought for that. And then somehow it got really kind of messy and got lost up in there."

Houston also stayed silent for a long time about her domestic troubles. She spoke about being spat on by her ex-husband on his birthday, an incident witnessed by Bobbi Kristina, according to Whitney. "That was pretty intense. Because I didn't grow up with that, and I didn't understand why that occurred," Houston reflected. "But he had such a hate in his eyes for me."

Whitney Houston was forced to keep her feelings for Robyn Crawford hidden

Seven years after losing Whitney, Robyn Crawford spoke about how deep their relationship was. In a memoir titled "A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston," Crawford revealed details about her friendship with the singer. "I'd come to the point where I felt the need to stand up for our friendship. And I felt an urgency to stand up and share the woman behind the incredible talent," Crawford wrote in her memoir (via People).

The two met at a summer camp in 1980 and hit it off. "We wanted to be together," Crawford admitted. "And that meant just us." However, as soon as Houston got her contract in place with Clive Davis, she told Crawford that she couldn't continue being intimate with her. "She said we shouldn't be physical anymore, because it would make our journey even more difficult," Crawford wrote. "She said if people find out about us, they would use this against us, and back in the '80s, that's how it felt." Crawford respected Whitney's wishes and remained mum about their relationship for a long time.

Whitney Houston lived through an identity crisis

Whitney Houston was often perceived as being "not black enough" and was even booed at the Soul Train Awards in 1989. Her saxophonist, Kirk Whalum described that experience as heartbreaking for Houston in the documentary Whitney (via The Guardian). "It was one of those boxes that was checked, that when she ultimately perished it was because of those boxes," he said.

Houston's team focused on creating an image that would make her a fan favorite ... for white listeners. Songs that were too reminiscent of Whitney's roots and Black culture were revised in the studio. The pop star tried to break stereotypes and embraced her identity with "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and collaborated with stars like Stevie Wonder. However, publicly, she couldn't be completely vocal on topics concerning racial identity. The 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me? offered glimpses of Whitney's thought on her racial identity. "It's not a good feeling," Houston said (via Rolling Stone)."You have to sit there, like, 'Are they booing me?' You have to be cordial and be smiling like everything's OK. ... You're not black enough for them, or you're not R&B enough."