NEW YORK - JANUARY 01: NEW YORK - UNSPECIFIED DATE: (L-R) Whitney Houston and Cissy Houston appear during a taping of an MTV show in 1989 in New York City. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage) Photo: L. Busacca
After Nippy finished her tour in the fall of 1991, Kevin Costner started calling her. A few months earlier, he had sent her the script of a movie he wanted to make, and ever since, he'd been trying to convince her to star in it with him. At first, Nippy didn't want to do The Bodyguard - and Clive Davis [music producer and longtime mentor to Whitney] didn't want her to, either.
Clive had read the script, about a famous singer named Rachel Marron who falls in love with her bodyguard, and he thought Rachel was a diva. Clive was worried that if Nippy did a good job playing her, people would just assume it was because she was a diva herself. Kevin kept on pushing, though, because he didn't want to make the movie with anybody else. Though he didn't know her, he was convinced she was the one for the role. So when Nippy's tour came to an end, he kept on calling until she finally agreed to do it.
The movie's producers asked Nippy to fly out to Los Angeles to test with Kevin to see how they looked together on camera. Kevin had a lot of clout in Hollywood, so the role was already hers, just because he said he wanted her. As talented as she was, though, Nippy hadn't faced a challenge on this scale in a long time and this was the kind of big risk that made her second-guess herself. "Just put your mind to it," I told her. "You can do anything you want to do."
Starring role … Houston with Kevin Costner in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard". Photo: Headpress
When she arrived for the screen test, Kevin could tell she was nervous, so he just told her, "Be yourself. Be natural." He said that wherever she would pause in regular conversation, that's where she should pause in her lines. "Just say it like you're speaking to a friend," he told her. And that's what she did. In the end, she was so natural on-screen, the studio couldn't wait to go. They scheduled shooting to start in late 1991.
Nippy was riding high. People magazine had named her one of their "50 Most Beautiful People". In an interview for the article, the reporter asked Nippy about the ring on her finger, trying to get the low-down on who she was dating by saying, "And who is going to be your baby tonight?" Nippy just smiled and answered, "He knows who he is."
Well, we in the family knew who he was, too, and most of us weren't all that happy about it. After meeting Bobby Brown at the Soul Train Awards in 1989, Nippy had invited him to her 26th birthday party on her estate in Mendham later that year, and pretty soon they started dating. At first, it seemed pretty casual. Bobby was six years younger than she was, and he didn't really appear to be the settling-down type. But, suddenly, they started seeing more of each other.
Almost had it all … with Bobby Brown on their wedding day in 1992. Photo: Corbis
I'd heard that as a kid in Boston, Bobby had grown up rough and, supposedly, he even got shot once at a block party, which didn't impress me very much. I also learnt that he already had a few kids, and there were lots of rumours flying around the music world about his bad-boy reputation.
Maybe that was the reason she liked him. Maybe she got tired of that middle-class, churchgoing, good-girl image she had. She'd been telling everybody a few years earlier she was from "the bricks" - well, here was somebody who really was from the bricks. And he had chosen her. When she began shooting The Bodyguard in Los Angeles during the last months of 1991, Nippy was already secretly engaged to Bobby. The date for their wedding would be July 18, 1992.
The Bodyguard started shooting in Los Angeles, but in early 1992, the production moved to Lake Tahoe and Florida for location filming. I was lucky enough to be in Florida when they filmed Nippy, as Rachel, singing I Will Always Love You. Kevin Costner had chosen the song, which was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton. Nippy didn't like the song when she first heard it, but Kevin loved it and asked her to give it a try. Together with producer David Foster, Nippy rearranged it as a soul ballad, and as they worked on it she grew to love it. Clive Davis thought it would be bigger than anything she had done yet. Well, I didn't know about that. Nippy's rendition of Greatest Love of All was one of the most beautiful songs she ever recorded, as far as I was concerned, and it had become her signature song. I didn't think anything could surpass it.
Booby Brown and Whitney Houston on their wedding day on July 18. 1992. Photo: Anonymous
The day they shot it, at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, I went to the set to watch. The first thing I thought when I saw Nippy was, "Damn, she is just so beautiful." You could see people on the set stopping to stare when she went by - and these were people who had seen plenty of stars.
Then she stood up there on the stage and sang those first notes - "If I should stay, I would only be in your way" - and I just started crying. I cried because that song was so beautiful in the first place, but Nippy turned it into something else entirely. As a mother, when you think of the trials and tribulations you've tried to bring your child through, it's just emotional. You cry.
That July, Nippy and Bobby got married at her estate in Mendham. It was a big, beautiful party on a gorgeous summer day. I put aside whatever hesitations I'd felt, and the only thought running through my mind was that I couldn't believe how beautiful my daughter was. Bobby was up at the front watching her, and he must have thought so, too, because the tears just started spilling out of his eyes. As worried as I was about what kind of husband Bobby would be, I have to say that, on that day, he seemed completely devoted to Nippy. The reception was on the lawn, and there were lavender flowers everywhere - Nippy's favourite colour. It was a beautiful night, and the party just went on and on. If the future of a marriage could be predicted by how good the wedding was, this one would have gone on forever.
Cissy Houston and Whitney Houston attends Keep A Child Alive's 7th annual Black Ball at Hammerstein Ballroom on September 30, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Child/WireImage) Photo: Kevin Mazur/Child
In the summer of 1997, Whitney and Bobby go on a holiday cruise in the Mediterranean. One evening, while on their yacht, Whitney suffers a deep cut to her face, necessitating a swift return to the US for plastic surgery. Rumours abound that Bobby has hit his wife, but Whitney swears to Cissy that it was an accident. Either way, writes Cissy, the star seemed sadder after that night, "like something had been taken away from her".
By 1997, it had been seven years since Nippy had recorded a studio album. Clive Davis was itching to get her back in the studio, but unbeknownst to me at the time, he had a bigger concern than that. He loved her too much to mess around. "What are you going to do about the drugs?" he asked point-blank. "I've been hearing some things, and they're not good."
At this point, I still didn't know anything about Nippy doing drugs. If she was getting high, she certainly wasn't doing it around me. And if she was doing it around other people, they certainly weren't telling me about it.
I wanna dance with somebody … performing at the Michael Jackson 30th-anniversary concert in New York in 2001. Photo: Getty Images
She must have convinced Clive that she was fine, because she went ahead and recorded a new album for Arista: My Love Is Your Love. Despite what she was going through, she did a beautiful job on that record. A lot of people felt it was her best one yet. In the summer of 1999, Nippy, now 35, went on tour in support of it but, this time, instead of the huge stage shows of her earlier tours, she performed in theatres and smaller venues.
I think she hoped that doing shows in smaller venues would help preserve her voice. Though her voice came through just fine in the studio, Nippy was having more trouble than ever with her throat in live performances, and again she had to cancel a few dates - two of them before her hometown audience in Newark, New Jersey. The truth was, the very real struggles she was having with her voice as she got older were made even worse by the partying she was doing, which, as I found out later, included smoking cigarettes and other things.
Nippy was always afraid of disappointing me. Whatever part of her wasn't perfect, she didn't want to show to me - and maybe she was afraid I didn't really want to see it, either.
Give them a sense of pride … with daughter Bobbi Kristina in 2009. Photo: Getty Images
In January 2000, Bobby and Nippy were about to fly back from Hawaii when airport security officers found marijuana in her purse. The security people went to get the police, and Nippy decided she didn't feel like waiting around to get arrested. She and Bobby just went ahead and boarded their flight. When the police got there, they made the decision not to stop her because the amount they'd found was small.
That was only the beginning of what would soon turn into a very bad year. The next month, Nippy was scheduled to sing at the Academy Awards, for which Burt Bacharach was serving as music director. But at the rehearsals, she apparently wasn't performing up to snuff. According to people who were there, she appeared to be high. Bobby was with her and she kept singing to him, missing her cues, singing songs that she wanted to sing rather than what she was supposed to sing, walking off the stage to hug Bobby, and generally behaving inappropriately. After a while, Burt, who was a family friend, asked her to leave.
Nippy was really shocked when he let her go. Nippy loved to sing, and the way she expressed herself best was through her voice. For those reasons, she always owned whatever stage she was on. Now she was even losing control of that.
Nippy started to close in on herself. She wasn't spending time with anyone but Bobby and Krissi [their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, born in 1993] and her brother, Michael, and he later told me things between her and Bobby weren't good. Bobby was constantly in trouble with the law, and he even went to jail in Florida in May 2000, for violating parole in relation to an earlier drink-driving charge.
With all of Bobby's flaws, Nippy remained devoted to him. In some ways, I think he was her rebellion. Around him, she didn't have to be the perfect girl, or America's sweetheart, and she felt she could relax and just be the person she truly was. Of course, drugs complicated their relationship but, unlike a lot of people, I don't blame Bobby for the things that ended up happening to her. I just don't believe he did much to help her.
In September 2001, at a 30th-anniversary concert for Michael Jackson at Madison Square Garden, Nippy shocked everybody with her appearance. When I walked into her dressing room, I couldn't believe my eyes. She was just as thin as she could be, almost skeletal. Her face was gaunt, and she looked like she hadn't slept in a while. I was scared to death, seeing her like that. What was happening to my baby? But I was so afraid of scaring her away, I didn't say a word. I had to console myself by thinking, at least she is letting me see her. At least I am in her life.
In 2003, Whitney and Bobby move to Atlanta, Georgia. In September 2004, Whitney, who has been invited to perform at the World Music Awards, calls her mother, terrified that her voice won't rise to the occasion. Cissy flies to Las Vegas to sit in the front row as Whitney sings I Believe In You and Me. After a husky start, she delivers a triumphant rendition and, as she segues into I Will Always Love You, the entire audience is on its feet.
In early 2005, [Cissy's son] Gary called me. "Ma, I think Nippy is really in trouble," he said - and Gary was not one to exaggerate. He and [his wife] Pat lived close to Nippy, so they knew her situation better than anybody did. If they were worried enough to actually call me about her, then it was time for me to act. I knew Nippy wouldn't like it, but at that point I didn't care - I made plans right away to go down to Atlanta.
I flew down to Atlanta, and Gary and I went together to her house. We rang the doorbell, and Bobby's sister Tina answered the door. Right away she yelled up to Nippy, "Your mama is here!" I didn't hear what Nippy said, but she didn't come down, and it became obvious that she didn't want me seeing her in whatever kind of state she was in.
If Nippy was in half as bad a state as that house, then she really was in trouble. I had never in my life seen any house that looked like this one did - much less a multi-million-dollar home. I just stood there in shock. It was dirty and messy, but that wasn't even it. When I walked in and started looking around, the things I saw sent a chill right through me.
Somebody had been spray-painting the walls and doors, painting big glaring eyes and strange faces. They were evil eyes, staring out like a threat. Who would do such a thing? It just seemed crazy, having these strange images painted right on the walls, all through the house. And in another room, there was a big, framed photo of Nippy, Bobby and Krissi - but someone had cut Nippy's head right out of it. And then they just put the portrait right back up, as if nothing was wrong. It was beyond disturbing.
Gary had gone upstairs to get Nippy, but she didn't want to come down. I saw her only briefly, up at the top of the stairs, and she looked like someone I didn't know. I think she must have been high, because she looked like she had the only other time I'd seen her that way, back in Mendham. She was obviously not herself, because she yelled angrily at me down the stairs, telling me to leave her alone and worse. I can't even remember most of what she said, and if I could, I wouldn't repeat it. It wasn't her. "Come on," I said to Gary, "let's go." There wasn't any point in staying.
Cissy secures a court injunction to have Whitney forcibly removed from the house for a period of hospitalisation and rehab. Later, Whitney decides to separate from Bobby and moves to Los Angeles; in October 2006, she files for divorce. Working again with Clive Davis, she begins work on a new album called I Look To You. In July 2009, she agrees to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey during which she reveals, to Cissy's great shock, the extent of the abuse she suffered at Bobby's hands.
In February 2010, Nippy started her world tour for I Look To You. This would be her first concert tour in 10 years, and she was going all over creation - Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, England. It was like the promoters were making up for lost time or something, sending her all over the globe like that. But people had been waiting a long time to see Whitney Houston in concert, and the shows sold out just about everywhere she went.
I knew this tour would be hard on Nippy's voice, and probably just plain hard on her. I wanted to make sure she was doing all right, so I flew to England for a few days just to check in. And while she seemed to be doing okay when I saw her, the rest of the tour didn't go so well.
Nippy had been working with a voice coach, but the stresses of a full concert tour are hard. Going onstage every night for two or three hours is difficult enough when you're in your 20s, but at this point Nippy was 46 years old. And you know, nobody's voice stays as strong as it ever was over 30 years - even in the best of circumstances. And Nippy hadn't exactly been in the best of circumstances, as everyone knew.
On the advice of one of her doctors, Nippy was taking steroids to help keep her voice strong. That helped some, but one side effect of steroids is that they cause you to gain weight. And when that happened to Nippy, people didn't know what to think. She'd always been so slender, it was as if nobody knew how to behave when she put on a few extra pounds. People can be quick to criticise, and that is doubly true of people who are watching a public figure attempt a comeback.
Because tickets had been sold and promises made, Nippy tried to get out there and sing anyway. For a person who had always prided herself on the quality of her performances, it had to have been agonising for her. People complained, and some of them walked out. Some even demanded their money back. I can't imagine the effect it must have had on her.
Nippy also went right back to her old habit of never wanting me to know when something was wrong, so she never talked to me about any of this. But I can't help but think now that the frustration she felt - at not being able to sing like she wanted to, and at letting people down - must have really knocked her back a step. Because at some point, and I'm not sure when, Nippy apparently began using drugs again.
It's hard now not to wonder what might have happened if she hadn't gone back out on that tour. She was doing pretty well up until she took on the pressures of all those performances over all those miles. What if she had just done as she'd threatened, and taken Krissi to an island somewhere and never performed again? Would she have been able to stay strong? Would she have been able to just live a quiet life?
I can say one thing. Just as it wasn't Bobby Brown's fault that Nippy did drugs, it wasn't the fault of the music business that Nippy ended up struggling the way she did during and after that last tour. Yes, it can be a tough and sometimes ugly business. And yes, she had a hard time keeping up with the demands of promoting and performing. But Nippy was a grown woman, and she had always been taught to think for herself.
Nippy made her decision, and everything that happened afterward - well, that can never be changed. And you know, God had His hand in all of this, too. Nothing happens outside of His plan, no matter how much we might not like the outcome.
On February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, California, where she'd been due to make an appearance at the Grammy Awards. She had drowned accidentally in the bath as a result of chronic cocaine use and heart disease.
Edited extract from Remembering Whitney: A Mother's Story of Love, Loss and the Night the Music Died, published by HarperCollins this week.
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