'Whitney' Looks At Troubled Life Of A Music Superstar

Whitney Houston’s rise to music stardom began when she was in her early 20s with the release of her debut album in 1985. She went on to become one of the best-selling musical artists of all time.

But behind the scenes, her personal life was bedeviled by drugs, family and marital issues. Houston died of an accidental drowning involving drugs in a hotel bathtub at age 48.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with >Kevin Macdonald

, director of the new documentary “Whitney.”

“It’s about somebody who had it all — who had beauty, who had incredible talent, talent without compare, success, everything,” Macdonald says. “And somehow, through the character flaws or the experiences of her childhood, managed to throw it all away, and ended up in an almost unbearably sad situation.”

Interview Highlights

On the contrast between Houston’s glamorous public image and her difficult childhood

“I think that you would imagine having your cousin be Dionne Warwick, who was a huge star obviously in the ’60s and the ’70s, and your mother being one of the greatest backing singers of all time — who sang with everyone from Van Morrison to Elvis to Aretha Franklin — that she would grow up in very glamorous circumstances. But that’s not really the case. She grew up in a very rough part of Newark to begin with, and they moved to a slightly more salubrious area called East Orange, which was a kind of racially mixed, I guess lower-middle-class suburb. But throughout her early years, she suffered a lot from racially motivated bullying, effectively for not being black enough. And her mother and her sister-in-law recount in the documentary how she would be run home by all these kids from school who would be taunting her for ‘dressing like a little white girl,’ and that kind of theme of being a kind of outsider, even within your own racial group, was something I think that haunted her her whole life.

“I think she was groomed for stardom by her mother, and to a lesser extent her father. Her mother, as I said, had been this hugely successful background singer. But she had wanted to be a star in her own right, be a solo artist. But she was never able to break through. She released three or four albums, and none of them really worked. And she saw in Whitney somebody who could have the success that she didn’t. So she was, I wouldn’t go so far as to say a creation of her mother, but her mother was a Svengali in a way.”

On drug use in Houston’s family, and her own struggle with addiction

“I mean I think they came from a part of Newark which was hit pretty heavily by the crack cocaine epidemic. People used drugs all around them, and … in the film, you see a family friend of theirs called Keith Kelly, who recounts when he first gave Whitney cocaine when she was 16. And other people, not always in the film, but other people told me that she was regularly using by the time she was 17, 18. And so even at the point where she was America’s sweetheart, when she was this seemingly beautiful, innocent, fresh-faced singer, and was the kind of girl your mom maybe thought that you should go out with, she was actually using drugs very, very heavily. And that just got worse and worse through the ’90s and through the 2000s as people are probably aware.”

On Houston’s sexuality, which one person in the film describes as “fluid,” and her relationship with close companion Robyn Crawford

“It’s obviously presumptuous in some ways to talk about somebody’s sexuality who’s not here to describe themselves. But from what I can understand — and I will say I haven’t spoken to Robyn Crawford, she’s very much alive, she didn’t want to take part in the film. But my feeling is that Whitney loved who she loved. She didn’t differentiate whether you were male or female. It was just if she found herself attracted to you, then she may fall in love with you. But having said that, I don’t know of any other documented cases of lesbian relationships that she had, other than the one with Robyn Crawford, which went on for a number of years and I think was a kind of a key relationship for her, before she famously married Bobby Brown, the R&B singer.”

Source : http://www.nhpr.org/post/whitney-looks-troubled-life-music-superstar

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