Poor Whitney Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hilton bathtub six and one-third years ago. “It took her many years to get there, but she’s finally bought it,” I wrote that day.
“The specific cause of the pop singer’s death is unclear, but c’mon…this has been in the cards for ages. Houston’s rep as a poster girl for drug abuse long ago eclipsed her fame as a singer. Many people are shocked by Houston’s death, but find me one person who’s genuinely surprised.”
The usual chorus of denial and complacency followed, of course. People always push that stuff away.
Now comes Kevin MacDonold‘s Whitney, an affectionate, deeply compassionate that nonetheless doesn’t play games when it comes to analyzing what went wrong in this troubled singer’s life.
When I read that Whitney was family-supported I presumed MacDonald might have felt obliged to take a softball approach. (An early teaser made no mention of Houston’s marriage to the notorious Bobby Brown, Houston’s husband of 14 years who has long been been regarded as a destructive influence in her life, particularly regarding her substance-abuse issues.) But Whitney is an exception to the rule. It digs right into the marrow and coaxes hard truths out of everyone.
Houston’s drug-use downswirl, the Brown relationship, her closeted sexuality and her daughter Bobbi Christina Brown, who died under regrettable circumstances at age 22 — it’s all there plus a surprise no one saw coming.
At the end Whitney’s aunt Mary Jones, who worked as her assistant (she was the one who found Whitney face down in that Beverly Hilton bathtub), claims that the late Dee Dee Warwick, the younger sister of Dionne Warwick and a blues-soul singer in her own right, sexually abused Whitney as a child, apparently in the late ’60s or early ’70s when the Houston family was living in East Orange, New Jersey.
Jones shares her view that Whitney never accepted her bisexuality because of this abuse. (Seconds after Jones drops the bomb, Macdonald cuts to a recorded quote in which Whitney says that the thing that most upset her in the world was sexual harassment against children.) Nobody knows what really manifested in the deepest recesses of Houston’s life, but after hearing about this abuse there’s no shaking the notion that she died too young not just because of Bobby Brown and drug abuse, but also because of Warwick, a cousin of Houston’s who died in 2008, partly due to her own pattern of drug abuse.
What a mess, but MacDonald’s film is a much sadder and more stirring film than I expected to see. Hats off, solemn salute. Whitney is must-see viewing.