The world, however, proved unkind to the star. She struggled with complicated relationships, the difficulties that come with fame, and substance abuse, which led to her death in 2012 at the age of 48. Let’s take a closer look at the life and career of a cultural icon gone too soon.
The Early Years
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, to Emily "Cissy" Houston and John Russell Houston Jr. Whitney was raised in a musical household from a young age. Her mother, Cissy, was a gospel singer who later joined a popular session vocal group called The Sweet Inspirations.
The group found great success and sang songs with legendary artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, and Van Morrison.
She Grew up in a Musical Family
Cissy played a big role in shaping Whitney’s love and talent for music, but she wasn’t her only musical influence. It turns out her older cousin was none other than Dionne Warwick. She had two music powerhouses as godmothers: Darlene Love (the official godmother) and Aretha Franklin, an honorary godmother.
Aretha and Cissy were old friends. The Queen of Soul would later tell MTV News that she remembered a "shy, lovely" Whitney tagging along with her mother to recording sessions.
In Church, She Discovered Music
She was raised Baptist with some Pentecostal influences as well. At the age of five, she began singing in the church choir at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play the piano. By age eleven, she had graduated as a soloist for the junior gospel choir.
Her mother Cissy took charge of Whitney’s singing, teaching, and mentoring throughout her teens. Whitney attended Franklin Elementary School (now the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts) before transferring to Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell for her sixth-grade year and graduating in 1981.
A Shy but Talented Young Lady
Performing on stage came naturally to an otherwise quiet Whitney. She began singing when she was five years old, and she could also play the piano so there was no denying her exceptional musical talent.
When she turned 14, she started singing backup for her mother in several New York City cabaret clubs. In 1977, Whitney sang backup on Michael Zager Band's "Life's a Party." Michael was bowled over and even offered her a recording contract, but her mother Cissy declined, wanting Whitney to finish school first.
Born for the Spotlight
Young Whitney never wanted to be in the spotlight. She was perfectly content being a backup singer. Her only wish was to get to perform duets with her mother. Singing backup felt safe for an extremely shy Whitney, but the path she had envisioned for herself changed, slowly but surely. Thanks to her mother, she met and sang background vocals for big names in the music business.
Among them was Chaka Khan and her 1975 smash hit "I’m Every Woman." Whitney was only 15 at the time. She would later transform the song into a chart-topping number on her soundtrack album to "The Bodyguard."
A Bittersweet Childhood
Whitney had a childhood most little girls only dreamed of: music, lights, and performing with musical legends. But it wasn’t all roses. Her parents traveled a lot. When she wasn’t accompanying them on tour, she and her brother, Gary, lived with different family members.
During these stays, the two siblings were allegedly harmed by their cousin, singer Dee Dee Warwick. Years later, a posthumous documentary by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald titled "Whitney" (2018) revealed the scale of the early mistreatment and other shocking allegations.
A Great Voice and She's a Looker
Whitney did a brief stint in 1980 as a teen magazine model before her music career took off. When she was 16, a modeling agency discovered her at Carnegie Hall. The agent approached her, asking her if she was a model. To which Whitney replied that she had never done any of that stuff.
The guy responded with, "Well, you should." So Whitney decided to roll with it. She became the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine.
Her Modeling Career
Whitney eventually joined the prestigious Wilhelmina modeling agency. Still innocent and sweet but ever the professional, Whitney appeared on the pages of the biggest magazines at the time, including Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Glamour, and Young Miss.
The budding model wasn’t industry-savvy. She would arrive at photo shoots in the clothes she wore to school and was reportedly asked to do homework between shoots too! But what she lacked in experience, she more than made up for with hard work and the now-familiar million-dollar smile.
Her Big Break
Her true passion remained music, which she pursued even while modeling and throughout high school. She continued performing and recording despite her mother’s disapproval. Cissy wanted her to turn down record label offers until she finished school.
On April 10, 1983, Gerry Griffith, an Arista Records rep, spotted Whitney performing. He immediately called his boss, music mogul Clive Davis, who then came to watch her sing at a Manhattan club called "Sweet Waters." He was impressed on the spot.
And the Rest, as They Say, Is History
Whitney had prepared two songs for that night’s performance: "The Greatest Love of All" and "Home" from the film "The Wiz." Clive was blown away and offered her a worldwide recording contract. Later in an interview for the New York Times, Davis recalled feeling the proverbial tingles up the spine on first hearing a young Whitney sing.
Two weeks after officially signing Whitney to Arista Records, he brought her on national television to sing on "The Merv Griffin Show." He famously introduced her to America as "the new Dionne Warwick."
Her Debut Album Is Released
Despite life moving quickly after her big break, Whitney's debut album was still some time away—two years away, in fact. Before the album saw the light of day, her first big hit was "Hold Me," a duet with Teddy Pendergrass.
The single became a Top 5 R&B hit. On February 14, 1985, Whitney released her self-titled debut album under the guidance of Clive Davis. A debut for the ages, the album went platinum 13 times and included now-iconic megahits such as "Greatest Love of All," "How Will I Know," and "Saving All My Love for You."
Why the Album Took So Long
Her self-titled debut was released almost two years after she signed with Arista Records. When asked why it took so long, Clive Davis explained he wanted to make the right impact. Whitney was an outstanding artist, but for her to make an indelible mark, she needed excellent material and people backing her.
The record mogul said he carefully selected producers and songwriters who would do justice to Whitney’s incredible "vocal emotion" and range. His strategy and patience paid off.
The World Can't Get Enough of Whitney
Her single, "How Will I Know?" soared to number one on the charts. Her listeners were part of the MTV generation, where music videos ruled. The video for "How Will I Know?" introduced Whitney’s music to millions of MTV viewers.
She was the first African-American woman to receive such massive and consistent exposure on MTV. Her album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard year-end charts, and with that, she smashed another record, becoming the first female artist to earn the distinction.
A Record-Breaking Album
Whitney’s debut album made headlines and broke all kinds of records in the industry. She released seven consecutive No. 1 hits, smashing a record previously held by The Beatles—an incredible feat for the new kid on the block! She won Best Pop Vocal Performance for "Saving All My Love for You" at the 1985 Grammy Awards.
Whitney also received nominations for Album of the Year and Best R&B Vocal Performance. That wasn’t all. Rolling Stone named it the best album of 1986, and it was eventually certified diamond in 1999.
Acclaim for Her Artistry
Whitney’s artistry received recognition and praise from all quarters. The New York Times labeled the album an impressive, albeit conservative, showcase of "exceptional vocal talent." Rolling Stone magazine called Whitney the most exciting new voice in years. Arista Records promoted her album in several countries with three different singles catering to diverse musical audiences.
The first single in the UK was the dance-funk song "Someone for Me," which bombed on the charts. "All at Once" was a massive hit in the Netherlands and Belgium, where it reached the top five on the singles charts.
A Regular on Television Talk Shows
Whitney defied convention by appearing on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and "Late Night with David Letterman." These shows were traditionally inaccessible to black artists unless they had already made it big. She followed this up by releasing "Saving All My Love for You" her first number-one single in the US and the UK.
By then, fans across genres knew and loved her. In December 1985, Whitney released a promo single, "Thinking About You," exclusively for R&B radio stations and dance clubs. The funk-dominated track reached number 24 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart and number 10 on the Hot Black Singles chart.
She Wins Over Radio Stations but Contends With Gatekeeping at MTV
Like her peers at the time, Whitney became a video sensation. Videos for "You Give Good Love" and "Saving All My Love for You" received heavy rotation on BET and VH1 stations. MTV was the exception. Arista Records struggled to submit videos to MTV, not for lack of trying.
Back then, MTV held the dubious reputation of showing preferences for rock acts by predominantly white artists. The channel came under fire for not playing enough videos by artists from minority groups. Whitney and her record label tried to get "You Give Good Love" on the channel, but were turned down because it was "too R&B."
Breaking Into MTV
"Saving All My Love" eventually received light rotation on MTV. The channel had not had a change of heart. They had no choice since the track had already become a sensational pop hit. "I love it when they have no choice," Whitney famously quipped.
When she released her third single, "How Will I Know," the video, directed by Brian Grant, was immediately added to MTV's playlist and quickly gained heavy rotation and love from the MTV audience.
How Whitney Influenced the Evolution of MTV
"How Will I Know?" became Whitney's second consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number-one pop hit and remained on the charts for two weeks. The single topped the Hot AC and the Hot Black charts while also soaring to number three on the dance charts.
The phenomenal success of "How Will I Know" on MTV signaled the channel's transition from rock-heavy playlists to a more hybrid platform for R&B, dance, and pop music. Whitney appeared frequently on the channel, alongside artists such as Janet Jackson and Madonna.
Her Second Album
Whitney released her second album, "Whitney," in June 1987. The album was certified diamond, making Whitney the first female artist to have four No. 1 hits from one album: "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."
The singer won her second Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" the following year.
Breaking Glass Ceilings
In 1986 and 1987, Houston received seven American Music Awards and an MTV Video Music Award. "Greatest Love of All" was also nominated for Record of the Year at the 1987 Grammy Awards. According to USA Today, Whitney’s spectacular debut would go down in history as among the most significant musical milestones the world had seen.
Her success paved the way for other black female artists, including Anita Baker and Janet Jackson.
Reviews of Her Second Album
Her second album, "Whitney," was released in June 1987, but critics were not impressed. Naysayers critiqued the album for being too similar to her first one, believing that her talent needed a bigger outlet. Regardless, audiences received the album well, and it became a commercial success.
Whitney became the first woman to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart, as well as the first artist whose albums charted at number one in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Not to forget, she also topped the charts in several other countries.
The Awards Keep Coming
She was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1988, including Album of the Year. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" won Whitney her second Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She was also the recipient of a Soul Train Music Award and two American Music Awards in 1988 and 1989.
Following the album's release, the singer went on her Moment of Truth World Tour, which became one of the highest-grossing concert tours in 1987. It was also the highest-grossing tour by a female artist, surpassing concerts by Madonna and Tina Turner.
Whitney’s success was a watershed moment for black and other minority artists. The artist took this responsibility seriously and often walked the talk. She lent her full support to Nelson Mandela. Whitney went as far as refusing to work with modeling agencies with business ties to South Africa, which was rife with anti-Black sentiment during that time.
During the European leg of her tour in 1988, Whitney joined other musicians and performed a set for 72,000 people at London’s Wembley stadium to celebrate the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. The concert raised over $1 million for charities.
Dating Bobby Brown
Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown met in 1989, at the height of their respective careers. The two first met at the 1989 Soul Train Awards, with Whitney thinking they may have gotten off on the wrong foot. She reportedly hit him in the back of the head accidentally while hugging friends seated behind him. She apologized, to which Bobby said, "Yeah, well, just don't let it happen again."
Whitney was intrigued. She admitted later she was always curious when someone didn't like her. The star made amends by inviting him to her 26th birthday party. They started dating soon after.
The Grammy-award-winning singer established the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children in 1989, a non-profit organization dedicated to the needs of children the world over. Her charity aimed to raise funds and awareness for children in need, providing access to healthcare, nutrition, education, or any other pressing concerns identified in traditionally underserved communities.
The needs ranged from poverty and homelessness to children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. She also helped talented kids secure admissions to Juilliard.
You Can’t Please Everyone
Whitney’s status as an international superstar was undeniable after the success of her first two albums. But she still received flak from black critics, who called her a sellout. They felt she chose to go in a musical direction that catered to mainstream audiences instead of singing true soul and R&B. Some audience members at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards even jeered when her name was called out for a nomination.
In response to the criticism, Houston stated, "If you’re gonna have a long career, there is a certain way to do it." She had followed that path and was not embarrassed about it.
Her Third Studio Album
Her third studio album, "I'm Your Baby Tonight," released in November 1990, was more urban and rhythmic in its groove. She co-produced the album, which featured collaborations with big industry names such as Babyface, Luther Vandross, L.A. Reid, and Stevie Wonder.
Her incredible range and versatility came through in the new songs, filled with ballads and dance tracks. The reception was mixed. Some publications called it her best, most integrated album, while others thought the urban direction was too deliberate and came off as "superficial."
Whitney at the Super Bowl
In January 1991, Whitney received a coveted honor and rite of passage for artists: a chance to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Performing the "Star-Spangled Banner" that year was fraught with controversy. The United States entered the first Gulf War a few days before the sporting event. Many people wanted the event called off, believing the games did not reflect the seriousness of a country at war.
President George H.W. Bush insisted on continuing. Whitney had to get this one right. Her rendition needed to strike the right chord without being considered disrespectful to the troops.
Her Rendition of the National Anthem Makes History
Whitney chose to dress down for the occasion and let her vocals do the talking. Her rendition of the national anthem was so moving, radio stations all over the country played it even after the Super Bowl.
Arista Records released a single of the song, with all proceeds benefiting a charity for military troops chosen by Whitney. The singer shared how she was nervous going into it. Besides the tense political climate, the "Star Spangled Banner" was among the toughest songs to sing. But thinking about the brave men and women in the Middle East made it easier for her to hit those high notes.
She Continues Supporting U.S. Troops
VH1 named Whitney’s performance at the Super Bowl one of the greatest moments in television history. Later that year, Houston collaborated with HBO to put on her Welcome Home Heroes concert to support troops fighting in the Gulf War and their families.
The free concert was held in front of 3,500 men and women in service at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia. HBO decoded the concert so that everyone could watch it for free. The show gave HBO its highest-ever ratings.
After three years of dating, Whitney took the plunge and married Bobby Brown on July 18, 1992. 800 guests gathered to celebrate the couple in Whitney’s home. The guest list included famous names such as Patti LaBelle, Donald Trump, and Gladys Knight.
The lavish wedding included an 18-tier wedding cake, free-flowing Dom Perignon, and white doves released after the couple's vows. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon sailing around the Mediterranean on a 140-foot yacht. Bobby said that she was America's sweetheart and he was the stereotypical bad boy. "But it’s love," he remarked. Regardless, many thought the couple was a mismatch.
Whitney in "The Bodyguard"
Whitney’s sensational music career in the early ‘90s opened doors to another ground-breaking event: a career in film. She starred in "The Bodyguard," (1992) opposite Kevin Costner, which was a box-office success, grossing over $400 million worldwide.
The film received countless awards and accolades. During filming, Houston became good friends with her co-star. Despite her fame and success Whitney still wondered whether she was good or beautiful enough for a film career. However, according to news outlets, it was Kevin Costner who pushed for casting her in the lead role.
The Enormously Successful Soundtrack
"The Bodyguard" soundtrack was even more successful than the film. As co-executive producer, Whitney was the soul behind the brilliant soundtrack. She recorded six songs, including her cover of Dolly Parton’s "I Will Always Love You," still among the best-selling singles in history that went platinum 18 times.
It won her the Grammy for Album of the Year and Record of the Year in 1994. The RIAA later named the album the best-selling soundtrack album of the century.
Dolly Parton, on Whitney Houston Singing Her Song
Her rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" became synonymous with the film. Parton recalled hearing Whitney’s take on her song while driving and being moved to the point of stopping. "I could not believe how she did that," Parton said. "I mean, how lovely it was that my little song had turned into that, so that was a big deal."
Whitney went on to star in other hit films, but her personal issues soon began to overshadow her work.
Awards for the Soundtrack
"The Bodyguard" went on to become the most successful soundtrack album of all time. Her win for the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year made her the second black woman to win in the category since Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable... with Love." She won eight American Music Awards that year, setting a new record.
The singer also took home 11 Billboard Music Awards, the Award of Merit, and three Soul Train Music Awards in 1993–94. She followed that up with the Sammy Davis Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award, five World Music Awards, five NAACP Image Awards, and a BRIT award.
Negative Reactions to the Bodyguard
Despite the overall positive reviews for her role in "The Bodyguard, Whitney was nominated for a Worst Actress Razzie. Many critics pointed out that she and co-star Kevin Costner had no chemistry.
The Washington Post said Whitney had essentially appeared in the movie as herself but emerged "largely unscathed" in spite of it. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a huge box office success, grossing over $121 million in the United States and $410 million worldwide. It was one of the top 100-grossing movies in history at its release.
She Becomes a Mother
Whitney Houston and her husband, Bobby Brown, welcomed their first and only child together, a daughter named Bobbi Kristina, in March 1993. Bobbi Kristina had three half-siblings from her father’s previous relationship.
The couple was the picture of happiness, with a beaming Whitney sharing how nothing was more incredible than giving birth to her daughter. She told Rolling Stone that holding her in her arms was the "pinnacle," superior to anything she had experienced before — including performing in front of a million people.
Bobbi Kristina Brown
Little is known about Bobbi Kristina's childhood. Whitney kept her daughter close, far away from the intrusive eyes of the press. The singer would even bring Bobbi Kristina along on tour whenever she could.
Her parents were busy, and although life on the road was glamorous, it wasn’t easy with crazy touring schedules and long hours. Bobbi Kristina witnessed first-hand the darker side of show business and the toll it took on her parents. Both Whitney and Bobby began struggling with destructive habits around this time, and their daughter witnessed everything.
The Bodyguard World Tour
Following the album’s success, Whitney embarked on another extensive global tour (the Bodyguard World Tour) in 1993–94. She was named one of the top five "entertainers of the year" by Entertainment Weekly and was named one of the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood by Premiere Magazine.
According to Forbes, her concert, recording, and film earnings made her the third highest-earning female entertainer that year, after entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey and singer Barbra Streisand.
She Meets Nelson Mandela
In October 1994, she attended and performed at a White House state dinner in honor of newly-elected South African President Nelson Mandela. She also performed three benefit concerts in South Africa at the end of her world tour, performing in front of over 200,000 people.
Proceeds went to several charities in the country. Whitney was the first big name in music to visit apartheid-free South Africa following Nelson Mandela's election victory. Some parts of the concert were broadcast live on HBO and dubbed the biggest media event in the country since Nelson Mandela's inauguration.
On Why She Chose to Do “Waiting to Exhale”
In "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), Whitney portrayed the character of TV producer Savannah, who was in love with a married man. She was keen on doing the film since she considered it a watershed moment for the portrayal of black women on the silver screen as successful, thriving professionals and caring mothers, not prejudiced stereotypes.
"Waiting to Exhale" debuted at number one at the box office, grossing $67 million in the United States. The film's success paved the way for other all-black films such as "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and the Tyler Perry films.
Whitney Brings the Best Black Women Artists Together
Babyface wrote and produced the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack album. He had hoped for Whitney to record the entire album, but she wanted the album to feature other black artists with "vocal distinction."
As a result, the album included music from some of the best R&B artists, such as Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Brandy, Patti LaBelle, and Toni Braxton. Whitney's single "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" became the third single to ever debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 after "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone."
The Preacher's Wife
Whitney co-starred in "The Preacher's Wife" (1996) with Denzel Washington and appeared as the gospel-singing Courtney B. Vance, the pastor's wife. The film featured an all-African-American cast and enjoyed moderate success at the U.S. box office, grossing roughly $50 million.
The film was a remake of the 1980s movie "The Bishop's Wife." Houston received $10 million for the role, making her one of Hollywood's highest-paid actresses at the time, as well as the highest-paid African-American actress.
Reviews for "The Preacher’s Wife"
The film gave Whitney tremendous critical acclaim and some of the best reviews she had received so far. The San Francisco Chronicle called her performance "divine" and "angelic" with Whitney displaying a natural talent for being two things at once—outrageously flirtatious and devout.
The role seemed to come naturally to her. Reviewers especially lauded the spirit and warmth that came through in her gospel singing. Whitney received an NAACP Image Award nomination once again and won for Outstanding Actress in Motion Picture.
More Film Appearances
Whitney starred in a few more films after the phenomenal success of "The Bodyguard." The performer also co-produced and starred in a television adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 1997, playing the fairy godmother to Brandy's princess. Fans loved the new ABC special which was wildly successful and brought in over 60 million viewers.
The show became ABC's highest-rated program in 16 years and continues to be a fan favorite.
The Appeal of "Cinderella"
Houston co-produced "Cinderella" and starred as the Fairy Godmother alongside Whoopi Goldberg, Brandy, Bernadette Peters, and Jason Alexander. The special was particularly memorable for its multiracial cast and refreshing message.
It drew an estimated 60 million viewers, giving ABC its highest ratings in over 16 years. The film won Outstanding Art Direction in a Variety, Musical, or Comedy Special and was nominated for seven Emmys.
My Love Is Your Love
Whitney's first studio album in eight years, "My Love Is Your Love," was released in November 1998. She had devoted most of the early and mid-1990s to making motion pictures.
The album was a long time coming and a breath of fresh air. It was originally intended to be a greatest hits collection with a few new songs. Thankfully, for fans, the recording sessions were so rewarding that a new full-length studio album was born.
A New Sound
Big industry names like Rodney Jerkins, Wyclef Jean, and Missy Elliott produced "My Love Is Your Love." The team recorded and mixed it in six weeks. The critically acclaimed album debuted at number thirteen on the Billboard 200 chart, its highest position.
What set this release apart from previous ones was a more funky and edgy sound. Whitney’s fabulous vocals effortlessly juggled several genres: urban dance, reggae, hip hop, torch songs, mid-tempo R&B, and ballads. She received some of her best reviews ever for the album. The Village Voice called it "Whitney's sharpest and most satisfying so far."
Another World Tour
The same year, Houston embarked on her 70-city My Love Is Your Love World Tour. The European leg of the tour was a smashing success, becoming the highest-grossing arena tour of the year. Things were going well when events suddenly took a turn in the summer.
Whitney had to cancel a string of concert dates due to illness. Her rep explained that the singer was suffering from debilitating throat problems and a bronchitis situation.
It’s Raining Awards
Even as the singer took time off to recuperate, the good news was still in the offing. Whitney was named the top-selling R&B female artist of the century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in November 1999.
With certified sales of 51 million copies in the United States at the time, the RIAA also named "The Bodyguard" soundtrack the top-selling soundtrack album of the century.
Her Duet With Mariah Carey
There was something about Whitney and film projects — everything she touched turned to gold. In 1998, she collaborated with other legendary stars on several film projects.
Among them was a duet with vocal powerhouse Mariah Carey for the animated film "The Prince of Egypt." "When You Believe" received considerable acclaim, with critics calling the track "epic" and "stunning." Many considered the duet a powerful return for Whitney, who had remained relatively under the radar for a while.
Whitney: The Greatest Hits
"Whitney: The Greatest Hits" was released worldwide in May 2000. The album charted in the top ten in a number of other countries. It reached number five in the United States and number one in the United Kingdom. While her ballads remained unaltered, the album included house/club remixes of classic Whitney hits.
It also featured duets such as "Could I Have This Kiss Forever" with Enrique Iglesias and "If I Told You That" with George Michael. The album was certified 5x platinum in the United States, with 10 million copies sold worldwide.
She Battles Substance Abuse
Whitney always had a good girl reputation in the industry. Her public image was squeaky clean in the 1980s and 1990s, but by 2000, the world witnessed a different side to the singer. Whitney’s behavior became increasingly erratic. She would cancel talk-show appearances and concerts at the last minute.
When Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Whitney Houston was scheduled to perform at the event. She did not show up. On top of that, her noticeable weight loss led to speculation that Whitney and Bobby Brown had a substance abuse problem.
Whitney Is Arrested
On January 11, 2000, security at Hawaii's Big Island's Keahole-Kona International Airport discovered marijuana in Whitney’s handbag. Incredibly, the star and her husband, Bobby Brown, managed to evade arrest in Hawaii.
Thinking all was well, the couple boarded a plane for San Francisco, but police there had already been notified. Whitney was arrested and charged with possession and other misdemeanors. That same year, Whitney received the BET Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to African-American music. The award helped to mitigate some of the negative publicity surrounding her arrest, but it was ultimately insufficient.
She Gets Fired
Houston was scheduled to perform at the Academy Awards, but she was fired by musical director and old friend Burt Bacharach. At the time, her publicist stated that the cancellation was due to throat issues.
Whitney later confessed that she was fired. Author Steve Pond described the event in more detail in his book "The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards." He wrote that Whitney’s voice was shaky while she attempted to perform "Over the Rainbow" during rehearsals. Not only did she seem jittery, but the singer made things worse by being unnecessarily defiant and casual.
Her Addiction Causes Rifts With Close Friends
Robyn Crawford, Houston's executive assistant and old friend, resigned from Whitney's management company in May 2000. She claimed she left since the singer refused to acknowledge the seriousness of her substance dependency or seek help, making it impossible for Robyn to continue working with her.
In June 2000, Rolling Stone published a story claiming that Whitney's mother and others even held an intervention for her in 1999. They were unsuccessful.
She Lands a Major Record Deal
Houston signed one of the biggest record deals in music history with Arista/BMG in August 2001. She extended her contract to $100 million in order to release six new albums and earn royalties. Despite these massive professional gains, her personal demons were getting the best of her even then. When she appeared in Michael Jackson: The 30th Anniversary Special, her alarmingly thin frame fueled more rumors of substance use.
Her publicist explained the weight loss as a result of stress. In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Whitney admitted that her weight loss was due to substance use.
Lukewarm Reviews for Her Fifth Studio Album
She released her fifth studio album, "Just Whitney," in December 2002. The album featured productions from Missy Elliott, Babyface, and her husband, Bobby Brown. "Just Whitney" marked her first collaboration without Clive Davis, who had then been released by BMG management. The album received mixed reviews upon its initial release, although it debuted at number 9 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The album’s four singles performed well on the dance charts but failed to make a splash on the Billboard Hot 100. "Just Whitney" received platinum certification in the United States and has sold approximately two million copies worldwide.
A Troubled Marriage
Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s marriage came under intense media scrutiny. It was a marriage rife with personal demons and collective struggles, making them prime targets for the tabloids. Whitney checked into rehab multiple times during this period.
A perennially troubled Bobby went to prison on substance charges. In December 2003, things came to a head when Bobby roughed up his wife during a dispute. He was arrested. Whitney later called all of it a "misunderstanding."
Resentment and Infidelity
Bobby Brown admitted to being more than violent. He had also been unfaithful to Whitney, claiming that she had had multiple affairs as well. Brown believed their marriage was "doomed" from the start, but Whitney had a less apocalyptic but still telling take on things.
She believed her husband resented her fame after "The Bodyguard." The singer told Oprah that she tried to constantly downplay her success since her husband seemed to resent her for it. "I'm Mrs. Brown, don't call me Houston," she would tell people.
Whitney Checks Into Rehab
In March 2004, the press got wind that Whitney had entered a rehab facility to deal with a substance abuse problem. Everyone believed it might be for the long haul, but the singer decided to leave after only five days. Her representative insisted the star was fine. Everything was fine.
Whitney had only expressed a desire to continue the program as an outpatient. For the next 30 days, she went everywhere with a designated chaperone.
The Nightmare That Was "Being Bobby Brown"
Who can forget the disturbing reality show "Being Bobby Brown" in 2005? Bobby, Whitney, their daughter Bobbi Kristina, her half-siblings, and other family members are featured in the eleven-episode show. But the show’s focus was on the married couple, painfully following Bobby's brash, egotistical ways, and Whitney’s short fuse. The show painted a terrifyingly accurate picture of how things were going with Whitney in particular.
Bobby allegedly pressured Whitney to appear on the show, which was mercifully canceled when she refused to do season 2.
Whitney and Bobby Go Their Separate Ways
In 2006, Whitney filed for divorce from Bobby after 14 tumultuous years of marriage and one year after the disaster unfolded on "Being Bobby Brown." It was a long time coming, but many believe the show stripped away the last shreds of Whitney’s dignity.
The singer received full physical and legal custody of their daughter, and six months later, the divorce was finalized in Orange County, California. Bobby was not going down without a fight and continued to fight for custody in court.
The Tell-All on Oprah
In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Whitney shared that she had completed a 30-day rehab program. She admitted that her addiction issues continued even after rehab. The singer was at a breaking point— so much so that at one point, her mother got a court order and help from law enforcement to force her into receiving additional treatment.
She also told Oprah that her substance use was light prior to "The Bodyguard." Her dependency increased after the film's success and the birth of her daughter.
Cracks in the Armour
Whitney’s substance abuse issues were already impacting her career by the time she divorced Bobby Brown. People began to pay attention, not only because of her highly-publicized divorce but also for what the struggles were doing to her voice. Her voice began sounding frayed.
Several publications noted that she sounded "scratchier" and "less secure" during performances. Whitney admitted to past substance use in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. She claimed she and Bobby Brown did everything together.
Back in Top Form With "I Look to You"
Houston's next album, "I Look to You," was released in August 2009, with the title track and "Million Dollar Bill" as the album's first two singles. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with excellent first-week sales of 305,000 copies.
It was her first number-one album since "The Bodyguard" and her first studio album to achieve the feat since "Whitney" in 1987. Houston also promoted the album on several European television shows.
Her Comeback Tour Is Anything But
In 2010, she released her seventh studio album and embarked on her "Nothing But Love Tour" in an attempt to make a comeback. The singer was in the throes of a downward spiral by then, canceling several shows while on tour.
Inside sources said she leaned heavily on her daughter Bobbi Kristina during this period. Her daughter never gave up on her, but it was too much for a young girl to take on. Whitney relied on her daughter much more than her daughter had ever depended on her. The following year, Whitney voluntarily checked into an outpatient rehab program.
She Shocks and Disappoints Her Fans
The singer’s "Nothing But Love World Tour," was her first in over ten years and was meant to signal her triumphant return. Instead, the tour was plagued with terrible reviews and rescheduled concerts, drawing bad publicity across the board.
Whitney canceled some concerts due to illness, and she received widespread criticism from fans who were dissatisfied with her voice quality and performance. Some fans even walked out of her concerts in disbelief.
Whitney’s Diva Behavior
Whitney Houston nearly got kicked off a Delta flight after allegedly snapping at a flight attendant. According to multiple news outlets, the singer became enraged when a Delta flight attendant asked her to buckle her seatbelt.
Her diva behavior continued until another crew member warned Whitney that she would have to get off the plane. She eventually allowed one of the flight attendants to grab the buckle and fasten it for her. What caused the erratic behavior? Whitney’s rep blamed it on exhaustion.
Her Achievements Recognized
Whitney was nominated for two NAACP Image Awards in January 2010 — best female artist and best music video. She won the Best Music Video award for her single, "I Look to You." On January 16, she won the BET Honors Award for her tremendous accomplishments in the music industry and a career spanning 25 years.
She also performed "I Look to You" with gospel-jazz singer Kim Burrell at the 2011 BET Celebration of Gospel at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Whitney Works With Jordin Sparks
Despite multiple stints in rehab and bad behavior, Whitney appeared to be on the road to recovery in 2011. The singer-actor began working on her first film in over ten years, "Sparkle," starring "American Idol" star Jordin Sparks.
The film was a remake of the 1970s singing-group drama. Whitney performed and recorded with Jordin, with production wrapping in November 2011. "Sparkle" would be Whitney’s final music and film release.
The Making of "Sparkle"
Her remake of "Sparkle" was released by TriStar Pictures and filmed over two months in 2011. Whitney's song with Jordin Sparks, "Celebrate" premiered on RyanSeacrest.com on May 21, 2012, and became available for digital download on iTunes the following month.
"Celebrate" was the last song she recorded with Jordin and was included as the soundtrack’s first official single. The film was released in the United States on August 17, 2012.
Whitney Begins to Unravel
Whitney began looking more disheveled as the days went by, and her behavior became increasingly unpredictable. On February 9, 2012, she visited Clive Davis and singers Monica and Brandy Norwood at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Rehearsals for Clive Davis's pre-Grammy Awards party were in full swing.
That same day, Whitney gave what would be her last public performance in Hollywood, singing "Jesus Loves Me" with Kelly Price.
The Death of a Legend
Whitney Houston died tragically in 2012. The pop icon was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, where she was attending the Grammy Awards. Whitney was discovered face-down in her hotel bathtub just before she was scheduled to perform at Clive Davis's pre-Grammy Awards party. Her death was declared an accidental drowning.
The tragedy was exacerbated by acute heart disease and prolonged substance use. She was only 48 years old.
Clive Davis Pays Tribute to Whitney
Although she wasn’t scheduled to perform, Whitney would have been in attendance at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party on February 11, 2012, featuring some of the biggest stars in film and music. After the news of her death broke, the gathering turned into a Whitney Houston tribute.
A devastated Clive Davis addressed her death at the start of the evening and how she had meant so much to him for so long. Some artists, however, felt it was in bad taste to have the party and it should have been canceled out of respect for Whitney.
Fan and Industry Reactions
Fans grieved the untimely death of an incredible talent. Just one day after her death, Whitney’s catalog sold nearly one million copies. Her legacy lives on to this day. She was a trailblazer who paved the way for female artists by becoming the first female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard chart with her 1987 album, "Whitney." She was the first woman to receive two diamond awards.
For generations to come, every singer at the Super Bowl will face comparisons to Whitney, the singer who set an insanely high bar with her rendition of the national anthem.
News of Her Death Receives Dedicated Coverage
CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all interrupted their regular programming moments after Houston's death, devoting time to nonstop coverage of her death and the events leading up to it.
The channels featured live interviews with her peers and other people who knew her. On Sunday, February 12, MTV and VH1 interrupted their regular programming to air several Whitney Houston classics. MTV also featured news segments in between, with reactions from devastated fans and celebrities.
Whitney's Memorial Is Attended by Loved Ones and Industry Peers
On February 18, 2012, Whitney's memorial service was held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, by invitation only. The service was supposed to last two hours, but it went on for four — such was the outpouring of grief. Several great artists paid tribute to Whitney and performed during the funeral.
Stevie Wonder sang rewritten versions of "Ribbon in the Sky" and "Love's in Need of Love Today." CeCe Winans gave a powerful rendition of "Don't Cry" and "Jesus Loves Me," while Alicia Keys performed "Send Me an Angel."
Whitney Houston: The Legacy
Whitney Houston is considered a cultural icon bar none and among the greatest vocalists in music history. She was a trailblazer who put R&B on the map and became the genre's most influential performer. Her achievements redefined the landscape for black female artists in the mainstream music industry.
Whitney made music by black artists popular and aspirational at a time when discrimination plagued radio stations and television. Anita Baker said she would not have dreamed big if black female artists like Whitney and Sade had not paved the way.