Whitney Houston’s legacy? It’s a nightmare. On Monday afternoon, ex husband Bobby Brown was arrested in Reseda, outside of L.A. for DUI and talking on his cell phone. TMZ says he was “drunk.” He’s the remaining responsible parent for a 19 year old young woman who’s just lost her mother to “chronic” cocaine abuse (causing a heart attack and drowning). The girl, Bobbi Kristina, is living in her mother’s Atlanta condo with a 22 year old man who apparently has his own problems. Nick Gordon and Bobbi Kristina, raised together for the last ten years, are seemingly having some kind of relationship now. Whitney’s sister in law is now her executor (hence brother Gary’s quote that he didn’t care if he was left of out of the will–Pat gets a nice fee anyway).
There’s no word from Cissy Houston, who was conspicuously absent from the Oprah interview, for which Winfrey’s OWN network paid — at least licensing photos and video, as it now known. Someone sold a picture of Whitney, dead, in her coffin, to the National Enquirer. Pat Houston doesn’t care who it is. Is this because she knows who it is? I’ve said in this space on Forbes.com I believe it’s Raffles van Exel, who sticks to Pat Houston with Velcro. Whitney’s estate is a mess, with only a chance of improving now that she’s dead and her albums are selling like crazy every week. No word from cousin Dionne Warwick, who’s in L.A., grieving, but one her own. She lost a sister, the lovely and talented Dee Dee Warwick, to drugs and alcohol. What mess. Such talented people. Such a horror.
It’s not over. Someone sold those pictures to TMZ and the Enquirer. There’s a lot of cover up here. And Bobby Brown could have stepped up to the plate and acted like a father. But that ship sailed today.
Boy, I think of Whitney a year ago January, coming to rehearsal for Clive Davis’s party, stoned out of her gourd. And then the show, the next night, performing with Dionne, so wrecked that she started talking on stage to Clive in the middle of the performance. Or the year before she recorded her final album, when she pulled up a chair at Alicia Keys’s table, and literally begged her for a song (they were not friends, and barely knew each other before Alicia gave her “Million Dollar Bill”). Or the time we waited for Whitney at Lincoln Center to tape an outdoor performanceu for Diane Sawyer and ABC–and waited and waited in the freezing cold for hours.
This is what I wrote, December 9, 2002:
WHITNEY’S WACKY OUTDOOR SHOW: HI, HIGH, AIYY!
Whitney Houston’s outdoor performance yesterday afternoon in the plaza at Lincoln Center was as wacky as anything the troubled singer has come up with yet.
She arrived nearly one hour late, and the show—which Good Morning America taped for broadcast tomorrow—started much later than scheduled.
About 1500 people (this an amateur estimate) filled the plaza, hoping to get a look at Whitney after her calamitous interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC last week. Houston did not disappoint.
The show was supposed to refute the stories that Houston is a complete drug addict, and help promote her new album, “Just Whitney,” which will be released tomorrow in this country. In England, where it came out on November 25, the album finished at a terrifyingly low number 76 in its first week.
I don’t know how “Good Morning America” will edit the performance, but this is what we saw. Houston sang three numbers—“One of those Days” and “Tell Me No,” from her new album, and the Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Her voice was impeccable for having to sing in a bitter cold wind. You had to give her credit for trying. She even said, “You know I never sing in cold air.”
On the other hand, when she emerged at last on stage, wearing sunglasses in cloudy skies, a tan suede jacket that was open to reveal a white wool turtleneck and jeans, it was clear that Whitney was high as a kite. She has managed to turn herself into the Jeff Spicoli of soul singers. A woman standing next to me in the VIP section who had fervently defended Houston up to that point, said twice, “She’s high. She’s stoned.”
The amazing thing is, she still sings. In fact, maybe it helps. She was very loose on stage, perhaps too loose. Right before she started “One of those Days,” she said, “I’m shitting my knickahs.” I’m sure ABC will edit that out. Before “Tell Me No,” she made several pleas to the audience to buy the new album. But it was the last song that was strangest, and best.
Houston did not know the words to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” so she read them off a piece of paper that was taped to the stage beneath her feet. Unfortunately, this meant that her head was pointed down quite a lot. A minute or so in, backed by a high school choir, she got lost in the song, and started yelling, “Stop! Stop!” to the choir and the band. She started to slip and almost fell off the stage. “”What if I fell?” she asked rhetorically. “That would be more money for you,” she said to someone in the wings. When “Do You Hear?” started again, Houston nailed it, however.
An announced fourth song, which was supposed to be an older hit, did not materialize. Instead, Sawyer came on stage, and the two of them discussed last Wednesday’s interview. Whitney called Sawyer “my new friend,” seemingly clueless about the damage that was done to her in the interview. Proclaiming at that point that Jesus loved her, Houston launched into an impromptu gospel song that was extremely heartfelt and moving. She said, “Let’s do it the way they do it in the dirty south!” She stopped as suddenly as she started it, though, thanked the audience and got off the stage. That was it.
I asked some of the high school choir kids later why Houston had stopped the Christmas song. “I don’t know,” was the answer, “we were doing fine.”
The thing that’s amazing about Whitney is that she’s a quick study. If you lay out a basic idea and melody, she can turn even a small bit into a whole song. She’s good at what I call show biz faking—she can take one word, repeat it over and over into a crescendo, using her church background as a foundation. That alone is worth the price of admission.
But she seems to have no idea otherwise about what people are saying or thinking about her. Being an hour late, performing stoned, none of that occurs to her might be a problem. On stage, Sawyer asked her what she’s doing next. “Taking a vacation,” Houston said. You had to laugh. Or cry.