Robyn Crawford, author of a memoir about her life with Whitney Houston, has been on Dateline, the Today show, and in People magazine doing press aimed for publication this week. “A Song for You” is the only accurate account of Whitney’s life so far, it’s as true as it could be, from Crawford’s perspective. She’s not doing it for the money. But with Whitney and Bobbi Kristina tragically dead, and Cissy Houston too frail to know what’s going on, Robyn is all we have.
“A Song for You” covers just Robyn’s experiences. It doesn’t go beyond that. Robyn met Whitney when she was 19 and Houston was 17. They had a real love affair that went on for two or three years until 1982, when Robyn says the physical part ended. But the love never stopped. They were still living together when I went to see them in early summer 1990 at Whitney’s gigantic modern house in Mendham, New Jersey. How do we know? Robyn writes about it on page 179-80. It is not a happy recollection for Robyn, although the good news is we remained friendly, and Whitney and I pretty good relationship through good times and bad.
But the gay thing was always a problem for Whitney. Robyn acknowledges this in the book. Tabloids were all over them all the time. If all this happened today, no one would care. But now is a different world. In the 80s, unless you were Elton John, you couldn’t have a career. Or so it was thought. Whitney didn’t date other women after Robyn. She had relationships with men. When I interviewed her that day in 1990, Eddie Murphy, Jermaine Jackson, and Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham were all in the picture. We discussed them as we walked around Whitney’s Olympic sized pool that had script W painted in black on the bottom.
At the end of the day, as I was walking out, I asked Whitney if she played any instruments. She said, No, but she was thinking of taking up the drums. “If they thought I was gay before, what will they say now?” She laughed uproariously. I can see her so clearly. She was almost 27, and so young and fresh faced. She looked like Bambi with her pert ears pointing out over a short haircut. She had a beautiful smile.
Robyn was there. (So was Whitney’s whole family.) She’d come in from playing basketball, still dribbling in the house. She wore a basketball uniform, had a close cropped haircut. I remember shaking hands with her. It was a vivid picture. Cissy Houston was not happy to see her. And I didn’t completely know what was going on. I was also very thrilled to meet Cissy, an R&B legend who’d sung background and backup for Aretha Franklin.
The quote made it into the piece, more for fun than anything else. Our publisher, Steven Greenberg, insisted the cover line for the story in Fame magazine be “The Secret Life of Whitney Houston.” It was the first time Whitney had been on the cover of a mainstream magazine. It was very rare then for blacks to get that honor. Really. I and the other staff begged for that not to be the cover line. But Greenberg, who was eccentric and difficult, insisted.
In October, when the magazine arrived, Whitney’s team was furious. Arista Records pulled their ads from Fame for about six months. The article was otherwise very favorable, and there was no mention of drugs that I can recall. All of that hadn’t happened yet.
Robyn recalls in her book that she and Whitney were doing coke around the clock long before they met Bobby Brown. They could have been high when I was with them. It took two decades to uncover that Whitney’s brothers turned her on first, and that she took to it like a fish in water. She couldn’t stop. Crawford is nothing if not honest about the progression of drugs in Whitney’s life like a forest fire that could not be put out. Sometimes it seemed under control, but then it roared back to life.
Robyn’s book had to have been difficult for her to write. For one thing, she had to wait until Cissy was out of the picture. Cissy didn’t like her at all. But Cissy didn’t like anyone. She was horrible to Whitney, was very jealous of her overnight success after Cissy had worked so hard, thanklessly, for decades. Robyn stays out of a lot of Houston family politics. She mentions Pat Houston’s name once, in passing. She doesn’t get into how Pat, second of wife brother Gary, a big druggie, took over managing Whitney after her dad, John Houston, passed. It wasn’t pretty.
There might be one other person out there who could write a book about Whitney. I won’t mention his name because he’s managed to stay low profile. Otherwise, it’s all Robyn. She was there (so was I) backstage at the 2000 Grammys when Whitney and Bobby had a knock down, drag out fight. I can’t remember if she was there later at Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset when Bobby stood on a table stop and announced to me that “L.A. Reid is giving me a $100 million contract.” Whitney was horrified. It was she who’d gotten the $100 million contract.
There’s plenty more: ironically, a failed recording with George Michael, who is also dead now thanks to drugs. A re-enactment of Burt Bachrach firing her from the Oscars. Endless stories of Bobby hitting Whitney, very Ike Turner, throwing things at her, etc, and her accepting it. Also failed attempts at rehab or sessions with doctors. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Even I once had the number for Whitney’s drug counselor in California in my Blackberry. Almost everyone who knew her was concerned about her. Robyn was at the top of the list.
Crawford lets Bobby Brown off the hook for the drug addiction. It started way before they met him. But Bobby is culpable for violence, for neglect of his children, for so many things. And it just seemed like Whitney leaned into it. Once she was divorced and away from Bobby, and from Robyn, her life continued spiraling down a self-destructive. But Robyn doesn’t go there. After more than 20 years she went her own way, to a life with a partner (Lisa Hintelmann, a great person) and two adopted children. It was a wise decision.
So read the book. I’ll have a little more on this to come. This may not be the final word for anyone, but it’s the best possible way to frame the rollercoaster short life of Whitney.