Whitney Houston's Death Left Her Family Broke Enough to Turn to Reality TV, Tell-All Books

Illustration for article titled Whitney Houstons Death Left Her Family Broke Enough to Turn to Reality TV, Tell-All Books

While the untimely death of Whitney Houston was tragic, it was also problematic because she wasn't just a person, she was a business. Those who were in her employ and family members she financially supported in life are now looking to cash in on her death. But considering the mess of an estate she left behind—she was reportedly near-broke, leaving behind heavily-mortgaged homes, limited liquid assets, and no publishing catalog from which to earn money posthumously—it's no wonder her daughter Bobbi Kristina, mother Cissy, and sister-in-law Pat are scrambling to make a buck.


This week, HarperCollins announced that Cissy Houston would be penning a tell-all book about her daughter's life to set the record straight. However, a source tells the Daily Beast that "she truly struggled with the idea of writing a book about her only daughter so soon after her death. But financial needs…eventually forced her to seek out publishers." Last month, Cissy, Pat, and Bobbi Kristina have all signed on for a 10-episode reality show to air on Lifetime about dealing with the aftermath of the singer's death. Additionally, the family struck a deal to monetize footage of Whitney's funeral service for licensing. These seem like pretty desperate measures for people who insist that Whitney did not die broke.

Despite signing the biggest recording contracts in history back in 2001 with Arista for $100 million, Whitney Houston had run into money problems as early as 2006 when her homes in Georgia and New Jersey were facing foreclosure due to non-payment of property taxes and mortgage. (When news of the foreclosures hit the media, someone quickly and quietly got her current on payments.) And then, just three weeks before her death in a hotel bathroom, there were reports that Houston was so broke that she had called people asking for $100. According to many insiders, her mentor Clive Davis had been bankrolling her day-to-day expenses in addition to advances from her record company.

So where did all her money go? Well, even Whitney didn't know. Or perhaps she was in denial. In her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, when confronted with a report that she had spent $730,000 on drugs in the past year she responded, "730? I wish! I wanna see the receipts."


Some pop stars, like Michael Jackson, are said to be worth more dead than alive. Jackson, who had been known to be a lavish spender, faced financial troubles in his later years. However, his death sparked a renewed interest in his music, spiking record sales. Because Jackson had written his own songs, his estate prospered and will continue to earn money regularly. Whitney, however, had no songwriting credits, so the only people who stand to profit from her music are her record label and Dolly Parton, who wrote Whitney's biggest hit "I Will Always Love You." And her share of royalties from record sales will be used to recoup the advances off of which she'd reportedly been living.

To complicate matters, Whitney wasn't prudent in planning for the aftermath of her death. While she did have a will—naming Bobbi Kristina as her sole beneficiary—she would've been better off establishing a living trust, as most public figures and people with a considerable amount of assets tend to do. A will has to go through probate court, making its details public, and it can be time-consuming and expensive. So even if there is money waiting for Bobbi Kristina, she won't have immediate access to it, and when she finally does, it will be held in a testamentary trust, meaning she will inherit 10% at 21, another one-sixth at 25, and the rest at 30. With three years to go before she can even have a piece of the cash, the 18-year-old needed to get a job.

Perhaps the saddest thing about The Houston Family Chronicles—premiering on Lifetime later this year—is that Bobbi Kristina is learning how to professionally be Whitney Houston's daughter. That's a depressing career path. Of course, she could always surprise us all and emerge from her mother's shadow as a performer in her own right, as Liza Minnelli had done after her mother Judy Garland tragically passed away at a young age. But evidence suggests that might not be the case. For now, she's in a relationship with a boy who had previously been described as her "adopted brother," and worrying family members with addiction issues of her own.

Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston, More of Whitney's Family Cash In [Daily Beast]
Too Soon? Whitney Houston's Family To Star In Docu-Reality Series For Lifetime [Deadline]

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On a generally related note...as much as I always find it sad when people who have great access to wealth potential end up losing a lot of their money, it's very much a reality.

I don't think people realize how much money can be easily spent in a short period of time. (See any number of lump sum lottery winners who file for bankruptcy within a few years of attaining wealth for examples of this.)

Money can slip away through excess spending no matter what your budget is. Also, the more money you have, the easier it is to be ripped off by people you pay to handle your money.

Bottom line: Wealth is subjective and relative. It's a question of living beyond means, and it can happen to anyone when it's a matter of spending more than is coming in.