Whitney Houston died last night in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hilton. She was 48, had sold over 170 million records and won six Grammys. In addition to leaving behind a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and a shitty ex-husband, Whitney also leaves behind her voice — a 26-year career captured on camera, a legend on record.
At age 19, Whitney made her national television debut on the Merv Griffen show, singing "Home" from The Wiz.
When this song — from her eponymous debut album — hit number one, Whitney was just 22. It won her her first Grammy, for best female pop vocalist. This also kicked off the start of seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard singles, a run that has yet to be matched by any other artist.
Another No. 1 hit. Whitney, as she appears in this video and, later, that of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," is how I will always remember her, playing from my mom's stereo cassette player or dancing, gorgeous and bubbly and fun, on MTV every day. Those sleeves. That headband.
The third and final No. 1 from her debut. No matter they take from me, they can't take away my dignity.
A classic pop song since marred by thousands of well-meaning karaoke tributes, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" was the first No. 1 single off of her second album, "Whitney." That album, by the way, was the first ever album by a woman to debut on Billboard at the top spot. Respect.
Another No. 1 from "Whitney."
And another No. 1 from "Whitney."
Whitney's third album, also called "I'm Your Baby Tonight," marked her transition from a perky and pop to a more classic R&B sound.
Houston is the only person who could take this song and turn it into a Billboard-hit single. It was re-released after September 11 and peaked even higher on the charts, this time at No. 6.
And here it begins: The Bodyguard and its attendant soundtrack. It was the first of Whitney's major film roles, the album that spawned a million singles and videos (okay, four — all of which served as excellent trailers for the movie itself), and the first CD I ever owned. I was one of 17 million who bought that album; it won the Grammy for album of the year and this here song, a cover of Dolly Parton's original, won for record of the year. This was during a time before satellite radio, a time when MTV and Vh1 really did air endless loops of music videos; the Bodyguard soundtrack was inescapable. It was like Drakkar Noir for girls.
Meanwhile, it was in July of this year that Whitney married late-80s flash-in-the-pan Bobby Brown. Together, they made their descent into drug use; by her own account, it started either before or after the movie's filming.
Another top single from The Bodyguard soundtrack — the others were "I Have Nothing" and "Run to You," but those never quite hit anthem status in the same way that "I Will Always Love You" and "I'm Every Woman" would.
"Exhale" was the no. 1 single from the soundtrack for Waiting to Exhale (in which Whitney co-starred). About the lives and relationships of four black women, the film opened at no. 1 at the North American box office. Ahem.
Later, Whitney would say that by 1996 she was doing drugs every day.
From "My Love Is Your Love," Houston's first studio album in eight years. At this point, she was knee-deep in drug use and a fucked-up, emotionally abusive marriage. Her public persona became more defiant and cross. In 2000, she was busted trying to get weed through an airport (she and Bobby hopped on the plane before the cops arrived). She missed performances. She appeared in public looking extremely thin; eating disorder and drug abuse rumors ran rampant. In 2001, she was scheduled to sing at the Academy Awards but was fired after showing up to rehearsals "jittery" and "distant," and unable to sing the same song from start to finish. There would be multiple "comeback" attempts from here on out, but nothing really stuck.
At the time, the highest-rated television interview ever. This clip, in which Sawyer confronted Houston with a picture of her looking rather thin, became infamous for the clarification Whitney issued on the matter of her drug use: "Crack is cheap. I make too money to ever smoke crack. Crack is whack." Her raspy voice is hard to ignore.
Whitney was, obviously, the breadwinner in the marriage, and years later she would admit that this created a lot of jealousy. Alleviating some of that tension is the only imaginable reason (aside from being, you know, high) that Whitney would agree to appear on a Bravo reality show called Being Bobby Brown. But no one ever really cared about Bobby Brown; it was Whitney who people really wanted to see, and she delivered (thanks to her, "hell to the no" entered the modern lexicon).
It's not certain the two were on anything during filming but, well, c'mon.
A two-day affair that dove into Whitney's complicated life and career — and served to promote her latest comeback album, "I Look to You" — that was most memorable for Whitney, who was at that point sober and quite reflective, trying to explain how to smoke weed and coke to Oprah (who didn't seem to totally get it).
Whitney's 2010 European tour didn't go very well; she cancelled the first shows because of a respiratory infection, and when she finally did hit the stage, fans were disappointed. The above footage is from her first show of that tour, in Birmingham, England. The voice is still there, but she can't control it — not even when she readies herself for 54 seconds before trying to belt out the signature chorus of "I Will Always Love You." Paying members of the audience were angry and/or disappointed; the rest of the world was just sad.
In her fourth and ultimately final feature film role, Houston co-stars in a remake of the 1976 film by the same name, about three sisters forming a girl group in 1950s Harlem (Houston plays their mother). Houston and her co-producer Debra Martin Chase secured the rights to the story in the 1990s, and Aaliyah was meant to star. Years later, the project was revived and finished filming in November; here, Whitney talks about losing Aaliyah. The film is slated for release in August 2012.