The music world was left stunned in 2012 when multiple Grammy winner Whitney Houston drowned in a bathtub in her Beverly Hills hotel room. And a documentary released six years later added further heart-breaking details to Houston’s already tragic story. Here’s a look at the allegations about the singer’s childhood that shocked both her fans and her family.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1963, Whitney Houston grew up in a musical family. Her mother was the renowned gospel vocalist Cissy Houston, while her cousins included recording artists Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick. She also counted Aretha Franklin as an honorary aunt and Darlene Love as a godmother.
Houston first started following in her family’s musical footsteps by performing in church at a young age. After then serving as a professional backing vocalist, she was spotted by record company mogul Clive Davis, who promptly signed her to his Arista Records label. Houston became an instant success, reaching the top of the Billboard 200 with her eponymous debut album.
Houston’s 1987 follow-up, simply titled Whitney, repeated the feat, again selling millions of copies in the process. She enjoyed a record-breaking run of seven U.S. chart-topping hits in a row, starting with 1985’s “Saving All My Love for You” and ending in 1988 with “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” Houston’s MTV-friendly videos were also credited with paving the way for a host of African-American female singers.
In 1992 Houston made a hugely successful transition to the film world in The Bodyguard. Not only was the thriller a box office hit, but its accompanying soundtrack also won both Album and Record of the Year at the Grammys. And it spawned what many consider to be her signature song, the epic power ballad “I Will Always Love You.”
Houston went on to enjoy further movie success in The Preacher’s Wife and Waiting to Exhale. The latter also spawned her final U.S. chart-topping single, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” while the former’s soundtrack sold more than any other gospel album ever had done. She then released her most critically acclaimed effort to date in 1998 with My Love Is Your Love.
Sadly, though, Houston subsequently started to become more renowned for her troubling private life than her considerable talents. Reports of drug abuse began circulating after she and husband Bobby Brown were caught in possession of marijuana at an airport in Hawaii. That same year, Burt Bacharach, who’d been a friend of the star for years, was forced to drop Houston from an Academy Awards performance due to her erratic behavior.
A visibly frail Houston’s appearance at a Michael Jackson anniversary show did little to dispel the drug allegations. But a famous interview in 2002 with Diane Sawyer saw the star refute claims that she was taking much stronger substances with the line: “Crack is wack.” A year later, however, husband Bobby Brown faced battery charges after reportedly physically assaulting Houston.
Houston then appeared alongside her husband in Being Bobby Brown, a 2005 reality television show described by The Hollywood Reporter as “disgusting and execrable.” Two years later, the couple divorced, with Houston being given sole custody of their daughter Bobbi Kristina. In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, the star confessed to having taken drugs in the past, including marijuana that had been mixed with rock cocaine by Brown.
Houston managed to put the focus back on to her music in 2009 with I Look To You, her first U.S. chart-topping solo album in over 20 years. However, the singer struggled with the pressures of its accompanying tour and was forced to cancel several dates due to illness. Some concerts also apparently saw fans leave mid-show due to the deteriorating quality of Houston’s singing.
Sadly, less than a year later, Houston was dead. On the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards the singer’s lifeless body was discovered in a bathtub at her hotel room in Beverly Hills. A coroner’s report stated that the star’s death had been accidental but that both cocaine abuse and heart problems had played a part in the tragedy.
Interest in Whitney Houston remained high after her death. In 2017 acclaimed documentarian Nick Broomfield made a film about Houston’s late 1990s period titled Whitney: Can I Be Me. And a year later, another celebrated filmmaker – Kevin Macdonald – debuted Whitney at the Cannes Film Festival.
This particular documentary was the first to be officially sanctioned by Houston’s family. It also contained candid appearances from many of the star’s nearest and dearest. And two in particular – her half-brother Gary Garland-Houston and her assistant Mary Jones – both made an allegation that would add yet more tragedy to the Whitney Houston story.
Garland-Houston claimed that both he and Houston were sexually abused as youngsters by their cousin, Dee Dee Warwick. The ex-NBA star told cameras that the abuse occurred when he was aged between seven and nine. Houston was five years younger than him. Jones then backed up these claims, stating that the singer had discussed being molested by a woman during her early childhood.
The Dee Dee Warwick story is also tragic in itself. Despite her significant talents as a gospel singer, she played second fiddle to her older sister Dionne for her entire career. And following a lengthy battle with narcotics addiction, she passed away at the age of just 63 in 2008.
Following the allegations, Dee Dee’s honor was defended by two of her closest loved ones. Both her aunt Cissy and sister Dionne described their disbelief at the claims in an official statement shortly after the film’s premiere. It read: “We cannot overstate the shock and horror we feel and the difficulty we have believing that my niece Dee Dee Warwick molested two of my three children.”
“Dee Dee may have had her personal challenges, but the idea that she would have molested my children is overwhelming and, for us, unfathomable,” the statement continued. “We cannot reconcile the public’s need to know about Whitney’s life as justification for invasion of her privacy. Or the charge against Dee Dee, a charge which neither Whitney nor Dee Dee is here to deny, refute or affirm.”
Cissy also claimed that despite Whitney receiving the Houston family’s blessing, she only learned of the allegations two days before its premiere. She was apparently informed by the wife of accuser Gary Garland-Houston, Patricia. “It was deeply a revelation for her,” Patricia told the Associated Press. ”You think about her… and her kids not telling her. That’s pretty tough to have to deal with.”
Filmmaker Macdonald also spoke out about the abuse claims. “I don’t think you can explain anyone’s life from one particular event that’s happened to them,” Macdonald said. “But I think that it’s certainly fair to say that it’s maybe, in my opinion, the major contributor to Whitney’s unhappiness.”
“That and the fact that she never talked about it,” Macdonald continued. “And that nobody in the family talked about this and clearly it happened as you’d learned in the film.” Whitney received strong reviews on its 2018 release, also grossing a total of $4.3 million at the box office.