Arguably among the greatest performing artists of her generation, Whitney Houston was a bona fide music legend. She enjoyed soaring success in the business and left behind an incredible legacy of material. But away from all that, she battled with some serious demons in her personal life before her tragic passing in 2012. Here, we take a closer look at Houston’s extraordinary life and career through a collection of rarely seen photographs.
1. High-school years
Born in August 1963 Houston spent her formative years alongside her parents John Russell Jr. and Emily “Cissy” Houston in New Jersey. Looking at this early snap, she seemed just like any other youngster making her way through high school.
But that wasn’t the case. While her mom made it clear that she should be focusing solely on her studies, the future star already had a lot of other ambitions running through her mind.
2. Making it as a model
Yes, Houston had caught the attention of the modeling world following a chance encounter with an agent when she was a teen. And in 1981 she went on to adorn the cover of Seventeen Magazine.
Very few girls of color had managed to do that prior to Houston. Plus, she also popped up in the likes of Glamour and Cosmopolitan during that spell, too. This photo was snapped at a fashion event in 1982.
3. Drawn to music
Yet while it seemed as though Houston would have had a promising future as a model, she had a firm interest in music as well. And that shouldn’t have been too surprising.
After all, her mom was a Grammy-winning gospel artist who’d worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. In addition to that, Houston’s godmother was Darlene Love and Aretha Franklin became her “honorary aunt.”
4. A God-given talent
By the time she turned five, Houston was already showcasing her voice, as she joined her mom on stage at New Hope Baptist Church. Then, as an 11-year-old, she began belting out solos, much to the delight of the churchgoers.
Reflecting on that time later on, Houston had this to say in a chat with Diane Sawyer. She noted, “I think I knew then that [my singing ability] was an infectious thing that God had given me.”
5. Taking to the stage
After getting a taste for it, Houston eventually followed her mom around New York’s cabaret circuit as a 14-year-old, serving as one of her backup vocalists. That coincided with the modeling, so she had plenty on her plate!
Houston continued to sing as well though, with this snap coming in 1984. But just 12 months prior to this moment, her journey to superstardom had really kicked into gear.
6. The deal that changed everything
Yep, in 1983 Houston’s voice caught the attention of Clive Davis, a famed producer in the music industry. He went on to sign her that spring, and she quickly felt the benefits of their partnership.
For instance, Houston was handed a spot on The Merv Griffin Show later that year to showcase her vocal talents. This was a seminal moment: it marked her very first on-screen appearance.
7. The debut album
Following her recruitment, the next couple of years proved to be very exciting for Houston. With Davis by her side, she put together her first record, simply calling it Whitney Houston. The album dropped on Valentine’s Day in 1985.
And to describe it as a success would be something of an understatement! In this picture, Houston and Davis were all smiles after the record nabbed a “multi-platinum sales award.”
8. Dominating the charts
Whitney Houston dominated the charts for the next 12 months; in total it sat at the summit for a whopping 14 non-consecutive weeks. And it’s all too easy to understand why.
Yes, this was the record that boasted tracks such as “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” and “Saving All My Love for You.” Just like that, Houston had become a huge star. No wonder she was all smiles with her mom here.
9. The first Grammy win
And her career arc climbed higher still in 1986. At that point, Houston picked up her first Grammy Award in the best female pop vocal performance category. She won it for “Saving All My Love for You.”
All the same, this star-studded snap wasn’t taken at the ceremony. The singer joined fellow celebs George Faison, Valerie Simpson, Roberta Flack, and Nickolas Ashford at the 20/20 Club that June.
10. Family fun
For as fun as the parties no doubt were, though, this picture shows that Houston didn’t forget about her loved ones during her incredible rise. They look just like any other family here!
Mind you, the stratospheric interest in the singer only intensified as the 1980s progressed. After knocking it out of the park with her debut album, how could Houston follow it up?
11. The sophomore record
Well, just like she’d done the first time around, Houston spent a couple of years crafting her next effort. But fans seemed to agree that it was certainly worth the wait!
Yes, the musician’s sophomore record, titled Whitney, hit the shelves in 1987. And an eager public lapped it up. The album went on to earn in excess of 10 million sales, boasting a whole new lineup of classic songs for fans to enjoy.
12. Hit after hit
The Whitney album featured a plethora of hits, including “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)."
Most music artists would give anything to have at least one hit on their latest record, let alone four! As a result, Houston went on to make a significant bit of history within the business.
No other female artist had seen four tracks from the same album reach the summit of the singles charts following their respective releases. It was an unbelievable achievement for Houston.
All that hard work in the studio had sure paid off! Her grin was an absolute picture here. Plus, she had even more to smile about when her success saw another music business record tumble.
14. Hugging a record-breaker
The quartet of number ones from Whitney joined the three Whitney Houston tracks that reached the summit of the Billboard charts. So, Houston had racked up seven hits on the bounce..
This notable feat was something that no other musician had ever achieved: it beat a record set by both The Bee Gees and The Beatles. That’s pretty amazing: we’d say Houston had definitely earned this hug from Stevie Wonder!
15. More success on the horizon
So by the end of the 1980s, it’s fair to say that Houston was on top of the music world. Given the monumental success she’d enjoyed up to that point, folks were clamoring to see what would come next. .
They got their answer in the winter of 1990. The superstar vocalist dropped her third record then, which was titled I’m Your Baby Tonight. It was another hit, shifting roughly 8 million units around the world.
16. Romancing Michael Jackson?
But while Houston was taking the music world by storm, her love life was arguably just as notable back then. According to an ex-bodyguard of Michael Jackson, she and the King of Pop embarked on a two-week romance in 1991.
Matt Fiddes informed British newspaper The Sun, “Whitney practically moved into Michael’s ranch and they had a fling. Michael said later he’d always hoped the relationship had gone further, and I know he dreamed of marrying her.”
17. Robyn Crawford’s claims
Jackson hadn’t been the only one to have feelings for Houston, either. As per Houston’s close pal Robyn Crawford, she too had formed a romantic bond with the music superstar.
The singer’s friend made the claims in her 2019 book A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston. By her account, they had a short yet passionate fling at the start of the ’80s, before the singer broke it off.
18. Loving Eddie Murphy
Meanwhile, Houston spent a large part of the 1980s longing for a romance with another rising star. Yes, we’re referring to Eddie Murphy. Ellen White, a pal of the singer, informed People, “I watched them once at a party.
“Eddie came in, cameras were flashing, and they just looked at each other and talked and laughed like they were the only two people in the room.” We’re getting a similar vibe from this snap!
19. Time to relax
So Houston had plenty going on outside the recording studios to say the least! But that didn’t stop her from letting her hair down when the occasion called for it.
In this starry photo, the Grammy-winner posed with fellow musician Barry Manilow at an AIDS fundraising event in 1990. Mind you, one of Houston’s most legendary performances was still on the horizon.
20. The Super Bowl performance
And this brings us to January 1991. That year, Houston was set to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. Yet as she herself admitted in 2000, the job carried some additional pressure.
Houston recalled, “If you were there, you could feel the intensity. We were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for our country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting.”
21. “We needed hope”
Houston continued, “I could see in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up. It was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that’s what it was about for me.
“That’s what I felt when I sang that song.” In front of 79 million people watching at home, she went on to belt out one of the greatest-ever renditions of the national anthem.
22. Down with the kids
Following that incredible high, Houston then traveled to London, England, later in the year for a very different event. Yep, she offered her support at a HIV and AIDS demonstration held in Hyde Park that September.
This heartwarming photo came in the aftermath of the show, while the singer was surrounded by a throng of understandably starstruck kids. Just a few months on, though, Houston's personal life changed forever.
23. Marrying Bobby Brown
In July 1992 Houston tied the knot with Bobby Brown. They had been introduced three years earlier, but the union continued to puzzled plenty of people. The musician touched on that while speaking to EW in 1993.
She said, “Everybody says, ‘How can this be a real relationship? ‘He’s the bad boy of the business, and she’s the good girl.’ First of all, I wouldn’t marry anybody that pleased me just a little bit, or that satisfied just one need.”
24. Building a family
Once they’d got hitched, it wasn’t long before the couple started to face some real challenges. In addition to Brown’s legal issues — which included driving under the influence and possessing narcotics — Houston had a miscarriage, too.
But in March 1993 some of that initial stress and heartache gave way to joy, as the singer gave birth to a baby girl. The new arrival rejoiced in the name of Bobbi Kristina Brown.
25. A surprising switch
The baby’s birth was yet another high for Houston, and there were more to come. After dominating the music industry for years, the superstar decided to make a surprising switch in the early 1990s.
Yes, the performer wanted to try her hand as an actress. Houston had previously appeared in a couple of TV episodes in the early part of her career, but nothing major. Yet all that changed in 1992.
26. Box office smash
Yep, Houston made her big screen debut in the classic romantic drama The Bodyguard. The movie was a massive success at the time, earning over $410 million at the global box office off a $25 million budget.
It was also nominated for two Academy Awards in the Best Music, Original Song category. But surprisingly looking back on it, what proved the stand-out track — “I Will Always Love You” — wasn’t in the mix.
27. Blowing Dolly Parton away
Speaking of that song, it was a monster hit, sitting atop the charts for 14 straight weeks. Houston didn’t actually write it, though; it was originally a Dolly Parton track from the 1970s. And the country star was blown away by the cover version.
As Parton said on The Kelly Clarkson Show, “I was just driving along, I had the radio on. When I heard [the song] I just freaked out. I had to pull over because I thought that I was gonna wreck. It was the most overwhelming feeling.”
28. Hugs for hubby
As for The Bodyguard’s soundtrack, it subsequently earned Houston three more Grammy Awards and launched an associated music tour, too. It's fair to say the film sparked an especially busy period for the performer!
The multi-talented star still found time for her hubby, though, as this photo shows. Yet while they looked close here, it would only take another few years until troubling details started to emerge about their marriage.
29. An impressive awards collection
But before that, Houston continued to rack up the honors, as we can see here! This breathtaking snap was taken at the 1994 American Music Awards, the latest iteration of an annual ceremony that Houston seemed to dominate for a stretch.
In total, she took home 22 prizes from the yearly event across her career. Trust us, you’re reading that right! And Houston collected 16 gongs at the Billboard Music Awards and 14 more at the World Music Awards as well.
30. The acting continued
Meanwhile, Houston also continued to act off the back of The Bodyguard. Her next role came in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale, ahead of appearing in The Preacher’s Wife the following year.
Then, she starred in a new adaptation of Cinderella in 1997 which came courtesy of her personal production business: BrownHouse Productions. Houston had well and truly caught the acting bug!
31. Emerging concerns
But despite it being an inevitable part of all the success she'd experienced in her music and acting careers, Houston didn’t always welcome the media coverage that came with it.
The photo here is a great example of that! Plus, as the spotlight continued to shine on her relationship with Brown, concerns began to be raised. For instance, there were claims that the pair were consuming a lot of drugs away from the cameras.
32. Trouble in paradise?
Now, Houston roundly dismissed that she had a substance-abuse problem when the stories started to emerge. Snaps such as this one here also suggested that the marriage was going well.
Yet despite the public proclamations and staged appearances, speculation about trouble behind the scenes continued to mount. Still, the rumors appeared to be just that going into the late 1990s, ahead of a dramatic spell that changed the game completely.
33. Calm before the storm
Prior to those shocking revelations, it was business as usual for Houston on the music front. She joined Mariah Carey for a starry duet on The Prince of Egypt’s soundtrack, with this picture capturing their work in the studio.
That track went on to win the Best Music, Original Song Oscar at the 1999 ceremony. But some 12 months later, the cracks in Houston’s personal life finally became hard to ignore and impossible to hide
34. Worrying behavior
Yes, Houston was pulled up for possessing marijuana at an airport in Hawaii at the start of 2000. Then, she skipped her Clive Davis’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry.
Not long after that, she got kicked off an Oscars performance due to her erratic behavior. Here, she was snapped greeting Brown after he got out of jail that summer, and all the while the negative speculation surrounding the couple was showing little sign of slowing down.
35. “Crack is whack”
In the end, Houston went on to sit down with Diane Sawyer in 2002 for an explosive interview that blew the lid off everything. The singer fessed up to taking drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, while also consuming pills and alcohol.
But in that Sawyer sit-down she drew an eyebrow-raising line in the sand, too. Houston blasted, “I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. Okay? We don’t do crack. Crack is whack.”
36. Battery charges and a failed TV show
Houston’s life didn’t get better after that interview, though. Brown was served with a battery charge in 2003 following an altercation with the singer. Then, she joined him on his reality program, Being Bobby Brown, the next year.
This made for an uncomfortable piece of television to watch; it showed neither side in a particularly positive light. And the show itself was quickly dropped by bosses at the end of its first season.
37. Tears of joy?
Yet having said all that, there was light at the end of the tunnel. During a 2009 chat with Oprah Winfrey, Houston revealed that her mom had played a huge role in getting her life back on track.
Yep, Cissy set her daughter on the path to get off the drugs. As for her relationship with Brown, Houston walked away and finalized the split in 2007. Much like in this snap with Nelson Mandela, emotions were running high back then!
38. History repeats itself
As part of the divorce, Houston was also named as her daughter’s sole guardian. That led to moments such as this one, when the pair took to the stage in 2009.
The occasion was a heartwarming performance in New York’s Central Park. It must’ve reminded the star musician of her own duets with Cissy in years gone by. Talk about history repeating itself!
39. On the comeback trail
With Brown very much in the rear-view mirror, Houston refocused her attention on her career during that spell as well. She dropped her latest record, I Look to You, in 2009.
The much-anticipated release secured the singer yet another spot atop the charts. But just when it appeared that a comeback was well and truly on, tragedy struck in 2012. And it left the whole music world heartbroken.
40. “The best singer ever”
On February 11, 2012, Houston passed away in Los Angeles, California: she’d accidentally drowned in a hotel bathtub. The iconic vocalist had been just 48 years old at the time.
Unsurprisingly, her achievements have since been celebrated throughout the industry, but Davis’ words were particularly poignant. As he said to Avenue Magazine, “She was so much bigger than life, such a great influence on other singers. Everybody knew she was a star of their generation, the best singer ever.”