Whitney Houston talks about the men in her life - and the rumors, lies and insults that are the high price of fame - interview by Lynn Norment
Ebony / May, 1991
As Whitney Houston has painfully discovered, the price of fame is high. Real high.
Since 1985, she has skyrocketed from an unknown church choir and backup singer to a bona fide superstar with 32 million record sales, three multiplatinum albums and nine consecutive No. 1 hits.
But the acclaim, fame and wealth that have made Whitney Houston a household name have been laced with biting criticism, lies, insults and rumors. One week the tabloids raise questions about her sexual preferences; the next week they say she is pregnant by Eddie Murphy, while the third week they report she is marrying star quarterback Randall Cunningham.
Black disc jockeys have chided her for "not having soul" and being "too White," while other critics say she is "too distant" and "impersonal." She was booed at the Soul Train Music Awards, and Keenen Ivory Wayans' In Living Color spoofed "Whitney Houston's Rhythmless Nation."
It's enough to drive a good Christian girl to drink, drugs or at least to cursing. But not Whitney. Though it hurts her deeply, she handles it all with aplomb. During a candid, wide-ranging interview in her 26th floor, north Miami Beach condo overlooking the Atlantic, she talks - and laughs - about success and the pain of fame.
"Picture this," she says, curling up on the plush beige sofa in her pink-accented living room. "You wake up every day with a magnifying glass over you. Someone always is looking for something - somebody, somewhere is speaking your name every five seconds of the day, whether it's positive or negative. Like my friend Michael [Jackson] says, |You want our blood but you don't want our pain.'"
What has hurt her deeply are allegations that she lacks rhythm and soul. "They might have said, |Whitney's Danceless Nation,'" she says of the spoof. "But rhythmless? No! Not in a million years. How could I come from where I've come [from] and be rhythmless?
"And don't say I don't have soul or what you consider to be |Blackness.' I know what my color is. I was raised in a Black community with Black people, so that has never been a thing with me. Yet, I've gotten flak about being a pop success, but that doesn't mean that I'm White..... Pop music has never been all-White."
It is a criticism that disturbs Whitney, but she is not bitter. "My success happened so quickly that when I first came out, Black people felt |she belongs to us,'" she says, still trying to understand why some Blacks lashed out at her. "And then all of a sudden the big success came and they felt I wasn't theirs anymore, that I wasn't within their reach. It was felt that I was making myself more accessible to Whites, but I wasn't."
Concerning the booing at the Soul Train Awards, Whitney has concluded that because she had won two Grammies, two Emmies, and 11 Ameriocan Music Awards, "They [some people in the audience] had just gotten sick of me and just didn't want me to win another award. No, it does not make you feel good," she adds. "I don't like it and I don't appreciate it, but I just kind of write it off as ignorance."
Of all the rumors, Whitney is most irked - and hurt - by allegations that she is involved in an affair with her close friend and executive assistant, Robyn Crawford. "I realize that this thing has been fueled by the fact that I'm very private with my life," she says. "I don't make it my business to expose my relationships; it's hard enough just to keep one. So I figured that since people didn't know who I was sleeping with, they just assumed I was sleeping with Robyn."
Whitney and Robyn became friends while teens in East Orange, N.J., where Robyn was an All-State basketball star and Whitney was a shy, aspiring singer and a favorite target of innercity bullies. "I didn't like to fight," she says, munching on golden fried shrimp and fruit salad. "I was not outspoken and really outgoing. Robyn was. They [other girls] always wanted to whip me for no reason. So once Robyn became my big sister, all that ended."
Their friendship has continued over the years, and as Whitney pursued a singing career, Robyn became invaluable as advisor and organizer.
"I've had boyfriends all my life - very good-looking and very fine young men," Whitney says. "And I've had great relationships. But I've never been one to have five relationships at the same time. I get no enjoyment out of that. You know, I was raised as a Christian, and my mother was very strict with me as far as boys were concerned. She told me that the way to a man's heart is not by opening your legs. You let him get to know you first.
"All that stuff has stayed with me, and it has worked for me, because it has allowed me to know that this is mine!" she says, pointing her slender index fingers inward for emphasis. "It is better to preserve yourself because nobody likes anything that's old and worn out." She laughs exuberantly.
To the media she declares: "You don't live with me every day! So how can you say that this is what I am or what I do?"
For her 26th birthday, Whitney threw a big bash at her $11 million Morris County, N.J., estate that has an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis court and 32-track recording studio. Among the many celebrity guests was Eddie Murphy, long rumored to be her heartthrob.
When asked if the rather large diamond ring (5.5 karats) dominating her left had is the present Murphy reportedly gave her that night, Whitney flashes a broad, girlish smile and casually extends her hand. The baguette diamonds sparkle in the sunlight. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asks. "Yes, Edward gave me this ring."
It is the only piece of jewelry she wears other than a diamond cross - from her mother, Cissy Houston - in one ear.
"Yeah, we're friends," she says of Murphy. "Just two very friendly people, the kind of friends that don't really have a got-to-see-you, got-to-have-you kind of relationship. Because of my career and his career - I'm here and he's there; I'm there and he's here - it's hard to establish a relationship. Even when you have two people who have the money, the fame and the same kind of status. It's the time factor - having the time to establish a relationship and to try to keep it."
Whitney says she was introduced to Murphy by Arsenio Hall ("Arsenio is my buddy. We have a different kind of closeness than Eddie and I.") about three years ago, and "We've been dating ever since." But, she admits, there are times when she does not want to even think about Eddie Murphy. "Like with any man, he can get on your nerves," she says. "Forget about the other stuff. He's still just a man!"
Whitney says she prefers to date men with a sense of humor "who know the Lord" and "who know who they are" and can just be themselves. "Basically," she says, "if you put Whitney Houston aside, what you'll find is a woman. You put Eddie Murphy aside, you'll find a man. You put Arsenio aside, you'll find a man. All that other stuff is just the |gravy' we have become. But before we were this, we were humans. People. That's the bottom line."
So, Whitney, when you strip the "gravy" away from Randall Cunningham, what do you find?
"A tall, fine, good-looking man!"
Her rich, sensuous laughter reflects the powerful, vibrant singing voice. "Randall is a warm, very caring, very giving and loving young man," she says, gently stroking her Angora cat, Misteblu. "He's a great talented athlete. I have a lot of respect for him, because it's very hard to get out there and bang heads, and get banged. He's somebody I can talk to. Randall's a Christian. He's a good person."
Whitney says she is neither pregnant nor engaged, as the tabloids report, but she emphasizes that marriage and children are important to her. "I'm a very patient woman," she explains, adding that she's had her share of heartbreaks. "I don't want to fall in love; I want to walk in and find out what I'm loving. I don't want to get hurt; nobody does."
Those who have lambasted Whitney for lacking rhythm and not dancing are in for a surprise when her nationwide concert tour begins this spring. Her double-platinum I'm Your Baby Tonight album presents a harder-edged, more streetwise Whitney Houston, thanks to hit producers L.A. & Babyface. Hitmakers Narada Michael Walden and Michael Masser also contribute their talents, as they did on the first two albums. And so do her good friend Luther Vandross ("Who Do You Love") and her idol, Stevie Wonder, who writes, produces and joins her for the duet, "We Didn't Know."
During performances on the Arsenio Hall Show and Saturday Night Live, Whitney was - as she says - "jamming," and that was just a preview.
"Yes, I can jam, but it ain't no big thing to me," she says after demonstrating her agile, rhythmic moves during rehearsals in Miami. "That is not what people love me for. People love me because I can sing, and that is what I concentrate on. And I have found that to be a little more lasting. I would rather sing than be able to do the |running man.' I don't take dancing very seriously. I take this [she gently caresses her long slender throat] very seriously, because this is my life.
"But dancing is fun, and if that's what people want, then cool, I can give that portion of myself to them. I have no problem with that. I'm a public servant in that sense."
With that attitude, she welcomed the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl so she could show support for American troops in the Persian Gulf. Proceeds from the sale of the CDs and videos will benefit the Red Cross' fund to help military families. Whitney has been supportive of a number of charities, including the United Negro College Fund, AIDS research, and Habilitative Systems Inc. in Chicago, and she has established the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children.
With her recording career continuing on track, Whitney is now pursuing another interest: acting. Movie offers have come from Spike Lee, Quincy Jones and Robert De Niro, but the timing has not been right. Until now. Kevin Costner, one of Hollywood's most unforgettable hunks, used his clout to insist that Whitney star opposite him in Body Guard, in which she will portray a singer whose life is threatened. "Kevin said to me, |I know you can do it; I know you can act. I want you,'" she says. "He was very excited when he saw the screen test." Filming is scheduled for fall.
An avid movie buff, Whitney spends hours and hours watching Paul Robeson, Dorothy Dandridge, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Sally Field films. And she is grateful for the support she is getting from some of Hollywood's most respected talents. On a flight from Los Angeles to New York, she met Whoopi Goldberg, who offered to coach her. "I love Whoopi," says Whitney, recalling her excitement. "I love her work. I have so much respect for the lady."
But right now, Whitney is focusing on her tour and the many details that must be coordinated. Working with her is a group of talented and enthusiastic young musicians, singers and crew (some of whom have known her since childhood), including brothers Gary, who sings backup, and Michael, assistant road manager. Whitney's father, John Houston, runs her New Jersey office and management company.
Among the hard lessons that this talented diva says she's learned during her brief career in the limelight are: 1. You can't change people; you just accept them for the way they are. 2. Working with your family and being the boss is a difficult though not impossible undertaking, and 3. Men are a trip. "Dad's really a trip," she adds.
"Your family can really get on your nerves, and they know they get on your nerves. So I get mad. I fire everybody, then hire them back.
"You see, everything else in the world can be wrong with me, but my family has to be right or nothing will be right with me.
"I've also learned that problems don't change, no matter if you have millions, billions, or zillions. You still got problems."
Somehow, you just know that Whitney Houston will work them out.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
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