Candid Whitney...

New York Times: Whitney Houston, on Oprah, Tries for Candor

Published: September 14, 2009

Whitney Houston didn’t cry for Oprah Winfrey, but she certainly unloaded.

In the first segment of her taped two-part comeback interview on Monday, Ms. Houston described in vivid, at times alarming, detail her “crazy love” for her former husband, Bobby Brown; their descent into drug abuse (marijuana laced with rock cocaine); and the short-circuiting of her music career.

The conversation, recorded ahead of time at Town Hall in New York, was candid, of course, but not exactly spontaneous; it was exquisitely timed for the season premiere of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which is approaching its 25th anniversary — and Ms. Winfrey has stirred attention by saying that she might make it her last.

The interview hardly needed all the promotion and advance publicity: it was an intimately personal conversation between two of the most public and scrutinized celebrities in the world. The contrast could not have been sharper or more colorful: Ms. Winfrey is a beloved star who has put her career and her multibillion-dollar business ahead of everything else; Ms. Houston is a beloved star who let everything get in the way of her career.

Ms. Houston didn’t hold back, but there was one moment when the diva seemed in denial. Ms. Winfrey cited an article describing the pain and “disgust” fans felt for the careless way Ms. Houston had mistreated her voice, which the article and Ms. Winfrey described as a “national treasure.”

“Wow,” Ms. Houston replied, but she didn’t address whether she had squandered an amazing gift.

She looked less chagrined than affronted as she explained that she had pursued a personal life after giving up her entire youth to concert tours and the spotlight. “I just wanted to be normal,” she said.

Now, of course, she wants to reignite her career, or, as she said, “I needed my joy back.” Like her singing voice, which was strained when she performed a few songs from her new album on “Good Morning America” earlier this month (she said at the time she wore it out talking to Ms. Winfrey), her panache had a certain tentativeness beneath it that suggests that joy, for now, is still on hold.

This is, after all, the singer’s second splashy comeback attempt. The first, with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Primetime” in 2002, in which she famously denied using crack by saying, “Crack is wack,” didn’t take.

Ms. Houston, who spoke to Ms. Winfrey so quickly and huskily that at times she sounded like Tina Turner, was far more candid and forthcoming than she was with Ms. Sawyer seven years ago. Still, she was disinclined to judge herself too harshly.

Gracious and good-natured, the singer wore the wary look of an artist who sensed that this latest happy ending might not really be the last act.

Ms. Winfrey didn’t gush or hold back, but some of her questions steered Ms. Houston to self-serving statements — notably that the singer made herself weak to make her less successful husband feel strong. That hit a chord with her interviewer.

“I think somewhere inside, something happens to a man when a woman has that much control or has that much fame,” Ms. Houston said.

When Ms. Winfrey replied, “Yeah, if he doesn’t have his own,” Ms. Houston reached out and patted Ms. Winfrey’s arm consolingly, adding “You know what I’m saying?”

Ms Winfrey replied, feelingly: “I know what you’re saying. I know exactly what you’re saying. He has to have his own.”

Ms. Houston described a relationship with Mr. Brown that was tempestuous, to say the least. Once, she said, he spat in her face. Another time she hit him on the head so hard with a telephone receiver that he fell down bleeding, just as their daughter entered the room.

Ms. Houston attributed her drug abuse to her passion for her husband. “He was my drug,” she said. “I didn’t do anything without him. I wasn’t getting high by myself. It was me and him together, and we were partners, and that’s what my high was — him. He and I being together, and whatever we did, we did it together. No matter what, we did it together.”

Ms. Winfrey added, “Because you were his wife.”

Ms. Houston said that in her haze of wifely devotion she didn’t consider the consequences of the disastrous 2005 reality show, “Being Bobby Brown.”

Ms. Winfrey asked, “Did you realize what you were getting yourself into when you signed up for that?”

“No, I did not,” Ms. Houston replied, then added with a laugh that signaled that she hoped to have the last one. “I signed a prenuptial, though. Yeah. I knew what I was doing there.”


: 14 SEPTEMBER 2009


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