New York Times: Whitney Houston, on Oprah, Tries for Candor
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
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
“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
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