I always knew Oprah would land it. How could she not? Winfrey’s last interview with late singing icon Whitney Houston was an elegant affair and indeed one of the embattled star’s finest hours in her later years. So it would be only fitting and proper that the first interview given by Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and brother Gary Houston would go to the equally iconic talk show host. I knew it would happen, just not so soon.
On Friday it was announced that Winfrey will sit down this coming week with Houston’s family members to remember the singer’s legacy and death and the controversy surrounding it. The interview will air March 11, one month to the day that Houston’s lifeless body was found in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub.
Of course everyone processes death in his or her own way, and I respect that. Yet I‘m still left to wonder what real insight anyone can have regarding the death of a much-beloved family member in such a short period of time, a larger-than-life figure who also was beloved and adored by millions around the world. Has the actual reality of Houston’s absence even sunk in? It hasn’t for me, and I only knew her professionally.
Has the real meaning of her life and career even been a thought in the hearts and minds of those who simply knew her and loved her as a mom and a sister? I suspect not, and also suspect the real reason for the Winfrey interview is to somehow quash the constant flux of negative stories and rumors that haunted the queen of pop in her in life—and is ultimately doing the same in the weeks after her death.
From the moment news of Houston’s early demise at 48 hit the airwaves, speculation of the cause has been the nonstop chatter. Houston’s very public struggle with substance abuse played out like a long, sad movie for more than two decades and was only eclipsed at times by her dysfunctional and toxic marriage to singer Bobby Brown.
At a certain point and, in a way, eerily similar what happened to her good friend Michael Jackson, Houston’s life also began playing itself out in the tabloids—from the pictures of her bathroom filled with all types of drugs sold to the National Enquirer by her sister-in-law Tina Brown to the detailed interviews with one of her drug dealers that allegedly were arranged by friends.
It seems no one except the singer’s doting mother, Cissy Houston, and only child, Bobbi Kristina, chose to guard Whitney’s darkest secrets with care. What happens now that she’s gone?
Without doubt there is much for the Houston clan to discuss and to defend with Winfrey this Sunday night on her Oprah Winfrey Network. The talk-show veteran undoubtedly will handle the family, and in particular Bobbi Kristina, with kid gloves and much in the same respectful and thoughtful manner in which she dealt with Houston in 2009.
That said, I don’t see much of a way for Winfrey to avoid asking the really tough and really uncomfortable questions viewers want answered. Questions about Houston’s alleged fight with a woman two nights before her death, about her impromptu handstands at the hotel pool, about her excessive drinking the night before she died, will surely be asked. Is there any way Winfrey can avoid bringing up the reported feud between Cissy Houston and Aretha Franklin that resulted in Franklin canceling her plans to sing at the funeral? Franklin recently denied those reports. Winfrey most likely will feel compelled to ask Bobbi Kristina about her own reported drug use and about the story I related in The Daily Beast that detailed her disappearance shortly after her mother’s funeral.
All are very valid questions, but how exactly does a still-grieving family answer them with clarity and objectivity? Will their answers satisfy a new generation of readers and fans so desperate to inhale every sordid detail? More than likely they will simply deny all the questions, as they have for the last few weeks. No matter that there are pictures, eyewitnesses who saw Houston’s unfortunate exchange with The X Factor contestant Stacy Francis—reportedly over Houston’s sometime boyfriend Ray J—at a nightclub the Thursday night before she died, and witnesses who saw her drinking and acting strangely during that same period. It won’t matter that close family sources reported that Bobbi Kristina left the scene shortly after the funeral and had to be searched for and found. The family most likely will deny everything in steadfast agreement, while forgetting one very important truth.
Whitney did the exact same thing. Before famously telling Diane Sawyer in 2002 that “crack is wack,” the top-selling singer continuously denied suggestions of drug use, offering any number of reasons for no-shows at concerts and erratic behavior onstage. The singer would also famously get into a defiant huff when anyone hinted that her marriage to Brown was miserable, abusive, and a mistake. But in the end Houston knew it all was true—and eventually, so would everyone else.
I don’t see much of a way for Winfrey to avoid asking the really tough and really uncomfortable questions viewers want answered.
Maybe the Houston family believes some type of personal peace can be found by speaking publicly about their loss and before the final toxicology report revealing the cause death comes out, which will occur in the next few weeks.
Maybe they truly want the world to see that Houston’s pride and joy, Bobbi Kristina, really is OK—and not suicidal or on drugs. Or maybe they want to discuss the horror and pain of having someone sell pictures of their “Nippy” in her casket to the tabloids and the heartache of realizing that it may very well be someone from inside the family.
Maybe, as one crisis-management VIP suggested, the family doesn’t understand that one of the fastest ways to heal and to erase those unpleasant stories from the minds and memories of fans and readers is to not address them all.
Oddly enough, Pat Houston, Whitney’s sister-in-law who’ll also appear during the interview, made a particularly striking statement at the singer’s star-studded, four-hour funeral. In the days before her death, Whitney was worried about some particularly negative comments made about her. Pat told the star to stop worrying about what people said because it didn’t matter anymore. Maybe the family should heed its own advice for the time being.
Yes, Houston’s devoted fans do want to know how Bobbi Kristina is holding up and what Whitney’s final days were actually like. Maybe the Winfrey interview will provide a bit of insight into this. But ultimately, only significant time will afford any family—and in particular the Houstons—the perspective needed to give the world an honest portrait of a mother, sister, and friend.