By now, most know the story of what Cissy Houston, gospel legend and mother of singing megastar Whitney Houston, calls “the night the music stopped.” In the hours before her mentor Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party in Los Angeles’s Beverly Hilton hotel, Whitney was found dead in her bathtub, a victim of atherosclerotic heart disease, cocaine use, and drowning. She was 48 years old.
But beyond that fateful night, Cissy recalls a lifetime’s worth of prescient details about her famous daughter’s life in Remembering Whitney, from the day Whitney was delivered and immediately went missing (”It turned out the hospital staff were taking her around to show her off ... It was as if she belonged to the public the very second she was born”) to her immediate misgivings about Whitney’s relationships with Robyn Crawford and Bobby Brown to the anguish of watching her daughter’s health, relationships, and career unravel.
There are happier memories as well, which Cissy recounts with a sort of grouchy comicality (think The Boondocks’s Granddad): her recurring distaste for Bobby Brown’s big single “Humpin’ Around,” which involved “suggestive dancing and all that mess,” and the unfortunate name that Whitney’s only daughter Bobbi Kristina nearly got stuck with (something like “Tekatia” or “Takeka,” which Cissy resoundingly rejected with a “You are not giving my grandbaby that name!”). She almost never refers to Whitney by name—more often, it’s “my baby,” “my daughter,” and “Nippy.” (Nippy had been Whitney’s nickname since she was a baby, taken from a mischievous comic-strip character.) Ultimately, Remembering Whitney is a portrait of a loving, if sometimes overbearing mom who watched helplessly as a gulf opened up between Whitney and herself—and who now often asks herself, “Could I have saved her somehow?” Read on for the most revealing bits from the memoir.
1. Whitney met Robyn Crawford—and Cissy didn’t like it one bit.
Whitney often kept personal details from her mother and because of this, Cissy was often totally in the dark about Whitney’s personal and drug problems. But she was aware of how the fighting at home between herself and her husband, John, was affecting Whitney during her last few years as a teenager—her grades dropped and she became more distant. Later, through watching interviews, Cissy learned that this was also the time that Whitney began experimenting with drugs. Cue Robyn Crawford, who Whitney met during this time and who would become her close companion for life—and rumored lover. “I had a bad feeling about that child from the first time I saw her,” writes Cissy. “There was something about the way she carried herself, a kind of arrogance, that I didn’t like. Though she was a pretty girl, in my opinion Robyn wasn’t as bright as Nippy. She also seemed abrasive and unapologetic about that.” Cissy also later learned that Robyn was gay, though she insists “that had nothing to do with why I didn’t like her.” And no, Cissy has no idea whether Robyn and Whitney had a romantic relationship.
2. Robyn told Cissy about Whitney’s drug problem.
Cissy does have this to say about Robyn: she respects her for being the first to come to her about Whitney’s drug problem in the late 1980s. “Robyn said that both she and Nippy were doing it on occasion, but that ‘Nippy likes it a little too much.’ Apparently, if they had it in the house, Robyn could do some and stop,” Cissy writes. “But Nippy would keep on doing it until everything was gone.”
3. No man could sweep Whitney off her feet—until Bobby came along. Cissy didn’t much like him, either.
After Whitney became a star, lots of famous men took an interest in her—including Jermaine Jackson (“But he was married, so I wasn’t too thrilled when Nippy went out with him a couple of times”), former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham (Cissy says he wanted to marry Whitney), and Eddie Murphy—though he and Whitney were always just friends, says Cissy. None held her interest for very long, until one night at the 1989 Soul Train Awards, when she met Bobby Brown. “I’ll be honest—I tried to tell Nippy from the beginning that I didn’t think Bobby was good for her,” Cissy writes. But she says that even though Bobby had “done his share of bad things, and I didn’t like the way he sometimes treated Nippy, I thought deep down he was a good person. I still believe that.”
4. Whitney did NOT pull a Beyoncé at the Super Bowl. (But she did at the World Cup.)
The 1991 Super Bowl’s organizers asked Whitney to make a “safety tape” as a precaution, but she never used it, Cissy writes: “The producers had wanted her to lip-sync it, but Nippy was like me—she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t keep time with a song unless she was really singing it, and at the Super Bowl, you could tell looking at her that she was singing the whole time.” The 1994 World Cup was a different story, though. Whitney’s voice was shot—a doctor diagnosed her with an ulcerated throat—and she used the safety tape she’d made for that performance.
5. Bobby had a major inferiority complex while he was married to Whitney—and was jealous of Kevin Costner and Denzel Washington.
Bobby really, really didn’t want Whitney to star in The Preacher’s Wife. Seeing how he walked out of a screening of The Bodyguard after watching Whitney and Kevin Costner kiss, Cissy figures it was because he was intimidated by Denzel Washington, who was “handsome, accomplished, and one of the most beloved actors around.” Bobby, “like many men, might have been too insecure to want his wife around that.” He also simply “had a hard time living in Nippy’s shadow. She was one of the biggest stars in the world, and he was just never as big as she was. For a man like Bobby, it’s not easy to be called ‘Mrs. Whitney Houston.’”
6. Bobby “accidentally” cut a two-inch gash in Whitney’s face.
Cissy believes a major turning point in Whitney’s spiral downward was an incident in the summer of 1997, when Whitney and Bobby were on a cruise together in the Mediterranean and, somehow, Whitney ended up with a deep cut to her face. The couple insisted it was an accident, that Bobby was “acting out about something,” slammed his fist on a table and shattered a piece of china, then a shard flew up and cut a two-inch gash in Whitney’s face. Whitney had plastic surgery to minimize the scar tissue, but “she seemed sadder after that, like something had been taken away from her,” Cissy writes.
7. Cissy saw a family photo with Whitney’s face cut out inside her trashed Georgia home.
Cissy flew down to Atlanta after getting a worried call from Whitney’s brother Gary, and together they went into Whitney’s home—where they found a scene straight out of a horror movie. It was “dirty” and “messy,” and “somebody had been spray-painting the walls and doors, painting big glaring eyes and strange faces. They were evil eyes, staring out like a threat ... And in another room, there was a big framed photo of Nippy, Bobby, and Krissi—but someone had cut Nippy’s head right out of it. And then they just put the portrait right back up, as if nothing was wrong. It was beyond disturbing, seeing my daughter’s face cut out like that. It was frightening.” After that, Cissy got a court injunction to take Whitney to rehab by force. They didn’t speak again for a long time after that because Whitney was so angry.
8. Things started looking up once she separated from Bobby—but it wasn’t enough. (And Cissy didn’t disapprove of Ray J.)
By 2009 things seemed to be turning around. Whitney recorded a new album, I Look to You. She had filed for separation from Bobby, was getting healthy, and was back on her way to success. But the strains of touring again, singing two or three hours a night, and traveling across the world proved to be too much—and Whitney relapsed into drugs. In 2010 she began seeing Ray J, whose sister, Brandy, had costarred with Whitney in Cinderella in 1997. “I didn’t know a thing about Ray J, except that people seemed to be getting worked up over the fact that he was seventeen years younger than Nippy,” writes Cissy. “But you know, I understood that—what do you want with an old man if you can get a younger one? I certainly couldn’t blame her for that.”