CANNES, France – Mystery solved. Right?
The reason one of the world’s most gifted and beautiful singers stubbornly destroyed herself with drugs, drowning face down in a bathtub at the age of 48 in 2012, may have been because she was allegedly molested as a little girl by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick.
That’s the big reveal toward the end of Scottish filmmaker Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary Whitney, not to be confused with Nick Broomfield’s Can I Be Me film about Whitney Houston from last year.
Macdonald, who claims not to have seen Broomfield’s take, got the Houston family’s authorization for his film. But given the shadiness of many of Whitney’s immediate family members and former entourage, that doesn’t necessarily mean he got more truth than Broomfield.
Macdonald hits alleged pay dirt when Houston’s half brother Gary Garland-Houston, 61, the former NBA player, and her longtime assistant Mary Jones, say that the late Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s sister and one of the first openly lesbian singers, molested both Whitney and Gary when they were both little.
“Mommy don’t know the things we went through,” Garland-Houston says, adding that he and his siblings were often farmed out to other families when their mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, and their father, John, were on the road for Cissy’s career.
(Video of Garland-Houston went viral last year when he was allegedly shot unconscious in a car, “high as a kite,” after reportedly buying drugs from his dealer, according to news reports.)
Mary Jones, often called “Aunt Mary,” said Whitney told her that she didn’t dare tell her mother because Cissy was so tough she might have hurt Dee Dee, who struggled with her own drug addiction and died in a nursing home at 63.
“It made her question her own sexual preference and it made her ashamed,” Jones says. “It’s also why she wanted her own family so much.”
Maybe. Maybe not. And Dee Dee Warwick is conveniently no longer here to defend herself. A family friend interviewed in the film who doesn’t seem to be blowing smoke said Whitney had an “idyllic childhood.”
Watching Whitney is like being in an excruciatingly long Al-Anon meeting, the 12-step group for relatives and friends of alcoholics and drug addicts.
There’s a joke in “the rooms” of Al-Anon that members are always wringing their hands and asking “why?” Why does their father, or mother, or husband or daughter drink or take drugs?
It’s like if they can just pinpoint the reason, assign the blame, then the pain of being neglected or abandoned by a substance-using parent or lover or child will be assuaged. They will have fixed it.
In the film, Houston’s longtime agent Nicole David looks sad when she speaks plaintively of how “sweet” a girl Houston had been. Like so many, David can’t figure out what happened.
In probing interviews with those who knew her and in footage of Whitney behind the scenes, Macdonald tries hard to explain why Houston spiraled downward so dramatically.
He hits all the familiar bullet points for blame:
Whitney was bullied as a child for being light-skinned.
Her mother pushed her maybe too hard because Cissy never made it as a solo artist.
Her father and brothers were greedy and ripped her off.
Label guru Clive Davis washed all the ghetto and gospel out of her and re-made her into white America’s idea of a black princess.
She was bisexual but couldn’t be with girlfriend Robyn Crawford because her parents and society disapproved.
Bad boy Bobby Brown was jealous of her success and became abusive but Whitney was so desperate to keep him she “brought herself down to lift him up.”
But Macdonald ultimately digs the same hole Broomfield did: nothing totally adds up or explains Houston’s self-destructiveness.
Because Can I Be Me came out first, the story seemed at least fresh and revelatory, even if Houston remains at an eerie remove in both films. Macdonald’s film is just as well-made as Broomfield’s but now it’s just depressing to watch Houston’s long, slow suicide again. It’s become Whitney death porn.
Her hairstylist Ellin LaVar has a telling moment when Macdonald asks her if Houston liked sex. In fact, she said Houston liked sex so much – with both men and women – that LaVar worried about what diseases she might be catching and bought her a vibrator.
Always wanting more is a hallmark of addiction. And way, way back in the day, before 12-step groups and the disease model of addiction, people who were addicts and alcoholics were thought to be possessed by demons.
We hear Whitney’s voice at the start and end of the film, talking about having recurring nightmares about a “giant” chasing her. Her mother Cissy told her it was the devil. Whitney says he “won’t ever catch me.”
Maybe Cissy was right and the devil did catch her. Or maybe she was just a drug addict who couldn’t—or wouldn't—stop.