Inside Whitney Houston's Famous Relationships With Her Celebrity Friends

The following article includes mentions of addiction.

As one of the most famous pop stars of all time, Whitney Houston had a life that very few people could find relatable. And that isolation might have been one of the factors that led to her early death, as the singer Chaka Khan suggested to ABC News. "Whitney Houston wanted to be loved. She did not feel loved," she declared.

Khan was one of Houston's first friends in the industry since she was already familiar with Houston's mother, Cissy, who had been a gospel singer for years. "I had been working with Cissy for quite a while as a background singer, and one day we were in the studio, and she said, 'You know, I have a daughter who can sing.'" The young girl ended up singing back-up for Khan at age 15 and, with her mentor's blessing, later covered Khan's hit "I'm Every Woman."

Keep reading to find out about the other celebrities who provided Houston with friendship and support through the ups and downs of her tumultuous and tragically short life.

Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick was Houston's friend and first cousin, so the pair grew up singing together. "Whitney came up exactly the way we all did, in the church choir," she later told People, insisting that Houston's connection to music was part of a higher power's plan. "It was just preordained; she was going to sing. Her destiny was, as was the rest of the family. As if God pointed a finger at us and said, 'Let them vocal cords do what they got to do.'" She reflected on her cousin's legacy, adding: "Every little girl that came along after her wanted to be Whitney Houston."

Warwick has also been defensive over Houston's legacy and told the Los Angeles Times that she wouldn't give any help to filmmakers who wanted to make a biopic about the singer's life. "Not one thing," she stated. "I want them to let Whitney rest in peace. Leave her alone. Ten years [since she died] — it's time to let her sleep." Warwick also added that "some filmmakers feel that they've got to find something cruddy and ugly in an artist's life," questioning the need for any dramatic interpretations. As she told People, her cousin's talent was able to stand alone. "She had a presence that is still very much with us. Her music, her sound, her voice, that is her legacy."

Aretha Franklin

Whitney Houston knew her idol Aretha Franklin from a young age thanks to her mother Cissy, who sang backing vocals for Franklin and brought her young daughter into the recording studio. "She was around nine or 10, with little red pigtails," Franklin recalled in Rolling Stone, noting that the little girl was on her best behavior. When Houston grew up, she started performing by herself too. "By the time she was a young lady, Luther Vandross and I were talking about her," Franklin revealed. "She knew how to be glamorous and graceful. She had class. She knew where she was going."

They recorded the song "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be" together in 1989. "We had a lot of fun that day," the legendary singer noted. "I was delighted to see her come along the way that she did." Like many family friends, Franklin was concerned about Houston's health and ongoing struggles with addiction. "She seemed to be getting it back –- I saw some of the previews for 'Sparkle,' and she really looked great, fresh and healthy," she observed, referring to Houston's last film project. "So when the news came out she had passed, I was stunned."

Franklin later performed a touching tribute to the singer after her death, singing "I Will Always Love You" at a piano. "We look back, and we acknowledge one of the finest young singers that ever stepped before a microphone," she told the audience.

Clive Davis

Record executive Clive Davis was the one who first discovered Whitney Houston, and the pair went on to chart-topping success together.

She was on stage at one of her mother's performances when Davis first caught sight of her, singing a cover of "The Greatest Love of All." Seeing the young Houston perform a song that he had commissioned was a moment that Davis would never forget, as he told CNN. "I was amazed that she found more meaning in that song than Michael Masser and Linda Creed when they wrote it," he recalled. "This was a unique vocalist who was breathing fire and soul and heart into a song I was so familiar with. I knew that her gift was unique."

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Davis later insisted that Whitney wasn't given enough credit for being "the greatest singer of her generation" since the public was too fascinated by her struggles. "We had a very close relationship professionally from the time I found her in 1983," he noted, adding that he missed her more than any other artist. Houston also told Rolling Stone that she had a good relationship with Davis, dismissing the idea that he controlled her or her career. "Clive and I work well together. We basically like the same things, which, thank God, allowed us to get along all these years," she explained. "We get on each other's nerves sometimes, but we've been together 10 years now."

Bebe and Cece Winans

Whitney Houston grew up singing in the church, so she was a fan of the gospel duo Bebe and Cece Winans before they even met. "She was fond of us, and we were fond of her. We were in love with her voice. She was in love with what we did," Bebe recalled in a 2017 interview with People, adding that there was "a mutual love for each other and respect for our artistry," as well as a strong friendship between the three singers. "And how we were raised. We were raised the same way."

The pair sang with Houston at the NAACP awards, and Cece became the godmother to her daughter Bobbi Kristina. Later, her death had a significant impact on the duo, who performed at her funeral. Speaking in a TV interview, he declared that they had been as close as a real family. Bebe even wrote a book about his memories with Houston, which he called "therapy, part of the grieving process."

"I felt it would enable me to embrace the pain and come to the other side of it," Bebe explained to Religion News Service in 2012, talking about his book. "And also, in my personal way, paint the picture of who Whitney really was and not allow just the tabloids to describe who she was."

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was one of the only people who could relate to Whitney Houston's level of fame. "It's really strange. Michael Jackson said it best: You become this personality instead of a person," she told Rolling Stone. "That's what's strange about this image business — the more popular you become, the weirder they want to make you." And that mutual understanding led to the singers becoming friends. "Mike and I were very close," Houston told Oprah in 2009, reflecting on how upsetting she found his final days and eventual death. "No one have I ever met [was] quite like that young man."

They were so connected that his former bodyguard even claimed that the pair had been romantically involved in an interview with The Sun (via Today.) But the most surprising story about their friendship came from Bebe Winans, who wrote about a particularly odd birthday gift in his book, per Rolling Stone. "We discovered that Michael Jackson had given Whitney a monkey as her birthday present," he recalled, calling it "funny and ridiculous at the same time" since Houston was barely responsible enough to look after her pet cat. "Whitney couldn't believe it," Winans added. "As soon as this party's over, that monkey is getting dropped off at the zoo!" she reportedly told him.

Kevin Costner

After Whitney Houston's death, many people dedicated emotional tributes to her. But perhaps the most moving came from her former co-star Kevin Costner, who later declared that "she was my one true love." Houston had actually been reluctant to take the lead role in "The Bodyguard" at first, as she told Rolling Stone. "I never thought I'd be co-starring with Kevin Costner!" she exclaimed. But Costner talked her through her anxieties. "He said: 'I promise you I will not let you fall. I will help you,'" Houston recalled. "And he did."

When Costner later gave a tear-jerking eulogy at her memorial service, he revealed how they had bonded over spending their childhoods in the Baptist church and had talked about her insecurities together. "The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered, 'Am I good enough?' 'Am I pretty enough?' 'Will they like me?'" he reflected, adding that her time in the spotlight only made her more vulnerable. "Whitney, if you could hear me now, I would tell you, you weren't just good enough, you were great," Costner insisted. "You weren't just pretty. You were as beautiful as a woman could be. And people didn't just like you, Whitney. They loved you."

He finished his speech by describing how Houston had now found peace in heaven. "When you sing before Him, don't you worry," the actor continued. "You'll be good enough."

Jenifer Lewis

The actor and comic Jenifer Lewis first met Whitney Houston on the set of "The Preacher's Wife," a 1996 Christmas film that tested Houston's on-screen abilities. "She was always a little nervous about her acting skills, but she was good," Lewis observed on Uncensored. She also recalled how lucky she felt to sit and watch Houston perform the songs "Help Is On The Way" and "I Love The Lord" in a Yonkers church. "Woah, I mean to be sitting there that close and hearing her sing the genre of music that she had been raised with, gospel, the trills in her voice, the rifts, the range, the beauty, the soul, her beauty — it was a sight to see," the comic reflected.

On "Watch What Happens Live," Lewis also spoke about Houston's addictions. "I noticed something," she admitted. "She just wasn't ready at that time to go and get help." Their last phone call took place while Houston was on her way to rehab for one final attempt at sobriety and a sequel to "Waiting to Exhale" was being planned. "Whitney's voice ... her instrument was the eighth wonder of the world, and I wish that we all could have done more," Lewis added, "But you cannot help a person who's not ready to be helped." She paid tribute to her late friend, declaring: "There will never be another."

Mariah Carey

Although the media claimed that they were rivals, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston actually bonded over the song "When You Believe" and poked fun at the feud rumors together with a skit at the MTV VMAs where they pretended to show up in the same dress.

"One of the things is the pitting of women against each other. There was the situation where, when I started, everyone was like, 'Oh, her and Whitney, let's put them against each other and blah, blah, blah," Carey told Variety, reflecting on how the press made up a rivalry before they even met. "We didn't know each other! And she was one of the greatest of all time." She also spoke about the experience of recording "When You Believe" with Houston, insisting that they "had the best time working together" and connected immediately. "She doesn't hate me, we're actually having this great time together and laughing, and this is more fun than I have working alone, ever," Carey thought at the time. "So, I think camaraderie with women that you respect is a huge deal."

After Houston's death, she spoke to Good Morning America about her grief. "I'm almost incapable of talking about it. It's very heavy for me emotionally," Carey revealed, per TooFab, adding that their relationship had been deeper than most people thought. "I loved her. We all loved her. May she rest in peace ... her legend's gonna go on forever."


Whitney Houston inspired many younger singers, but she forged a particularly meaningful relationship with Brandy.

As Brandy told ET Online, she had previously tried to meet the pop star as a young teen by sneaking backstage at a concert. So when they started recording those Rodgers and Hammerstein songs together for "Cinderella," it was a dream come true. "I didn't really understand what really was going on. I couldn't really grasp the history ... I didn't really know that it was gonna be historic in the way that it was," Brandy reflected, insisting that she had no idea how the film would change her life forever or how revolutionary the color-blind casting Houston had fought for was. "But I did know that something special and magical was happening. I was just so happy to be around my childhood idols and really work with them and learn from them. I was over the moon about it."

Their collaboration "opened so many more doors" for the young singer, paving the way for her to perform on Broadway later. "She kicked down doors for every Black female artist, every Black artist, and artists in general," Brandy insisted to ABC News. And she stayed in touch with Houston, who gave her a meaningful piece of advice in their final three-hour conversation. "She went into depth about me staying true to who I am. She made me promise her that," Brandy stated. "So that has always been what I have vowed to do."

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell spoke about her friendship with Whitney Houston on "Watch What Happens Live," describing how Houston was very protective over her as a young model. "I think one of my favorite memories — it's a sad memory at the same time — was that she was Gianni Versace's favorite artist, and he wanted her to sing at his memorial at the Metropolitan Museum," Campbell recalled, explaining how the late fashion designer's wish came true after he was murdered by a spree killer called Andrew Cunanan on the steps of his Ocean Drive home in 1997.

"And she sang acapella, and I remember sitting next to Elton John," the model continued, describing how Houston told the audience: "I heard I was Gianni's favorite singer, but I never met him," before winking at Madonna. "Then she sang, and this bird flew above — you know that skyline they have there? This bird just flew across, and Elton and I were like, 'That's Gianni.'" She also noted that designer Alexander McQueen died on the same date as Houston, adding that the singer "was such a great lady."

In a memorial post six years later, Campbell shared a sweet picture of the two of them on Twitter. "I miss you," she wrote, calling Houston "the greatest voice of all" and promising that she would always be remembered. "Always in our hearts, I love you always and forever."

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is one of many young singers who idolized Whitney Houston. And her wildest dreams came true when she wrote Houston's final hit, "Million Dollar Bill," and the pair became such close friends that Keys later inducted her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.

They first met at a party hosted by Clive Davis, as Keys recalled in her Hall of Fame speech. "She marched right up to me, and she said, ”You are gonna write a song for me,'" the singer stated, per Rolling Stone. Houston later told MTV News that the song "No One" by Keys was "the only record that came on the radio that inspired me" in 2009. "It made me feel good and happy," she insisted, adding that Keys was working with Clive Davis as well. "I thought, 'I got to get to know her. I got to have a camaraderie with some of the people that were on the label.'"

They bonded over making "Million Dollar Bill" together and came up with nicknames for each other. "She called me Meema, and I called her Meema," Keys revealed at Houston's funeral, reflecting on their connection. "Such a beautiful human being," she added. "Call you for no reason at all but to say hi." The singer also spoke about the influence that Houston had on her, Brandy, Monica, and other young female musicians: "I think she's an angel to us. She's been an angel to us, you know."

Tyler Perry

After Whitney Houston died at a Grammy party in California, many were surprised that Tyler Perry was the one who paid for her body to be flown back home to New Jersey. But as he told Oprah, the pair had a relationship that lasted years.

"I felt a huge responsibility for her," he confessed. "From the first day we sat down in that restaurant and had a conversation where she was so open with me, I felt a responsibility to do all I could to help her." Perry insisted that his own tragic background meant that he could tell how disastrous her issues were. "I sensed, like most people who deal with people who have addiction issues ... a death day coming." He recalled how he often tried to get through to her. "She would just be out of it but trying to be together."

As well as paying for her funeral arrangements, Perry desperately tried to keep her and her family away from the paparazzi after the death. "It was so blatantly disrespectful," he told Piers Morgan, "I understand she was a superstar, but she didn't deserve to be treated that way in the media toward the end." They tried to trick the press by sending an empty hearse ahead, but photographers still figured out which van was carrying the body and even one of the drivers tried to sneak a picture. "It was just beyond disrespectful for her family and everyone else," Perry insisted.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).