Whitney Houston's tragic real-life story

Whitney Houston had a squeaky-clean image for the first half of her career, but in the later years of her life, her troubles became more apparent. She and ex-husband Bobby Brown's reality show, Being Bobby Brown, tarnished her image, allegations of drug abuse followed her for nearly a decade, and her voice was damaged and only just recovering before her tragic death in February 2012, when she drowned in a bathtub after reportedly using a combination of illegal and prescription drugs.

As it turns out, that was only a small portion of the tragic life that Houston led. Before becoming one of the world's most renowned vocalists, she had a heartbreaking past, reportedly rife with sexual abuse, an identity crisis, a self-medicating habit, and family turmoil that was more insidious than anyone would let on publicly. The tragic real-life story of Whitney Houston paints a much sadder, darker picture than the legendary singer portrayed publicly — but the skeletons are beginning to tumble out of the Houston family closet once and for all.

She may have been molested as a child

In the 2018 documentary Whitney, sources close to the Grammy winner claimed she was molested as a child, creating psychological trauma that plagued her for the rest of her life.

Houston's longtime assistant, Mary Jones, told Whitney director Keith Macdonald (via the Associated Press) that Houston's cousin, Grammy-nominated singer Dee Dee Warwick, allegedly molested Houston. Warwick was 18 years Houston's senior. Houston's brother, Gary Garland-Houston, also claimed that both he and Whitney were molested by a female family member as children, though he did not name Warwick. 

The incidents allegedly took place while Gary and Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, was on tour. Jones claimed in the documentary that Whitney's experience is what made her so insistent on bringing daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on tour with her. Jones also alleged that the molestation impacted Whitney's sexuality and fueled her substance abuse problems later in life. Jones claimed Whitney married Bobby Brown in 1992 in an attempt to "stabilize" her feelings.

Warwick died in 2008.

Her brother introduced her to drugs

Insiders claim Houston was a drug user long before she met Brown, and that her handlers and record label deliberately peddled the narrative that he corrupted the "good girl" and got her involved in dangerous habits. "It's a fairy tale," said Rudi Dolezal, director of the 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me. Speaking to the New York Post in August 2017, Dolezal said, "The idea that Whitney was a great girl until Bobby came along is simply not true. Whitney took drugs and smoked weed a long time before she could even spell 'Bobby Brown.'" 

Houston's longtime stylist, Ellin LaVar, says in the documentary (via the New York Post), "They [Whitney and her two brothers] did drugs. It was the thing you do. You go out, you party, you drink, you do a little drugs. Everybody did it. And her brothers gave it to her. It was just something you do to have fun."

Houston's older brother, Michael Houston, confessed that he introduced the singer to cocaine. "I feel responsible for what I let go so far," he said on Oprah's Next Chapter. "We played together — everything that you do together as you're growing up — and then when you get into drugs, you do that together too, and it just got out of hand... You gotta understand, at the time, the '80s, it was acceptable... In the entertainment industry it was just like, available. It wasn't like a bad word like it is now."

She felt like she couldn't be herself

Sources told People that Whitney struggled with the pressures of fame and being forced into a role that didn't feel genuine. "There were a lot of expectations in terms of who she was and who people thought she was," said a source close to the singer's family. "I think not being able to be herself 100 percent was a hell of a burden for her to have to carry. Someone may look good on the outside, sturdy and strong ... [but] on the inside, you have someone who had insecurities and family issues and emotional personal issues and struggles."

The insider added that once Houston signed with Clive Davis, "[she] had to do what he said, wear what he said to, sing what he wanted her to sing and act like a goody two shoes when she was really a down and dirty girl from Jersey. Whitney definitely resented that." A music industry source noted, "Clive made her into a mainstream pop star and allowed all of her wildest dreams to come true, but being this massive pop star came at a price. She had to act a certain way in front of the cameras for the label. That wasn't the real Whitney."

Her identity crisis may have fueled her drug use

A family friend told People that Whitney used drugs as a form of rebellion against her clean-cut image and the people who tried to control it. "[Drugs became] her rebellion against it all," the source said. "There has to be some outlet. For her, it became drugs." A music industry insider concurred that Whitney "did drugs to escape her pain."

Whitney's drug use eventually transitioned from recreational dabbling to addiction. "Things got worse and worse," a family source told the magazine. "Suddenly, when she was using, she had no idea who she was or who you were and she became angry and lashed out. We'd take turns checking on her in Atlanta when things were bad." The insider claimed enablers "allowed Whitney to do what she wanted to do" for fear of getting fired "if she felt you were not being cooperative on some level."

She and Brown were often high in front of their daughter

In Brown's 2016 book, Every Little Step, he says he and Whitney "failed" daughter Bobbi Kristina and often used drugs in their little girl's presence. "For some reason Whitney's drug use got worse after Bobbi Kris was born. Maybe it was because she had to stop using all those months while she was pregnant, but she resumed with a vengeance. I would try to keep Whitney locked in the room, telling her she shouldn't come in front of our daughter because of the way the drugs affected her. But I couldn't police Whitney; nobody could police Whitney. She did what she wanted," he wrote (via People).

"Our daughter was growing up in the middle of all of this," he wrote. "She often saw her mother and father high, and was around the two of us when we were f**ked up. We tried to keep it away from her, but it was hard for us to see her only when we were sober. How much quality time can you spend with your daughter when you're high all the time? ... This went on for years and years. Our daughter saw it all. When I think about it now, I just feel enormous pain."

Bobbi Kristina may have wanted her dead

Los Angeles Times writer Amy Kaufman, who viewed Whitney at the Cannes Film Festival, claims the documentary paints a dark and sinister picture of Bobbi Kristina Brown. "The doc reveals that Bobbi Kristina once attempted suicide while Houston was alive, cutting her arms," Kaufman tweeted. "She apparently said she wished she could find a way to kill her mother without anyone finding out."

A woman identified as "Aunt Bae" in the film claims (via People) that after Whitney came home from the hospital with baby Bobbi Kristina, she left her primarily in Aunt Bae's care for the first eight years of the child's life. Though Bobby Brown and Whitney doted on their daughter in public, sources in the documentary (via Us Weekly ) allege that the superstars were neglectful parents who exposed Bobbi Kristina to drugs at a young age.

Some may have tried to extort her

In the 2016 book Whitney & Bobbi Kristina: The Deadly Price of Fame (via the New York Post), author Ian Halperin claims Whitney was targeted by a Chicago lawyer who tried to extort her. On the eve of the Bodyguard film debut in 1992, the attorney allegedly demanded $250,000 from the songbird or he'd go public with "intimate details" about her love life. Whitney's father, John, reportedly "settled the matter by sending a confidentiality agreement almost immediately... [it was] unclear how much money was paid to silence the person and whether he met the initial demand for $250,000."

What kind of dirt was the lawyer threatening to dish? It could have had something to do with rumors about Whitney being in a romantic relationship with her longtime assistant and close friend Robyn Crawford. Whitney and her mother, Cissy, denied the claims, but Brown has alleges Whitney was bisexual in Every Little Step.

In Whitney: Can I Be Me (via People), Whitney's former bodyguard, David Roberts, says, "Bobby Brown and Robyn Crawford were like fire and ice. They hated each other. They'd battle for her affections." Former styalist LaVar says in the film, "I think she was bisexual ... Robyn provided a safe place for her."

Her family didn't accept her relationship with Robyn

Former bodyguard Ammons claims Whitney's father, John, did not approve of her alleged relationship with Crawford. According to Whitney & Bobbi Kristina: The Deadly Price of Fame (via the New York Post), Ammons says John offered him $6,000 to "put the fear of God" in Crawford. Ammons says he refused, and John then allegedly "warned the bodyguards to 'keep an eye' on Robyn."

Whitney's mother, Cissy, told Oprah Winfrey she would "absolutely" be unhappy if Whitney had been in a relationship with a woman and that she "didn't particularly like" Crawford because she "was disrespectful sometimes" but "turned out to be alright, I guess ... They were very good friends."

In 1999, Crawford reportedly left the singer for good. In Whitney: Can I Be Me (via People), stylist LaVar says Crawford's exit "was the beginning of [Whitney's] downfall." Brown also claimed that the family's scorn and Crawford's depature crushed Whitney. "I really feel that if Robyn was accepted into Whitney's life, Whitney would still be alive today," he told Us Weekly. "She didn't have close friends with her anymore." 

Brown may have been emotionally and physically abusive

Though in subsequent interviews Brown has adamantly denied ever striking Whitney, he admitted in his book, Every Little Step (via E! News), that he did, at one time, hit her because she was allegedly doing drugs while he was trying to get clean. "I did [strike Whitney]," he wrote. "Me at the time, trying to maintain a sobriety and the person that's in your relationship is not going along with it — it was rough."

The former New Edition singer also accuses Whitney in his book (via People) of having more than one affair during their relationship, and he uses those allegations to justify his own infidelity. "In fact, she cheated before I did," he wrote. "She slept with quite a few of the producers and artists that she worked with or associated with [over] the years. I won't drop any names here because they're still around and a few view me as a friend. When I found out about the first one, I was blown away. I thought, 'Okay, okay, you gonna play me like that? I'm not that type of dude, but if you can do it, I can do it too.'"

Madonna dissed her

Madonna didn't mince words when it came to Whitney Houston, who was one of her biggest Billboard chart rivals. Madge even described the "I Will Always Love You" singer as "horribly mediocre" in a letter to a friend (via Page Six) in the early '90s. Madonna allegedly wrote that she was tired of being compared to Whitney and would "rather die" than be like her.

Whitney appears to have remained diplomatic when questioned about or compared to the "Material Girl."


Brown's sister sold her out

During one of Whitney's darkest periods, her own sister-in-law, Tina Brown, reportedly sold her out to the tabloids. According to Vanity Fair, Tina was allegedly addicted to crack cocaine and sold a story titled "Inside Whitney's Drug Den" to the National Enquirer. In the story, Tina claims Whitney saw "demons" when she was high and believed the demons beat her up until she was black and blue; Tina believes Whitney inflicted the injuries upon herself.

Bobby Brown may have resented her success

Whitney and Bobby Brown were on relatively equal footing in their careers when they met in 1989 at the Soul Train Awards, but she eclipsed him in an epic manner with the success of 1992's The Bodyguard and its smash song, "I Will Always Love You." Her longtime real-life bodyguard, David Roberts, believes Brown resented her for it, leading to the demise of their marriage.

"[Brown] was just not good at looking after her. He was always either in conflict or creating conflict," Roberts told The Guardian, adding that he believed Brown "lost his own identity, which I suspect he resented deeply, especially as his own talents were inferior to Miss Houston's."

Roberts claims Brown was physically and verbally abusive to Whitney, no matter how much she tried to placate his fragile ego. "[Brown] was jealous of her success, so he rubbed her face in his cheating, but she forgave him every possible indiscretion. I just couldn't understand it. And it ate away at her." Roberts believes Whitney would still be alive today if she had not gotten involved with Brown. "Unfortunately, Mr. Brown has a lot of inadequacies he has to come to terms with, and I'm not sure he has, even to this day."

Her drug use may have been worse than anyone knew

Bobby Brown previously confessed that Whitney's struggles with drug abuse were severe, but sources claim in Whitney that it was even worse than previously reported. Whitney's brother, Michael, who worked as her tour manager, claimed they'd frequently use drugs together. Home video footage in the documentary reportedly shows Whitney chain-smoking and behaving erratically.

Whitney's longtime stylist, Ellin Lavar, and Whitney's bodyguard, David Roberts, were terrified for her life. Lavar says in the film (via People) that she begged Whitney to get clean for years. Roberts said that he alerted Whitney's team to her rampant drug use in 1999 after allegedly witnessing her overdose on her My Love Is Your Love tour. Instead of getting help for Whitney, Roberts claims, the team fired him.

Whitney reportedly tried to get help for her drug addiction but couldn't stay clean. Her former drug counselor, Carrie Starks, says in the film, "She wanted to be normal ... She really didn't care about fancy clothes and fancy cars. She would say to me, 'I want to get off drugs so I can be a mother to my daughter.'" 

She had close ties to an alleged con artist when she died

Raffles Van Exel, a self-described "entertainment consultant," was reportedly close to Whitney at the time of her death. He told the Mirror that he found Whitney's body, and he told a Dutch newspaper (via the Daily Mail) that he "emptied" her hotel room, though he didn't say what he removed. Sources told TMZ that a person(s) may have removed evidence from the room before authorities arrived. One insider claimed that the same person who allegedly removed cocaine from Whitney's hotel room is the same person who supplied it to her.

Van Exel vehemently denied any connection to those claims, telling the Mirror, "The only thing I did was help Whitney's family take all her belongings out of the hotel room after the police had given us permission to clear it. I did not 'clean' the room and I never said I did."

Someone close to her sold her out after she died

After Whitney's untimely death, someone at her viewing sold a photo of her in her casket to the National Enquirer, sending her family and friends, as well as the funeral home where she was laid to rest, into a tizzy trying to figure out who would do something so foul. 

Tragically, when Whitney and Bobby's daughter died in 2015, someone also sold a photo of Bobbi Kristina in her casket to the same tabloid for what was rumored to be more than $100,000. The Houston and Brown families have reportedly feuded with one another and exchanged blame trying to determine who would stoop to such a level.

Bobby Brown thinks she died from a broken heart

Despite Whitney's well-documented drug abuse and the coroner's report, Bobby Brown still insists drugs were not to blame for her tragic death. He told Rolling Stone in February 2018 that she died from "just being broken-hearted." 

Though the coroner's report cited cocaine, Benadryl, Xanax, and marijuana, Brown said, "She was really working hard on herself to try to be a sober person and ... she was a great woman." Brown would not elaborate on what he believed contributed to Whitney's allegedly broken heart or why he refused to believe she was still using drugs at the time of her passing.

Whitney director Kevin Macdonald told Deadline, "I think Bobby just isn't really ready to be honest ... There's the perfect example of somebody who is, I think, [feeling] just very guilty. I'm surmising that, I don't know that, but it feels like there's a lot of guilt, and a kind of posturing, and a self-protectiveness that's still going on there. And he felt, to me, just unwilling — or unable — to really be honest about himself, let alone to be honest about Whitney."