The 1989 "Soul Train" Awards shook Houston's world in another way. That night, Houston met Bobby Brown. Raised in the projects of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, Brown, then only 20, was a star himself, having scored hits as a member of New Edition. His multimillion-selling 1988 solo album, Don't Be Cruel, established him as the king of new-jack swing, and he was a hell-raiser in other ways – he had already fathered three kids with two women.
As Houston later told RS, Brown was initially brusque toward her: "He was hot, he was on fire. I and some friends of mine were sitting behind him. I was hugging them, we were laughing, and I kept hitting Bobby in the back of the head . . . I leaned over and said, 'Bobby, I'm so sorry.' And he turned around and looked at me like, "Yeah, well, just don't let it happen again.' And I was like, 'Oooooh, this guy doesn't like me.' Well, I always get curious when somebody doesn't like me." Eventually, it was Brown who asked Houston out; the two became a couple almost immediately. Houston turned down his first marriage proposal. She told RS, "The first time he asked me to marry him, I said, 'Forget about it, no way. It's just not in my plans.' [But] after a year or so, I fell in love with Bobby." They married in 1992. To many, the couple were a strange fit. But Houston and Brown, as one of their later duets would say, had something in common: "When you love, you love," Houston told RS. "You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same place. Bobby comes from Boston, out of the projects. I come from Newark, out of the projects. Bobby has two very strong parents, I have two very strong parents." She later told Oprah Winfrey they were in "crazy love" at the time and had sex constantly.
Her marriage to Brown worked on other fronts; she'd long been attracted to bad boys, and had briefly dated Eddie Murphy. But rumors swirled that Houston was in a relationship with Robyn Crawford, a female friend from her teen years who worked as Houston's assistant on the road. Houston denied the rumors to RS: "Our relationship is that we're friends. We've been friends since we were kids. She now is my employee. I'm her employer. And we're still best of friends. I mean, what kind of a person am I - to be married and to have another life?" Crawford has never addressed the issue (and declined to speak with RS for this article).
Brown was later quoted saying the marriage was "doomed from the very beginning. I think we got married for all the wrong reasons. Now, I realize Whitney had a different agenda than I didI believe her agenda was to clean up her image, while mine was to be loved and have children. The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant. In Whitney's situation, the only solution was to get married and have kids. That would kill all speculation, whether it was true or not." Houston ferociously defended her marriage to the press. "You see somebody, and you deal with their image. It's part of them, it's not the whole picture," she told RS. "I am not always in a sequined gown. I am nobody's angel. I can get down and dirty. I can get raunchy." Looking back on that time, Houston later told Winfrey, "[Brown] allowed me to be me."
Months after her marriage to Brown, Houston made her feature-film debut in The Bodyguard. By then, she'd been signed to Triad, a Hollywood talent agency. Watching the glamour-girl video for "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," several Arista executives joked, "There's the screen test." The moment arrived with The Bodyguard. Houston's role - a pop star being stalked by a psycho – wasn't a stretch, and expectations for the film were modest.
At the last minute, co-star Kevin Costner suggested Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" to replace another song planned for the film. During the sessions for the song, producer David Foster saw Cissy Houston nearby: "She had no idea who I was, and she leaned over and said, 'You're witnessing greatness right now – I hope you know that.'" During the making of the Bodyguard soundtrack, Houston painstakingly worked on all the vocal parts in "I'm Every Woman" while visibly pregnant. Her daughter with Brown, Bobbi Kristina, was born in March 1993.
Promotion executives at Arista were initially worried that radio stations wouldn't play a song with a 45-second a cappella intro, but nothing could stop "I Will Always Love You," a massive hit that helped the soundtrack album sell at one point a million copies a week. By the late Nineties, according to Lott, Arista's annual gross profit had jumped from $35 million, when Houston was first signed, to $400 million, and Houston's record sales were largely credited with boosting that number.
After making two more movies – the female-empowerment film Waiting to Exhale and the comedy The Preacher's Wife – Houston returned to music full-time with 1998's My Love Is Your Love. By now, rumors that she and Brown were a tempestuous couple were rampant. The album had a tougher lyrical and musical stance, particularly on one of its standouts, "It's Not Right But It's Okay," about marital infidelity.
While working on the album with Houston, Wyclef Jean sensed her growing disenchantment with the expectations placed on her from all sides. "We talked about the church, because that's where it started," says Wyclef. "Once you can stand up and rock the church congregation, everything else is easy. But when you're a church person, people expect you to be a certain way."
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