What We Learned About Whitney Houston After Her Death

Few voices are more iconic, more legendary, and more celebrated than that of the late singer Whitney Houston, who was adored around the world by multitudes of fans. A household name by the mid-1980s for ubiquitous ballads like "Saving All My Love For You" and "The Greatest Love of All," Houston was propelled into mega-stardom for her performance in The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner. The film featured her biggest single, "I Will Always Love You," which dominated airwaves and is rightfully cemented forever in musical canon.

Unfortunately, the diva died tragically on February 11, 2012, according to USA Today. Houston accidentally drowned in a bath tub at a hotel in Beverly Hills, just before pre-Grammy celebrations were about to kick off. It seemed like the whole world was in mourning for months afterwards. While the tabloids were ruthless to Houston during her life, they didn't get their hands on every intimate detail about her. In fact, we only learned about some of the biggest secrets long after her untimely passing — and here they are.

She was acutely intoxicated with drugs, according to her autopsy

Pretty much everyone suspected that Houston struggled with substance abuse issues, which she confirmed during her notorious interview with Diane Sawyer. But the true extent of her drug use wasn't clear until the toxicology report from her autopsy showed that she had been a chronic user of cocaine, according to USA Today. She was also "acutely intoxicated with cocaine" when she tragically died. 

Although the public didn't know it, Houston's loved ones had been concerned for a long time about her drug use. That includes her mother, Cissy, who once saw her daughter extremely intoxicated. "I saw her one time really high," she revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "I wanted to hurt her, I really did, because it hurt me so bad." 

Her brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Pat, were also worried, as they felt her drug use had "gone overboard" to a dangerous place. "I knew that she was in trouble," Pat confessed in an interview with Nightline. And while everyone did what they could, in the end it wasn't enough to save her.

Her brother introduced her to drugs

One of the most viral pop culture myths that circulated during Houston's life was that she was a wholesome, angelic figure until Bobby Brown corrupted her with drugs and his bad boy ways. But the truth is actually quite different, according to the documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me (via Page Six), which exonerates Brown from some of the blame that people heaped upon him. 

For one, Houston had been dabbling with drugs long before she even met Brown — she had actually started experimenting with substances in her youth. And later, it was her older brother Michael who first introduced her to cocaine. "We did everything together, so once I was into that, she followed suit," he confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. But he was quick to note that it was a different time, given that it was the 1980s — attitudes were different then. And as for what these drugs could do to a person? "We didn't know," he continued. "That's something I've got to live with for the rest of my life." Heartbreaking.

She was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

Perhaps the most shocking secret that surfaced about Houston after her death is that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, which was revealed in the 2018 documentary Whitney. Kevin McDonald, the director of the film, said the information came to light during an interview with Houston's brother Gary, wherein he confessed that he had been sexually abused by a female family member, according to Buzzfeed NewsWhen McDonald asked if the same had happened to his sister, Gary said he didn't know — so McDonald started digging.

McDonald next asked Gary's wife Pat about it, who confirmed that Whitney had mentioned being sexually abused to her. Then he sat down with Mary Jones, Houston's longtime assistant, who confirmed that Houston indeed was sexually abused. According to Macdonald, she said, "I think it explains so much about why Whitney could not stop taking drugs, and why she could never find peace." That's a true travesty. Jones also revealed the name of the abuser on camera: Dee Dee Warwick, Houston's cousin, and sister of Dionne Warwick. What an awful situation, all around.

Her family had beef with her BFF for a terrible reason

One person who was constantly in Houston's orbit was her friend and assistant, Robyn Crawford. The duo were often the subject of tabloids, who constantly wondered if they were more than just friends, according to NME magazine. Additionally, perhaps because of homophobia or because of other conflicting interests, members of Houston's family had serious beef with Crawford, according to the documentary Whitney (via Rolling Stone). 

For one, Houston's father considered hiring a goon to scare Crawford away from Houston, which didn't end up happening. "He refrained from that because you never know what the outcome is going to be when you send people like that to do something," noted Gary. 

But Gary didn't have fond feelings about Crawford either. "I knew she was something that I didn't want my sister to be involved with," Gary continued. "It was evil; it was wicked." As for Whitney Houston's mother Cissy's opinion of Crawford? "I didn't particularly like her," she shared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. And she added that she would definitely not be okay if her daughter was a lesbian.

Friends say her relationship with her BFF was special

Despite the fact that Houston's family disapproved of Crawford, other people in Houston's life felt differently about her — and their possible relationship. Mainly, some of Houston's friends were decidedly fine with the bond between Houston and Crawford, according to Whitney (via NME) magazine.

So who was it that showed their support — and confirmed that perhaps the rumors were true? For starters, Houston's musical director Rickey Minor said that the singer's sexuality was "fluid." Additionally, Houston's former stylist Ellin LaVar described the singer's marriage to Bobby Brown was something she did because it was "expected." And another friend noted that "Robyn was her safety net."

As for what Crawford had to say? "She was a loyal friend, and she knew I was never going to be disloyal to her," she penned in a tribute to the late singer in Esquire. "I was never going to betray her." So no matter what, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Crawford and Houston were indisputably friends. Beyond that, we may never know for certain.

She and Michael Jackson had a special friendship

It's no secret that Houston was good friends with fellow legend Michael Jackson, and that she was heartbroken by his untimely death. "I thought: this can't be true," she shared while fighting back tears in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "To have it end like that saddened me." Given how much his fans were hurting, we can't imagine that that must have been like.

But after Houston's equally untimely death, more details about their bond emerged, according to Whitney (via Rolling Stone). "Michael Jackson would call her sometimes, and she would go over and sit with him in his hotel room, and they wouldn't even say anything to each other," one of Houston's former employees revealed. "But they understand each other. They were two of the few people in the world who could understand what their circumstances were." Given that they shared the same level of mega-celebrity, it makes sense that they would find solace in each other's company.

She threw shade at Paula Abdul... and others

Even though Houston was an undisputed and unparalleled talent, she was surprisingly competitive with some of her contemporaries. And she didn't have the nicest things to say about them, either. "I'm pissed off — these people think it's so damn easy," she groused to her mother in Whitney (via Rolling Stone). Cissy's reply? "It's starting to make you wonder how a song like [C+C Music Factory's] 'Things That Make You Go Hmmmm' could be a hit, huh?" Shots fired!

Another subject of her ire was singer Paula Abdul, who was quite the star herself — but not in Houston's opinion. "The girl is singing off-key on the record!" Houston asserted. "What's she got? She's got an image that we all know ain't even really true." Double ouch. Houston and her mother also complained about Janet Jackson in the film, according to NME magazine. Sounds like no one was safe from their shade!

She never rehearsed for her Super Bowl performance

If you were alive in 1991, chances are you saw one of the most iconic musical performances of all time: Houston's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl. It was magic, pure and simple, and left viewers covered in goosebumps and crying in their seats. It was during the war in the Persian Gulf, and Houston knew what was at stake. "We needed hope to bring our babies home," she declared in Whitney (via NME). "And that's what it was about for me, that what I felt when I sang that song." That deep sincerity was evident.

But what we didn't know until long after her death was that she didn't rehearse at all for that performance, according to her musical director, Rickey Minor. She had been inspired by Marvin Gaye's rendition of the anthem in 1983, so he created the arrangement — which the orchestra apparently hated — with that in mind. And when she finally sang it, it was the first run, ever. That's just how incredible she was.

What she did to sober up on the set of Sparkle

One of Houston's last projects was the film Sparkle, a movie about three sisters in the 1960s who form a girl group that becomes successful — and have to contend with the pressures of fame. The film didn't get the same reception as The Bodyguard, but many critics agreed that Houston delivered a solid performance as the domineering mom.

But there was more to the story, which we didn't know until years later: Houston's first day on set was rocky, as she showed up "bloated and slurring" according to Whitney (via USA Today). But the rest of the filming was much smoother, as Houston agreed to take a drug test every week and pass it — which she did. That impressed her longtime agent Nicole David, who attributed the positive change to "joy of having a purpose." Alas, the turnaround was temporary, as Houston passed away three months after filming completed.