By David-Elijah Nahmod
Life in the spotlight isn't easy, as the new documentary Whitney Houston & Bobbi Kristina: Didn't We Almost Have It All illustrates.
The film, which premieres on Lifetime on February 6 at 8 p.m., tells the tale of these two tragic women, a mother and daughter. Both of them struggled with addiction and the pressures of fame before dying under eerily identical circumstances only three years apart.
Viewers will have a good idea of who Whitney Houston was after they watch this film. The filmmakers got many people close to Houston to sit down and talk for the camera.
Houston's sister-in-law, goddaughter, plus a variety of close friends and co-workers remember a woman who was down to earth and kind, a woman who always gave her all when she sang for her adoring public. But she yearned for a normal life. She wanted a home and a family, which she almost achieved with her husband, singer/songwriter Bobby Brown. Brown was the love of Houston's life, but drug abuse and Brown's wandering eye tore them apart.
Brown was not interviewed for the film, though he is seen and heard in archival footage, as is Cissy Houston, Whitney's mother. The elder Houston was also not interviewed for the film.
Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina underscore the tragedy of Houston's life. She was beautiful and talented, but the tabloid press hounded her throughout her life. In a vintage audio recording taken from a radio interview with talk show host Wendy Williams, Houston laments that people who never met her, people who don't know her, talk about her so freely.
One of the more heartbreaking interviews in the film comes from Houston's drug counselor, who tried hard to get Houston to clean up her act. Houston tried and went through periods of sobriety, but she always went back to the drugs.
During Houston's lifetime, there was much speculation that she may have had a lesbian relationship with Robyn Crawford, her best friend, and assistant. The film briefly glosses over this question without reaching any definite conclusion. Filmmaker Rudi Dolezal, who filmed Houston on tour and became a friend, says that he believes that Houston was bisexual but that she wanted Brown's marriage to work. Crawford and Houston go their separate ways. Crawford, who was not interviewed for the film, is seen in a 2019 interview from The Today Show.
Towards the end of her life, after her divorce from Brown, Houston unofficially adopted a young man named Nick Gordon. Houston, her daughter, and Gordon became inseparable, but many in Houston's inner circle were alarmed. They tried to warn Houston that Gordon was up to no good, to no avail. After Houston's death, Gordon became Bobbi Kristina's boyfriend. Many were concerned that Gordon was after the money that Bobbi Kristina inherited from her mother.
The deaths of Houston and Bobbi Kristina still give people chills. Both were found unresponsive in bathtubs. Houston died right away, while Bobbi Kristina lived in an induced coma for six months, finally dying after she was taken off life support.
Viewers' hearts might break when Brown and Cissy Houston, both seen in archival footage, speak about how they feel in the aftermath of the two deaths.
"I'm still grieving," says Cissy Houston. "I miss my daughter. The most precious moment in my life was when I had my daughter."
Whitney and Bobbi Kristina: Didn't We Almost Have It All stands as a cautionary tale, a warning to anyone who might be thinking of going into the entertainment business. Houston and her daughter indeed had it all. It may have been too much.
Immediately following the documentary, Lifetime will rebroadcast Whitney, a 2015 biopic covering some of the years that Houston and Brown were together.
Yaya DaCosta stars as Houston, while Arlen Escarpeta plays Brown. Though neither actor looks very much like the people they're portraying, both give good performances and offer some insight into the couple's loving, intense, if stormy relationship. The film received mixed reviews upon its initial airing though DaCosta's work was praised. Some have questioned the film's accuracy.
Robyn Crawford, played by Yolonda Ross, appears throughout the film, but her character is never developed, and no mention is made of her alleged lesbian affair with Houston.
Deborah Cox provides Houston's singing voice and proves herself to be a powerful singer in her own right. Director Angela Bassett, who acted with Houston in the 1995 film Waiting to Exhale, keeps the story moving fast. Whitney may not be the last word on the iconic singer's life, but it is well made and is highly entertaining.