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What Really Killed Whitney Houston? On the Mainstream Media’s Cover-up of the Star’s Sexuality: “The Greatest Love of All”

What Really Killed Whitney Houston? On the Mainstream Media’s Cover-up of the Star’s Sexuality: “The Greatest Love of All”

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Was Whitney Houston killed by homophobia?  In the weeks since Whitney Houston’s tragic death which, given the circumstances of her very public struggles, seemed at once shocking and inevitable, I’ve been a bit surprised by my extremely emotional reaction.  I’ve noticed that many of my peers had similar responses.   I’ve wanted to write about it but felt unsure about what I wanted to say and what I could add to the avalanche of attention her passing has precipitated a media’s  coverage which almost unilaterally ignored the elephant in the room: Whitney Houston’s sexuality.

Of course I’ve thought about the joy her gifts brought to me and to the world and the terrible squandering of a truly tremendous talent.  To me, Whitney Houston’s voice was, literally, a stunning piece of golden cloth that embodied qualities of three of the most important vocalists of the generation that preceded her: the authentic gospel fervor of Aretha Franklin and her ability to take you to church, effortlessly tossing off vocal riffs, the clear, stunning tone of Barbra Streisand and her ability to swoop and soar and thrill you by holding a note with no riffing at all. Perhaps, most implausibly, on top of her astonishing vocal skill, she had the head-turning looks, poise and and effortless glamour of Diana Ross.  But there is more to the Whitney Houston collective grief issue than the loss of a great talent.

Whitney Houston spotlight

On a personal level, I’ve thought about the passage of time and how I lost my innocence roughly at the same time Whitney must have and at the same place: Arista Records.  My very first job in the business was at Arista, where I joined the Sales Department as an intern in 1988 as the label was “working” her second album Whitney.  From my vantage point on the floor, (literally — I didn’t have a desk), I observed a culture as permissive about drugs as it was unpermissive of failure.  While senior executives around me blew lines off their desks in the middle of the afternoon, I did my part to help the Arista machine accomplish its unilateral mandate for their prestige artist, Whitney Houston, to break the Beatle’s record of most consecutive number one songs NO MATTER WHAT!  This was the pre-Soundscan era, when, as I quickly learned, labels could manipulate the charts based on a complicated system of favors, gifts and deal-making.  At Arista we begged, borrowed and stole to make “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” Whitney Houston’s seventh consecutive “number one” record, thus surpassing a record formerly held by the Beatles.  I never believed the charts again and Arista has been bragging about Whitney’s “accomplishment” to this day.  But she didn’t need to break records to prove she was great, she only had to sing.

I’ve thought much about how Whitney’s troubles prevented her from creating a more formidable body of work (her output was slender:  just six studio albums, a few soundtracks, a Christmas album and a greatest hits package since 1985).  I’ve thought about addiction itself and the loneliness, struggles and suffering that all addicts endure.  I’ve imagined the interventions and the tremendous powerlessness the people who loved her must have felt as they watched the self-immolation of a supremely unique talent.

I’ve also wondered quite a bit, as I have for many years, which version of the Houston persona was authentic.  Was she the poised, all-American sweetheart that the world fell in love with, or the trash-talking, hoody girl who married a third-rate R&B crooner?  Was the warm, thoughtful girl we initially met just another Clive Davis construction that we were supposed to believe in? (Like Barry Manilow’s true loves: his dog and that chick named “Linda” that he thanked on the back of all his Arista albums).  Was the coarse, hardened, post-The Bodyguard Whitney who married Bobby Brown the real person or just the effect of the drugs?  Any exploration on this subject can’t be fairly addressed without considering another moving piece in this discussion of identity and image: Whitney Houston was definitely not heterosexual.  She was at least bisexual and her girlfriend for most of the 1980s was named Robyn Crawford.

As I watched Oprah Winfrey interviewing daughter Bobbi Kristina and sister-in-law Pat Houston the other night, (which scored huge ratings), I could feel how hard Winfrey was working to shape the narrative by the choice of which leading questions to ask and which to leave out.  It did occur to me that Winfrey would have multiple reasons, (perhaps even personal reasons), to avoid any discussion of sexual orientation.  But here’s the irony that that makes the media’s apparent complicity with the family and the record label to expunge any dialogue about Whitney’s sexuality so surprising: it really wasn’t much of a secret to begin with.  If you worked in the business, or at Arista Records, as I did, you knew that Whitney was at least bisexual, if not gay, and you certainly knew that for years Whitney was partnered with Robyn.  It was common knowledge, not proprietary information.  You’d be at a venue and see them kissing.  It just wasn’t that secret a secret, except to the public.

Whitney Houston with Robyn Crawford
Whitney with her girlfriend Robyn Crawford

I bring this up not to be gossipy or salacious, but really because, as my friend and fellow cultural commentator Nancy Balbirer astutely noted to me, it seems entirely possible that Houston’s underlying emotional conflict and eventual death is probably as attributable to homophobia as it is to anything else.  It takes a lot of energy to stay closeted and most of us can only imagine what this felt like under the glare of fame as large as Whitney’s.  Here’s what I do know: Robyn was real, she was around for years and they were definitely together.  I also know that Arista Records and, indeed, the record business in general, was a homophobic place to be.  In fact, after nine or ten months literally working on the floor, I was “fired” by a homophobic executive with the initials K.A. who didn’t like fags, even ones who worked five days a week for free.  The label needed to contain Whitney’s open secret, especially as it was grooming her for a film career, a process which necessitated a husband.  Exit Miss Crawford.  Enter Mr. Brown.

I wonder too about the family —  a religious family for whom the church was a defining source of a strength; but also a church that most certainly does not sanction homosexuality.  Whitney is almost always characterized as being extremely religious and I imagine the pressure to be straight, or at least appear so, became overwhelming. If you’ve ever wondered why a woman who could have married a prince chose Bobby Brown instead, try thinking of it as a perfect expression of rage and an ideal way to say “fuck you!”  Of course, this is conjecture on my part, but it does fit nicely into the narrative that I prefer for Whitney.  The one that includes the story of her love for another woman and the price she paid for it.  I can imagine that these sacrifices could make someone very angry.  Angry enough to marry a creep and do a lot of blow.

In the end, with forces as powerful as Clive Davis, Oprah Winfrey and the church working overtime to shape the narrative, we will never hear the whole story. Whitney didn’t have the ability or inclination to be political about her sexuality, a fact that can be forgiven when you think about what she was able to share with the public: the music.  Still, I wonder if you agree with me that when it comes to the pervasive and destructive power of homophobia, it is fair to at least engage in a more honest dialogue about what may have driven someone who had everything in the world to lose everything.  Any truthful discussion would have to include the part about who Whitney Houston loved.  What do you think?

In parting, I admit feeling conflicted to the extent of wanting to, in the end, honor the music and Whitney’s preference to leave her sexuality out of it.  In that spirit, here is one of the best-ever live Whitney performances which finds her at the height of her power and truly captures her glorious voice and presence at a moment in time when it seemed that the world belonged to her.  From the 1989 Grammy Awards, here is Whitney singing Albert Hammond’s and my old buddy John Bettis’ anthemic summer Olympics ballad, “One Moment In Time.” In this age of  auto-tuned novelty records, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the likes of this again.

[Addendum: I had the video of this performance up for several years but it was recently removed from YouTube due to copyright violation.  This is typical short sighted, old media record label thinking.]  Here is the audio of that performance:

 

You may also enjoy:

13 Songs That Should Have Been Top-Ten Hits, Volume 3: The Clive Davis Edition

Dim All The Lights for Donna Summer: One of Our Greatest Singers (In Any Genre)

How a 45-Minute Visit with Michael Jackson Led to Years of Nightmares

In Honor of Barbra Streisand’s 70th Birthday: How America’s Greatest Voice Helped Me Find My Own

 

105 Comments

  1. FELIX
    March 16, 2012 at 3:20 am
    Reply

    Nice work MONK!

    • John W. Strobel III
      March 23, 2012 at 9:46 am

      I couldn’t find any other way to share my thoughts about your article with you other than to piggyback onto another’s comments. I hope you see them. David I am an 80 year old novelist who has lived through the liberation of sexuality. I remember all of the snide, rude, ugly descriptions of those who chose to a different path to happiness in their personal lives and it disgusts me that I was weak enough to join in being a part of that ugliness. I guess you can call me a reformed Homophobic, whatever, I just know an excellent piece of writing when I see it. I spent 35 years in broadcast journalism reporting the news in the Los Angeles market so I am not nieve when it comes to entertainers and their lifestyles. However, I just could not let this article pass into oblivion without adding my comments. This is, perhaps, the best written, honest obituary I have ever read and I congratulate you for writing it.. I will pay you the greastest of compliments a journalist can give to another, I wish my name was on that piece as the author…Zingo David, you are a true wordsmith…JWSIII

    • David Munk
      March 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Hi John. Thank you so much for reading my piece and taking the time to share some of your story with me. I am so gratified that this piece seems to connect with what many are thinking. I frequently write about things that are less topical (like Carol Channing — though, if you ask me, Carol is ALWAYS topical) so it is a pleasure to feel a bit more widely read. Please keep reading!

      David

    • Sebastian
      February 24, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks for your wonderful article. I had an “uncle” from a very prominent east coast family who died way too young and I suspect because he was gay. He was under strict orders to stay in the closet. He wasn’t closeted with my parents, but he never told me or my little brother. He was from a different generation (the 40’s) and I came of age in the Eighties, and just started college and the second great wave of gay liberation swept over campuses. I was always upset with him that he never came out to me, but when he came up, that could have gotten you killed. I do suspect homophobia did kill Whitney, as I suspect it killed Uncle Billy. Thanks again for your article.

    • David Munk
      February 24, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      Dear Sebastian,

      It is heartfelt communication from readers like yourself that truly keep me motivated with Stargayzing. As you may have noticed, I have no advertising and the blog has not generated a single dollar since I began writing it over four years ago. Though I hope to monetize it soon, it is a complicated process. In the meanwhile though, comments like yours are worth something much greater than money. The spirit of your story reflects the spirit of why I write this blog.

      By the way, it is worth noting that the Huffington Post rejected an abridged version of this article that I had prepared to coincide with the third anniversary of Houston’s passing. This only proves the thesis of the piece and that there is much more work to be done.

      Thank you again for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. It means the world to me.

      David

  2. Joop
    March 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm
    Reply

    This is comforting stuff. Thanks.

    • David Munk
      March 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

  3. Alchemy
    March 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm
    Reply

    Thank you.

  4. Vincent Wolfe
    March 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm
    Reply

    David, I was moved and saddened and angered reading this. You’ve actually (and finally) written something with feeling and truth, and you obviously know about the biz and the price. I was a good friend (and a protege of) the late Phyllis Hyman, who exited (was dropped from) Arista about the time Clive signed Whitney. No secret about the conflict between Phyllis and Clive and she had to watch helplessly as he focused all the hit-making on Whitney as she (Phyllis) languished. I heard the “backstage” stories about Robyn and all that stuff and I knew that most of the time, being with a big label could be a nightmare. I know Whitney was pushed, prodded, molded into what she became… Thanks for your frank and insightful take on this really sad story. Of course Phyllis also had major drug and mental issues, and took her own life in 1995. I was crushed. Gary Barlow wrote a very interesting autobiog with a whole chapter on how badly and dismissively Clive treated him, after signing him as the next big act in the late 90’s. And he’s STILL here… such a difficult biz… such a price to pay for some artists.

    • David Munk
      March 19, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      Hi Vincent. Thank you for taking the time to share your stories. I met Phyllis a few times when I was working with Denise Rich who was her friend and I knew many people who adored her personally. I appreciate your feedback and thank you for reading. Feel free to repost or share my work if you feel so inclined and thanks again for taking time to respond. David

  5. Tony Moe
    March 20, 2012 at 4:58 am
    Reply

    Hello David Monk ….as i read your true words of the life of Whitney Houston….I am Engulfed….Engulfed because …I have a story that I have been dyeing to share and not be gossipy with friends and others….In the mid 1980.s I met this make up artist …he did artist makeup for magazine covers ….models …jazz musicians and etc….well I remember he had mention he was going to be make artist for this new young model…Singer and her name was Whitney Houston…I was Stunned his work for his artistry was on the map….as yrs gone by she became this phenominal female singer….well there were many stories of after shows of how she endulged in drugs even back then …..and as for sexuality their were stories of Robyn Crawford…and their relationship…..I remember there was one song and video…where Whitney was Singing and riding..driving a motorcycle and it was said at that time the person on the back of the bike was Robyn Crawford….you know David I just find it hard to believe that even in this day

    • David Munk
      March 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. David

  6. David Munk
    March 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm
    Reply

    Hi John, thanks for your comments. I’m really glad you liked the piece. xx

  7. Andrew
    March 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm
    Reply

    Well done. You should send this to the Advocate. It needs to be aired to a wider audience.
    AJ

  8. jl
    March 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm
    Reply

    very well written and very well put. I agree and also knew of what was happening behind the scenes.

    • David Munk
      March 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think of future pieces. David

  9. jl
    March 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm
    Reply

    no you should not send this article to anyone. bottom line Whitney’s desires were hers, not ours to exploit. If she wanted people to know she would have said so. Dead or alive she is not here to speak for herself

    • David Munk
      March 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you. There would be no written history if the world observed your suggestion. There was nothing but tremendous love and respect for Whitney as an artist and a person in my commentary. There was nothing exploitive whatsoever about what I wrote, only the desire to deepen other people’s understanding of what I believe was a driving force in a great artist’s demise. My opinions were based on my own first-hand understanding of her life based on a long career in the record business. And by the way, saying someone is gay or bisexual is only defamatory if you believe there is something wrong with being gay or bisexual. Finally, using the word “exploit” suggests I’m using this blog entry for profit or advantage; I can assure you, having never made a cent from my blog that it definitely ain’t for the profit. As for the advantage, the only advantage I’ve noted is hearing from so many people that expressing the truth in such a heartfelt way honors Whitney’s memory more respectfully than purpetuating untruths or, for example, interviewing the family on t.v. just four weeks later.

  10. Janice
    March 22, 2012 at 4:30 am
    Reply

    Thanks so much for writing this!
    Although I am not a particular fan of Whitney, I felt very sad about her terrible drug problems. And upon hearing of her death, I couldn’t help but think that hiding her sexual orientation was absolutely destructive to her. I truly hope your piece is published into wider circulation.

    • David Munk
      March 23, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Hi Janice. Thank you for your thoughts. Please feel free to share my piece and keep reading. David

  11. mixtress
    March 22, 2012 at 9:37 am
    Reply

    When she put out her new CD a few years back I bought two the physical media and the digital because I was rooting for her! Here in Jersey back in the day we would get reports of our girl showing up at the Dutchess (long gone but not forgotten) or another gay club in Newark with Robyn and we were all so proud and kept her secret among ourselves for the most part.
    I remember my brother in law calling me from Fla and saying he was working in a building where Whitney and Robyn lived together and he wanted to know if I KNEW Whitney was gay? I said it’s old news dude. He said that Whitney and Robyn were always together and he could tell they were lovers by the way they were holding hands and all sweet with each other. He just wanted to let me IN on it if I didn’t know… well I did and most of my lesbian friends knew from seeing them or hearing of them out together.
    Looking back and reading this article I think that the saddest thing is what she most feared from the outside she did to herself; in an attempt to keep harm away. It killed her and left us all the worse off for it, because that talent and beauty is no more. And I always felt that those love songs were to Robyn. RIP Whitney Houston we will always love you and we always did!

    • David Munk
      March 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you for reading and sharing your perspective. Very interesting anecdotes. We all, in a sense, held this secret for her, but why has the mainstream media ignored the issue? Stay tuned on my blog for more. David

  12. Karen
    March 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm
    Reply

    This was so well written and very enlightening.. Thank you David

    • David Munk
      March 22, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Thanks Karen. Please feel free to share it and keep reading. David

  13. Laniece
    March 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm
    Reply

    Excellent piece. I too feel that Whitney’s conflict with her sexuality played a part in her struggles with drugs.
    I see Phyllis Hyman’s name was mentioned here, which I find interesting because I read somewhere that she also was closeted.
    Can anyone confirm whether or not this is true? Was she ever spotted at gay bars/clubs or anything of that sort?

    • David Munk
      March 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read my piece.

  14. Lauren Zeifman
    March 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm
    Reply

    Great piece DM! love your work…. thank you for sharing!!xxx

  15. Trip
    March 22, 2012 at 10:25 pm
    Reply

    mainstream media doesn’t need to cover up a story that has no mainstream public interest. lots of online media outlets have covered this angle, and the fact that mainstream outlets haven’t shows a distinct lack of interest in the general public. if the story had any legs at all, the ordinarily salacious, intrusive media would be ghoulishly poking Whitney’s dead body for headlines.

  16. Charlo
    March 22, 2012 at 11:14 pm
    Reply

    There are parts of this essay I agree with and much that I don’t. Having seen up close how Clive Davis’ blatant manipulation of the charts and what get’s recorded by whom at his directives ( and if you DON’T do what he says, you WILL be ruined in the music business)–I am not surprised at all at his evil devices to run an artist into the ground for his purposes. He has his skeletons in his ‘closet’ that he doesn’t want exposed. Nevertheless, it was bad form to even mention Whitney’s connection with Robyn. Nobody cares. Was her working closely with Robyn a source of happiness? No. Whitney’s mom would NEVER allow that to be put out there. It was quickly squashed, and for good reason. I think it is cruel to say that because she allowed this passage in her life to be suppressed, she was destined to the sad end she had! Come ON! In the Entertainment industry there are still some circles where certain things are NOT kosher, or approved of being made public. I think that out of respect for her family, and her Mother in particular that this subject of Whitney’s life be closed. It is a bad way of dishing the dead.

    • David Munk
      March 23, 2012 at 12:37 am

      Hi there. While I completely disagree that honoring the truth is “bad form” I appreciate you taking the time to read my piece and comment.

  17. Robert Thorpe
    March 22, 2012 at 11:43 pm
    Reply

    David: I’m so glad someone has finally written about what I’ve been saying for years about Whitney and Robyn. I’m sure Arista wanted to put a lid on her sexuality to increase her appeal to a greater market. This destroys so many of our great artists. Ricky Martin came to his senses as did Lance Bass. I also was a friend of Phyllis Hyman and know the anguish she went through trying to get away from Clive and Arista for other reasons other than sexuality but still very unfair. We cannot lose anymore talent at the hand of careless people.
    Thanks for being so brave.

    • David Munk
      March 23, 2012 at 12:36 am

      Hi Robert. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time share your thoughts. Many people have mentioned Phyllis in response to this piece. I only met her once, when I was working with Denise Rich, but I know she was beloved and I love her music. One of the benefits of not working in the music business anymore is that I don’t have to give a shit about burning bridges. They’re all washed way anyway…. Please subscribe to my blog and feel free to repost. Best wishes, David

  18. Charles C
    March 23, 2012 at 5:59 am
    Reply

    Everything you said was true…People who follow Whitney would know this .Tragic and Truly wonderful Is two terms that shouldnt be side by side yet here it is..Great writing on your part..Keep doing it!!

  19. Shane
    March 23, 2012 at 8:15 am
    Reply

    David.
    You nailed it.
    An important lesson of loss, the ultimate destruction the closet brings and the hypocritical, evil tyrants that lock it.
    Well written, smart and complete.
    Shared.

  20. Pynelopi
    March 25, 2012 at 3:58 am
    Reply

    There is such an awesome truth to every single word of this piece. The fact that there is so much dishonesty with regard to this matter is exactly what is keeping everyone from having true closure for our friend Whitney….A was watching a whole lot of lies going down with that Oprah interview and it was quite unsettling. Keep speaking Truth David…The world needs to hear the REAL story….NOT the RIGHT story…..

  21. Carolyn Baker
    March 25, 2012 at 4:22 am
    Reply

    Bravo excellent article … my only disagreement would be that she died of the disease of addiction….fueled by the lies and demands of the fake life she lived and yet every negative part was lived publicly. Also Drugs were there when she and Robin were together. She and Bobby were pipe buddies that is what brought them together…she was never princess material no matter how much Clive tried to make it so,

    • David Munk
      March 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Carolyn. I agree, I don’t think Bobby introduced her to anything new. All that post-Bodyguard money just took it to another level. Of course Whitney died of addiction. Why she was an addict is a matter of speculation on anybody’s part, but I the point I’m trying to make is that Whitney had a lot of demons and I believe her sexuality was one of them. I’m an certainly not trying to vilify anyone specifically, except, perhaps, the mainstream media in general and Oprah Winfrey in particular. Oprah for trotting Bobbi Christina out for an interview within weeks of her mother’s death to prop up her sagging network.

  22. Kythera
    March 25, 2012 at 5:51 am
    Reply

    Hi David, interesting article, for me more because of what you divulge about the workings at Arista. There are a couple of things I disagree with, however. Firstly, that pic you post has been photoshopped: the actual photo includes, in between Whitney and Robyn, Bobby Brown and Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston. So, if you’ve cropped it and changed it to make it seem that Whitney and Robyn were standing together and smiling, isn’t that as much a distortion of Whitney’s image to suit your message as what Arista did?

    Also, I think it’s rather simplistic to say that, in essence, Whitney died a tragic death because she was forced to suppress her sexuality and pretend to be straight for the sake of the music business. This claim is usually extended by saying she was forced to abandon Robyn for Bobby. But, from what I understand, Robyn and Whitney had broken up much earlier and Robyn seemed ok with Whitney being with Bobby, as evidenced by the pic you have photoshopped and the fact Robyn was maid of honour at Whitney and Bobby’s wedding. Isn’t your claim akin it just salacious gossiping and simply inventing entire scenarios of what is going on in people’s private lives on the basis of a few scanty details? I know it’s a clever narrative to say Whitney was a gay girl who was destroyed by the music industry that wanted to make her heterosexual. But, as with all of us, the complex details of her private life are probably less simplistic and there were clearly many other dynamics at play (for example, why is it always assumed Whitney dumped Robyn and not the other way round?).

    And, even though it’s pretty well known that Robyn was Whitney’s girlfriend, she’s still a private individual and this tone of revelation you take (“I will reveal the name of Whitney’s lesbian lover: it was Robyn”) is not that far from the scandal gossip media for whom record companies construct these fake images of performers.

    You do point out one important factor that has been overlooked, and that’s the permissive drug culture. Since Whitney died of drugs, it’s more plausible to say that that is what destroyed her, especially since she appears to have been doing that shit from back in the day when she was with Robyn.

    • David Munk
      March 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      Hi there. I didn’t photoshop the picture. Maybe someone else did. I don’t manipulate pictures on my blog. But it is beside the point. What I’m saying is that Whitney and Robyn were a couple and everyone in the business knew it. I am proposing a theory that there was much pressure on Whit to get married, that’s all. I don’t think Bobby introduced Whitney to drugs — I think she was already there. Whether Whitney dumped Robyn or vice-versa is immaterial (interesting to note, however, that Robyn ran Whitney record label at Elektra in the mid- 90s when she was already married, so they must have been on decent terms at least). My thesis is just that one of the factors that contributed to Whitney’s torment was her conflict over her sexuality. That’s all. Thanks for reading!

    • kazy
      March 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      I don’t know why everyone assumes that Whitney and Robyn broke up just because Whitney got married. There are lots of gay celebrities that marry for image reasons like Whitney but continue to have their preferred relationships in the background. I’m not staying this was the case but I often have wondered that while Whitney may have married Bobbi Brown under pressure, she could still have very much been continuing her relationship with Robyn. Also, Whitney has been linked to a relationship with another woman as well. Robyn wasn’t a one time thing nor was she the only woman she was with. Oh, btw, Dave this is a wonderful piece and it should be “out” there. It’s time the straight community started accepting the fact that the entertainment industry is filled with gay people and not treat it as if it needs to be covered up, that it’s a privacy issue, that you should get permission from the family, all the while claiming that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Well if it’s a privacy issue and “what will her daughter think?” says there’s something wrong with being gay. Treating it differently than a heterosexual relationship makes it taboo, makes it less significant, less valued. Like one the commenters wrote: “Who cares?” Well I and million other gay people care along with plenty of straight people.

    • David Munk
      March 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

      i’m not sure whether they broke up or not and we’ll probably never know. Indeed, Robyn ran Whitney’s Nippy Record company which was connected to Elektra Records and that was in the mid-90s, so who knows. Anyway, thanks for reading – please subscribe to my blog so we can stay in touch. David

  23. Waddie G.
    March 25, 2012 at 9:57 am
    Reply

    Frankly, I am sick of white queer self-serving opportunist who has to make out a Black entertainer’s death into LGBT issues. Luther, Michael, and now Whitney. These demonic people were never in their inner-circles yet they chose to write about their struggles as closeted homosexuals. How can they prove that their sexuality became their demises? These people are just like GLAAD, white gay men who speak “on behalf of” the Black LGBT experience without mingling within the Black LGBT community and use impressionable Black LGBT people to share their points of view within the community.

    • David Munk
      March 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      I’m not sure how writing a blog piece that earns me not one cent is self-serving Waddie and though I take umbrage at being referred to as demonic (I guess you don’t mean that in a good way) I’ve decided to respond to you anyway. I knew Luther, I knew Michael and, though I never met Whitney, I worked at her label and certainly knew Clive Davis, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Robyn Crawford etc. etc. If anyone sounds racist here, I think it’s you — at least that what my black boyfriend just told me while he read this over my shoulder. Tell me, does having a black boyfriend count as “mingling” with the Black LGBT community?

    • patricia
      March 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      anda a cagar negro de mierda limpiate la boca antes de hablar de un blanco

  24. Londyn F.
    March 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm
    Reply

    Great article! Whitney E. Houston was a phenomenal artist. Sexuality in my opinion is very private, and sacred.

    We all have made negative and positive choices in life. It’s called being HUMAN. Whitney had the God given right, to make whatever choices she saw fit for her life, for whatever reason!

    Although she’s gone, And will be terribly missed! Whitney E Houston has already paid the price in full for all her errors. Let’s remember her for her phenomenal talents she graced us with, and NOT her flaws.

    -Londyn L. Flannigan

    • David Munk
      March 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      Hi there — I agree with you to a great extent. I don’t however, feel that being gay is a flaw; it just is.

  25. Kween
    March 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm
    Reply

    This was very interesting. I’m sure at some point in the career of Whitney Houston, we heard the rumors of her involvement with Robyn Crawford. I’m sure that a lot of what you’re describing about life at Arista is spot on as well. What I’m conflicted with, isn’t so much whether what you’re saying is truthful…as much as it is that it’s just not quite your place to speak on a past she [her family members AND Robyn] have all decided to keep a private matter. I read a piece written from Robyn after her death and if she’d wanted to “out” her friend, she would’ve. She knew her well…and honored that with her respectful silence. Just for YOU to know and be privy to the secrets of her life…knowing and understanding who she was and why she may have become twisted by her own fame, should be enough. In remembering her as you know her…you’re honoring her. You dishonor her, by speaking on something she may have not come to grips with…and quite possibly hadn’t wanted her fans and even her child to know about her. I honestly think…had you not been an employee at Arista and had not seen her and Robyn together…that if this was just a hypothetical collective of possible events, I might understand that this was written in an attempt to gain understanding. The fact that you claim personal knowledge and are writing about it without the permission of her family speaks more to your own agenda to how you feel about homophobia and less as to who she was and what her and her family’s wishes were for her.

    You’re right…history is written in SPITE of permissive okays and unresolved issues per person. Yet, you feel somehow justified in writing this…thereafter you eluded to the unorthodox and possibly ill-timed interview by Oprah. At least she had permission to do so.

    • David Munk
      March 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      I find it interesting that in a celebrity-obsessed culture where seemingly any detail of any sordid piece of gossip is crab combed and disseminated, that anyone would take exception to me sharing my personal stories and feelings about this subject, especially when they’re written with such obvious compassion and love. As a gay man who worked in the music industry for most of my life, knew most of the characters involved in this story and has struggled with substance abuse issues, the pain of coming out and homophobia both in the workplace and in the world, I feel very confident about my perspective. People don’t have to agree, but here is one thing I want to stress that I’ve mentioned before: saying someone is gay is only perjorative if you believe that is a bad thing to say about someone. I don’t believe it is a bad thing to say any more than I believe that saying someone is straight is perjorative.

      My insight is, I believe, a lot more truthful than the bullshit that has been propagated on television and by the family and the record label. God knows, Arista records was a very uptight place to work, especially if you were gay, but as they say, “the fish stinks from the head!”

    • Kween
      March 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      I don’t think someone admitting they’re gay is a bad thing to say…but, it should be THEIR admission is what I feel. I don’t doubt that you have insight, but you did write this (I hope) knowing that people would voice their opinion…and yes, we happen to disagree. As a writer myself I believe that as much as our expression and literary integrity lies in our honesty…so does it lie in our discretion. You’re free to write what you feel sir, I just voiced my feelings is all. As I’ve read above, there are people who do value your story…therefore you have an audience.

  26. Michael Flores
    March 26, 2012 at 11:34 am
    Reply

    Back in the 1980’s, I was living in South Orange, New Jersey and I would often take my dogs for a walk up at the South Mountain Reservation, a five thousand acre park within the Essex County Park System.

    On this one day during one of the summer months, I decided to stay off of the main walkways in the reservation and opted for the dirt paths that cut through the woods, which are so prevalent up on this mountain range. (locally referred to as “first mountain”)

    As we (my two retrievers & myself) walked through the untraveled wooded areas, we came across two black women sitting on a fallen dead tree and they were very heavily into “getting business done”.

    As a understanding & compassionate gay young man, I decided to alter my route and give them their privacy.
    (This section of South Mountain Reservation was a well know cruising area visited mostly (99.9%) by gay men back in the 1970’s & 80’s).

    After finishing our walk in the woods, I came back to the parking area, and since it was a beautiful day, I decided to sit on one of the park benches and just rest and people watch for a while.

    After about twenty minutes, the two black women I observed in the woods, came walking out to their waiting parked car (a BMW) and it was then that I realized that one of them was Whitney Houston. The other women… I had no idea who she was….until now, after reading your blog and seeing the above photo of them together.

    Thank you for writing this piece, David. You possess a wonderful talent for the written word, and I for one, am very jealous of you.

    I love the way you write and strongly believe that you should have a MUCH broader & public venue. Perhaps one day….

    Peace…..and please, don’t stop writing !!!!!

    -Mike Flores

    • David Munk
      March 26, 2012 at 11:42 am

      Mike that is a really fascinating anecdote. i wish some of the folks who have branded me an ambulance chaser would read it! Thanks for your kind words and please keep reading!

  27. Michael Flores
    March 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm
    Reply

    I failed to mention above (and just as a after thought)… Whitney’s cousin, Dionne Warwick, lived in a huge house just a quarter of a mile from the entrance to this reservation/park, also in South Orange.
    This neighborhood is known for its multi-million dollar mansions and elaborate landscaping. Dionne has sold that house since that time, but now I wonder if Whitney & Robyn were staying in that large house together and given shelter by their understanding cousin, Dionne.

  28. David Munk
    March 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm
    Reply

    Hi Anne, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate your thoughts and agree. Stay in touch! david

  29. ilikehoney
    April 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. I mostly appreciate the fact that you’ve managed to speak about Whitney positively instead of focusing on the drug use and other negativity. Thanks for adding a very human perspective to the observance of Whitney’s private life.

    • David Munk
      April 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      Hi there — I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece and appreciate you taking the time to read me. Please subscribe to the RSS feed and keep reading. It’s harder than you might imagine to get anyone to focus on anything nowadays!

  30. Faith
    April 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for this, David. It’s a service to LGBT people, of whom far too many have substance abuse problems because of the very pressure that Whitney apparently suffered. May her beautiful soul rest in peace.

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

      Hi Faith. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Please keep reading me!

  31. Dlou
    April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm
    Reply

    A beautifully written and compassionate piece; I completely disagree with people who say you shouldn’t discuss WH’s closeting. Should we also not talk about addiction? Or manipulation within the business? Or anything that would make people start to question how the status quo influences people?
    Really lovely piece and I’m totally going to follow this blog. xDlou P.S. This should be placed in a bigger forum–you shd pitch it to a UK magazine or newspaper. (I’m a freelance writer who’s done that with articles in the past, coz the pay is good.)

    • David Munk
      April 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      Hi Dana (i’m guessing that’s your name). I really appreciate your thoughts and obviously, I share your perspective. If you have any particular ideas about places to pitch this (or other pieces) in the U.K. I would be grateful. Thanks again and keep reading me and letting me know how I’m doing! David

  32. Called a Princess
    April 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm
    Reply

    It would seem to me, that the same people that would want David to edit this history to exclude Ms. Houston’s sexual orientation might belong to the same team that pressured her to lie and stay in the closet. There is a certain freedom in death that tends to expose petty loyalities to myth and craven personal persuits. In many ways Whitney was rather brave, but in some ways she was not. It is what made her human, and yes humans make mistakes. Pop culture seems to embrace the lie, before the truth to insure the soul of the entertainer sustains the most critical spiritual damage. Part of the human life journey, is to live in the truth and to not seek out corporate fantasy as reality. I would rather know the ugly truth then to believe a pretty lie.

    • David Munk
      April 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      Thank you so much for checking in and sharing your thought. I especially love that you used the word “craven” which is an awesome word but one of those words that I just forget to use. Don’t be surprised if it turns up next week — I’ll try to work it in to the big Streisand piece I’m preparing in honor of her 70th birthday.

  33. Giovanni Vitacolonna
    April 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm
    Reply

    Hello,

    I worked on Whitney’s Italian tour in 1988 with Wade Perry and Robyn Crawford. I couldn’t possibly add anything to this. Well said and … bless you.

    Giovanni

    • David Munk
      April 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Hi Giovanni. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Please keep reading my stuff and let me know your thoughts Ciao!

  34. Jaay Tee
    April 28, 2012 at 12:06 am
    Reply

    Wow. I am really struggling with this. My heart is broken. I am frustrated and angry.
    As a young lesbian back in the day, we in the Toronto gay community heard about Whitney and Robyn.
    I have been obsessed with this topic since Whitney died. I still can’t believe she’s gone. The grief I am experiencing is unbelievable.
    I understand re: homophobia, etc., but will forever wonder if Whitney’s story of loving Robyn will ever be properly told. Perhaps Robyn is the only one that can do this, but, my sense is that it will never happen.
    This will forever break my heart.

    • David Munk
      April 28, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Hi there. Thanks for your feedback – of course I find this tremendously sad as well. So much lying by Whitney and everyone else around her, but this is commonplace in the business. If you read back through the comments you’ll see that many people feel as you do. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and please continue to – stay in touch! David

  35. Maria
    April 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm
    Reply

    I heard about her and Robyn from many people over the years. Being from New Jersey it was nothing new with her daliance to the same sex. Thank you. Finally someone from the industry spoke out. Isn’t it sad how homophobia is still prevalent in destructing ones life?

    • David Munk
      April 30, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Hi Maria — thanks for checking in and reading my work. David

  36. Cindy
    May 7, 2012 at 1:18 am
    Reply

    I am so glad that I came across your article. Since her passing I have been searching for something that speaks honestly about Whitney’s SO and how this may have negatively impacted her life. I’ve come across several writings but they all seemed too “entertainment gossip-like.” This seemed the first reading that spoke truthfully and, the responses were mostly intelligent. I’m part of the public that heard the rumors but came to believe the cover up. I would really appreciate the truth being told so that the public (and everyone else) can learn about the high cost of homophobia and interalized homophobia. Does this cause addiction? No, however, it can make recovery nearly impossible for an addict. I fought addiction for several years (on some level knowing that I was gay) while trying to hide my sexual orientation as well as the shame that accompanied it. I then got sober and lived the next several years minus alcohol but still trying to hide my SO (from me and you) and shame. Long story short . . . it took several more years before I was able to embrace my SO and begin letting go of the self shame and hate. I am grateful that I survived all of this. The homophobia nearly killed me (physically, emotionally and spiritually.) I would like to believe that perhaps the truth about Whitney could best honor her struggle.. I understand why she did what she did. I did it for several years and I was not under the microscope. I feel tremendous sadness for her that she was never able to fully embrace and love herself.

    • David Munk
      May 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Hi Cindy. Thank you for your extremely heartfelt and personal words. I completely identify with everything you wrote and feel so gratified that you liked my piece. I hope you’ll be a regular reader of my work, as comments from folks like you are what’s keeping me writing. Best, David

  37. PJ
    May 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm
    Reply

    It’s a tragedy all around.
    I believe that Whitney’s only happy years were when she was partnered with Robyn alone. I can just imagine them as teenagers “terrorizing” the streets of NJ and NYC together. happy and bursting with love. Making out in public at the Dutchess and the Cubby Hole. Being fully embraced and protected by the local lesbian community. Even as Whitney’s burgeoning career must have stressed her out, she had her Robbie to come home to. I love thinking of the two of them living together in her mansion with their two cats. As I remember, one of the cats was named MisteBlu, which had some lesbian connotation I’ve forgotten.

    If there were no homophobia, imagine how Whitney’s entire world would have changed. She could have been happily married with kids. Robyn would have carefully monitored her performances, her voice, her emotional security.

    Whitney would have been safe in her arms. There is no way Robyn would have let the vultures, her famlly and Clive Davis among them, cause her such devastation.

    I have no doubt that Whitney would have gone on to record the music that SHE wanted to, not just Clive’s pop. We would have had gospel and jazz, classical and opera, Heck, she might have gone to Africa and brought home their music, much like Paul Simon.

    She could have/should have played her cards like Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, playing one theater in Vegas and letting the adoring fans come to HER. She could have given one performance a week if she wanted to. I can also see her performing a duet with Streisand. Can you imagine?

    All of that with Robyn at her side. NOT in the shadows, not silenced, not ashamed, but rather as Whitney’s equal partner in marriage and in career and on the red carpet.

    We would have seen true joy in both their faces as the years passed. We would currently have the old married couple of Robyn at 50 and Whitney at 48 and their kids. This is a big ramble, but I’m sending it anyway.

    • David Munk
      May 12, 2012 at 7:04 am

      Hi PJ. I totally appreciate your thoughts and the element that fantasy can play in shaping a narrative, either the one that actually happened or the one that should have. I think it’s also important to remember the piece that addiction plays in this story. Many vilify Bobby Brown, but my understanding is that Whitney substance issues pre-date Bobby by far, so it’s important to keep her struggle with sobriety central to any truthful examination of this wonderful talent’s sad life.

      I hope you’ll keep reading what I write. It makes all of the effort worth it.
      Sincerely,
      David

  38. PJ
    May 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm
    Reply

    I forgot to say thank you for your brilliant and compassionate work! Feel free to edit the hell out of this, if you wish.

  39. Pamela Kay
    June 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm
    Reply

    Hi David, I was never into Whitney Houston until she died in February. I began to read about her and learn the many sides of Whitney. I also started listening to her music, and the VOICE that God gave her to touch millions now and today. The interest started when I found out we had much in common: I am 48, grew up in N.J., lived 5 minutes from her estate in Mendham, am a born again Christian and like Whitney struggled with my sexuality for years. It landed me in several a mental institutions. My religion and society”s expectations took a toll on my emotional and mental heatlh. Your article was excellent and though Whitney has passed, and is in heaven with the God that she truly loved and wanted to serve, her death has made a real impact on my life. As a result, I am not confused about my sexuality, know I am a lesbian, and realize that in order to be truly happy and free i CANNOT LIVE MY LIFE FOR OTHERS. I also know that God created every fiber of my being and loves me for me. One last note, as a result of her death, my life is taking on a new chapter. I am leaving the small homophobic town I live in, and am moving to the New York area to meet that right person that God has chosen for me, and to live a life of total freedom and happiness!

    • David Munk
      June 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Pamela. That was simply one of the most touching comments I’ve ever gotten on my blog! I think it is awesome that you have made steps to live more authentically. I have never met anyone in my entire life who regretted making that decision. Not one. You will be amazed! As far as the religion piece goes, I have many observant gay friends. Sprituality and being gay are not mutually exclusive. As I like to say: “take what you want and leave the rest.” Faith is personal.

      Please check in with me and let me know hear from you! David

  40. Pamela Kay
    June 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm
    Reply

    David, thanks again for your article and comments. Once I move and get established I will be in touch.

  41. Naomi
    June 5, 2012 at 2:07 am
    Reply

    “If you’ve ever wondered why a woman who could have married a prince chose Bobby Brown instead, try thinking of it as a perfect expression of rage and an ideal way to say “fuck you!”

    Seems so very right on the money to me, Mr. Munk.

    As a Black, gay woman myself around Ms. Houston’s age, I know how hard it was for me to come out. I cannot imagine would it would be like for her to be her authentic self in terms of sexuality – with the world, the church, your family, the record label – everybody watching. And coming from such a conservative religious background – that’s alot to work out, in private, as a regular person. I do not know how you even attempt to do that as Whitney Houston. I can’t imagine the pain that would cause. But can see how it could cause you to use drugs – absolutely. All drugs do is medicate pain after all.

    My heart aches for her. Thank you for your insightful piece.

    • David Munk
      June 5, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Hi Naomi. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know how you feel about the piece. It seems to have really connected with people—obviously I am complete agreement with your feedback. I hope you’ll check in with me again and keep reading the blog. David

  42. too emotional
    June 14, 2012 at 2:24 am
    Reply

    i must admit that I am thoroughly confused and dismayed by your piece. Not sure about the “evidence” that Whitney Houston was gay. DIdn’t she have an affair with jermaine Jackson? By most accounts of her during the early Bobby years, they were very much in love. Was she that great an actress? Don’t know. Will be interested to see what her mother has to say on this subject. Her contract promises truth.She and Robin were close, but would Bobby Brown tolerate his wife stepping on the gay side? Don’t know about this one. I’ve heard these rumors, but am not sure that they show experimentation or conviction.

    • David Munk
      June 14, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Hi there. Thanks for your thoughts and taking the time to read. I don’t expect Cissy’s story to be factual, thought I do think she will be truthful, in the sense that she will tell the story of her daughter and shape the narrative she needs/chooses to believe. Everyone does this when they write an autobiography and we all do it to an extent in our lives. Think of the difference between your version of your childhood and how a sibling or parent my tell the same story. People have different truths.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I hope you’ll check in with me again….David

  43. Milan Toniatti
    September 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm
    Reply

    I simply want to say I am just beginner to weblog and actually loved you’re blog. Most likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You surely have fabulous articles. With thanks for sharing your blog.

  44. Chris
    February 2, 2013 at 2:30 am
    Reply

    I disagree completely with your suggestions. I think stress and insecurities lead to the drug problem. But in the very end Whitney was able to reach up. Sometimes, we don’t always understand but God does. And forgive this-but I for one do not believe it was a simple drowning, too many bruises, too many discrepancies, etc.

    • David Munk
      February 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      I’m not sure why as a fan and, I presume, not a forensic expert, you would have any reason to believe there was foul play, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I might also add that I can personally think of nothing as stressful as pretending you are something you’re not.

  45. Mark Jabara Ellison
    July 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for writing! This is another beautiful example of your skill at conveying your observations. Always a joy to read, and always giving pause for thought.
    You are my favourite online read!
    I believe your depictions of the music industry are the most accurate I’ve read. Having just read “And Party Every Day – The Casablanca Story”, which is full of half-truths and cover-ups, as to be fiction, it’s refreshing to come here and read facts.
    Your Donna Summer blog was truly wondrous and the only honest, online, depiction of her. A close friend of hers, told me it was very real and was even more adamant that the rumour was a lie. As your description of a relative of my own, was scarily accurate, I am sure this follows for others you’ve met and describe.
    Keep writing, I need more to read!

    • David Munk
      July 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you so much for taking the time write. Your comments really made me feel great. Regarding the Donna piece, I knew that it was strong and I really tried to get it picked up. I submitted it everywhere and didn’t hear anything—very frustrating because I didn’t read anything personal when she died. So it’s really gratifying when someone let’s me know that it worked!

      So how are you related to Paul?

  46. Scott
    April 15, 2014 at 4:28 am
    Reply

    HI, I opened this link with a very high percentage of scepticism, I was almost certain I was investing in time wasted. Instead you gave me something to actually picture in my reasoning behind this crazy end to such a gifted and talented star. I say Star because I really think she could have done everything she wanted in the industry. The idea of her and Mr. Bobby Brown doing anything more than existing on this planet was close enough for me. When in her life did she decide to pursue this very poor choice in a life seemingly full of so many good well thought out ones. I guess I will never know I live in Pennsylvania and choices I have made let’s say we’re high but soon I settled for my life. Not at all what I exempt of growing up. But I’m here for another day and will never understand what took America’s sweetheart so far away from us. I h a ‘ve a funny suspicion she was guided down the drug trail, then left there to fall down and never really find her way back to her feet. Maybe some jealous person wanted to make her pay for being so fortunate?? Then again it just a thought I had.

    • David Munk
      April 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Scott. Sorry for the slow reply.

      I appreciate your feedback and am so glad you took the time to share your feelings. I think there are many ways to look at the unfortunate path Whitney (and many others take). What I was trying to do in the piece was just introduce some ideas about how homophobia (and, undoubtedly, her own internalized homophobia, might have played a part in a series of bad and, ultimately, tragic decisions. I also think it is completely valid to look at it through the lens of addiction. Thinking of addiction as a disease can be a very useful way for addicts and non-addicts to begin to understand the baffling and, seemingly, illogical choices addicts make. It is all just theory; I felt that discussion of her sexuality had been left out of the dialogue and that is why I spoke up.

      I appreciate your thoughts and hope you stay in touch. I have a great once-a-month newsletter you can sign up for on the homepage which is a great way to keep in touch.

      Thanks again,

      David

  47. Tina Smith
    February 14, 2016 at 5:43 pm
    Reply

    David, what a moving article!!! Thank you for the song also. It was such a classy touch to a very thoughtfully written piece.

    • David Munk
      February 25, 2016 at 9:21 am

      Tina, Belated thanks for the kind words. I hope you will keep reading Stargayzing as I prepare to relaunch. David

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