This article originally appeared Dec. 4, 2002, as part of a "Primetime" special on Whitney Houston.
After years of mysterious cancellations and erratic behavior, Whitney Houston has admitted using drugs, but says the problem is in the past.
In a rare interview, Houston told Primetime's Diane Sawyer that she has used alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs at different points during her career.
"I partied a lot. Trust me: I partied my tail off," she said, adding, "You get to a point where you know the party's over."
When the singer made a guest appearance at a Michael Jackson tribute concert last year, her bone-thin appearance and unsteady stance provoked audible gasps from the audience, and raised questions about her health. When she failed to show up for a second performance three days later, there were rumors that she was dying — and even that she was dead.
But the days of her self-destructive behavior are over now, she says. "That was a moment in time that happened to me, that I was going through, that I'm over. I'm beyond it. It's past. It's done," she told Sawyer.
Houston said the rumors about her health were wrong. "I am not sick," she said. "Let's get that straight. I am not sick, OK? I've always been a thin girl. I am not going to be fat, ever."
She denied having anorexia or bulimia, but admitted that she sometimes has difficulty eating. "If my nerves are bad, and if I have an emotional stress going on in my life, it's very hard for me to eat and stomach things," she said.
Houston faced a drug possession charge in January 2000 after an airport guard in Hawaii allegedly found marijuana in her handbag, but the charge was later dismissed. In the Primetime interview, she firmly denied tabloid reports that she had used crack cocaine.
"Crack is cheap. I make too much for me to ever smoke crack," she said. "Let's get that straight, OK? I don't do crack. I don't do that. Crack is whack."
‘I Won’t Break’
Today, Houston says, she is determined not to let drugs become a problem in her life again. Asked whether she can control her drug problem now, she said: "I'm not as excited any more about it. … It was new, I partied, and it's done."
And when asked whether she will completely stay off drugs, she said, "Well, I'm not going to tell you that," but added that she is not self-destructive and does not want to die.
"I'm a person who has life, and wants to live," she said. She said she prays every day that she will have the strength to keep off drugs. "I won't break."
In Atlanta — where she lives with her husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown, and their 9-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina — Houston said she is surrounded by a group of "prayer partners," people she thinks of as her form of rehab. One of the most important is Perri Nixon, a friend who is now her pastor, and who she says has taken her "by the hand on a spiritual journey to get back home."
Not too long ago, many wondered if Houston's career and her personal health were in jeopardy. The second Jackson concert was the latest in a string of last-minute no-shows by Houston. In the spring of 2000, organizers canceled her appearance at the Academy Awards, and a few weeks later she failed to show up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to help induct her mentor and longtime producer, Clive Davis of Arista Records.
At the time, her publicist attributed the Oscar cancellation to a sore throat, but Houston told Primetime she was "fired" because she was "not getting along with" the director, Burt Bacharach, during the rehearsals. "I had an attitude about it," she said.
She said the no-shows have been blown out of proportion compared with her record during her 17-year career. "If you look at the stats of how many concerts I did, and how many concerts I missed, there's no comparison," she said. "I've done more shows in my lifetime than I've missed in my lifetime."
She said that, looking back at the concerts she has missed, she feels bad for the fans. "That's the only people in the world, the public, the fans … that I apologize to. Because if I don't have my best to give, then I can't give it to them."
Pressure From a Young Age
Houston's career took off when she was just 17, when Davis heard her singing in a nightclub. Two years later, in 1985, her first album, Whitney Houston — with songs like "How Will I Know" and "Greatest Love of All" — was the best-selling female debut in history. All told, she has had five No. 1 hits and has won six Grammy awards.
She says the pressures of working and sustaining her reputation as one of the world's greatest voices were hard from the beginning.
"I had no time to grow up. I had no time to party," she said. "I didn't even date in my 20s. I wasn't that normal 20-year-old young woman going through her phases. I was a millionaire by the time I was 22."
When men seemed interested in her, she worried that they were after her money, she said. At times, things got so bad that she would stay in her room for days, she said.
After a while, she decided to rebel. "I think I kind of reverted back as I got older and said, 'Well, I'm just going to party,' you know," Houston said. "It was kind of a rebel in me."
Houston's new album, Just Whitney …, her first original album in four years, is the first she has made without Davis' guidance. She said the album, being released next week, represents "the Whitney that has endured 17, 18 years of the music industry … an older, maturer, wiser woman."
A new stress in Houston's life is a $100 million lawsuit filed against her by an entertainment company her father, John Houston, runs with a partner, Kevin Skinner. The lawsuit claims the singer failed to pay the company for help in getting the Hawaii marijuana charges dropped and negotiating her contract with Arista.
Houston said the company was never hired but declined to go into detail, saying only that she is hurt by the lawsuit.
"My father is 81, very sick. His health is failing," she said. "Somebody who my father's associated with has put him up to some — has put fear in his heart as if he's not my father."
Houston's marriage to Brown has lasted, too. When they married in 1992, many people thought they were mismatched: she a regal queen of soulful pop, and he a raunchy R&B singer whose star was already waning.
"They didn't give us six minutes to last," she recalled, adding, "We've gone 10 years."
The couple have separated twice during that time, Houston said, because of the pressure of their careers and the public scrutiny that goes along with them. In one much-publicized incident, there was a news report that Brown slapped her in a Honolulu parking lot in 1997 — but both Houston and Brown, who sat in for portions of the Primetime interview, say he has never hit her. In the parking lot incident, Houston said, Brown chased her around the car but did not strike her.
Brown said he was surrounded by female relatives when growing up. "I would never raise my hands in any kind of way to them," he said.
"I love the beauty of woman, and this is mine," he said, indicating Houston.
Brown has had his own problems with drugs and alcohol. After crashing Houston's Porsche into a Hollywood signpost in 1996 while driving drunk, he repeatedly violated his probation conditions, and spent two months in jail in 2000 after his probation officer said he tested positive for cocaine. (Prosecutors dropped the drug-test charge after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.)
He was even arrested in Atlanta on the morning of the Primetime interview, Nov. 7, for allegedly speeding, driving without a license and having marijuana in the car.
He told Sawyer he smokes marijuana "maybe every other day" to help regulate a bipolar disorder. He said he has never used other drugs, and denied there was cocaine in his system when he took the drug test in 2000. "I tested for a substance like cocaine, which can be anything. It can be an aspirin. It can be a Valium," he said.
While Houston said her husband "sometimes" becomes jealous of the attention she gets, Brown, denied it, saying he "never" gets jealous.
"I adore her just like the average fan," he said, adding that she and his wife both excel in their fields — she as a singer and he as a performer: "She has her part and I have my part."