Together, they would make music history. Her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, arrived to rave reviews. First single You Give Good Love was a top 5 pop hit, and its follow-up, Saving All My Love for You, was even bigger. It went to No. 1, as did How Will I Know, the video for which became one of the first by an African-American female to get heavy rotation on MTV. The Greatest Love of All also spent three weeks at the top of the charts, and Whitney Houston wound up selling 13 million copies domestically.
Houston's superstardom was solidified in 1987 with the release of Whitney, which sold 9million copies in the USA and spawned four No. 1 singles -- I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn't We Almost Have It All, So Emotional and Where Do Broken Hearts Go -- to give her a record seven chart-toppers in a row.
Her third album, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, took her in a more urban direction, with production by L.A. Reid, Babyface, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross, but its reception was less spectacular.
Still, big things were on the horizon for Houston, whose 1991 Super Bowl performance of The Star-Spangled Banner remains the yardstick by which all national anthem singers are judged. In 1992, two things happened that would profoundly alter her career: She made a move into acting and making soundtracks with The Bodyguard, and after a three-year courtship, she married R&B singer and former New Edition member Brown.
In The Bodyguard, she starred as a singer being protected from a stalker fan by Kevin Costner's title character. The film grossed more than $121 million at the box office, and the soundtrack had an even bigger payoff for Houston. Her cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, distinguished by Houston's a cappella intro, stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a then-record 14 consecutive weeks and had significant stints atop the R&B and adult contemporary charts as well.
Two years later, Houston performed at a state dinner at the White House honoring newly elected South African President Nelson Mandela, and she would later be the first major artist to perform in that country, playing three shows to 200,000 people.
Her next film, 1995's Waiting to Exhale starring Angela Bassett, was also a hit with a huge soundtrack. She earned $10million for her next role, 1996's The Preacher's Wife, which starred Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance.
Houston branched off into TV in 1997, producing a remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy, with Houston as the Fairy Godmother. The highly rated ABC special earned seven Emmy nominations. That set the stage for Houston's first studio album in eight years, My Love Is Your Love. The album sold 4 million copies in the USA and spawned a successful world tour, but it peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard album chart, making it her first album to fall short of the top three.
As the '90s closed, Houston's popularity was beginning to wane just as rumors about drug use with Brown swirled and reports began surfacing about erratic behavior and weight loss, along with missed interviews and canceled concerts.
She signed a $100 million, six-album deal with Arista/BMG in 2001, but after appearing on the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special, her extremely thin frame fueled rumors of drug abuse. Those rumors were confirmed a year later when she did an interview with Diane Sawyer to promote her upcoming Just Whitney. She admitted using drugs in the highly watched TV interview, which included her infamous declaration, "Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight. OK? We don't do crack. We don't do that. Crack is wack."
Just Whitney was her poorest-selling album to date.
In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey to promote I Look to You, Houston blamed an emotionally abusive and jealous Brown for many of her problems, confessed she laced her marijuana with rock cocaine and revealed she had spent time in rehab.
The album made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, her first chart-topping album since 1992's The Bodyguard. But the title track and the Alicia Keys-penned Million Dollar Bill had only modest success.
The savage reviews of her final tour in 2010 remain a stark reminder of the powerhouse voice she once had, and how much she lost to years of drug abuse and personal turmoil.
Still, though Houston's biggest hits came more than a decade ago, it may be her death that most reminds us of her talents. "People will reconnect with why people loved Whitney Houston in the first place and that's her singing," says Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor to Rolling Stone. "That will be the lasting legacy. If an event like this can have a positive effect, it's to restore focus on the person's artistry rather than the foibles."
Contributing: Edna Gundersen, Marco R. della Cava, Elysa Gardner, Andrea Mandell and Cathy Lynn Grossman
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