Just when you thought there was nothing more to learn about the late Whitney Houston, a new documentary is here to prove otherwise.
“Whitney” (in theaters nationwide Friday) rehashes the already well-chronicled life of the pop superstar, who drowned in a hotel bathtub in 2012 after years of cocaine abuse.
The documentary mixes old news clips; fresh interviews with dozens of family members, friends and co-workers; and never-before-seen home videos and photos, courtesy of the Houston estate. “Whitney” manages to thoughtfully examine Houston’s life in a way that satisfies casual fans and provides new information for even the most hardcore enthusiasts.
“Whitney wasn’t just some icon,” her sister-in-law, Pat Houston, says in a news release. “This documentary shows her human side. … Things your mother or father or sister or brother or child may have gone through, Whitney went through all of that.”
Here are the five most surprising things we learned from “Whitney”:
1. Houston claimed she was sexually assaulted by a family member as a child.
In the documentary’s biggest revelation, Houston’s brother Gary says Whitney told him their cousin, Dee Dee Warwick, sister of singer Dionne, molested her as a child.
Whitney’s longtime assistant, Mary Jones, backs up Gary’s story: Jones’ sister was molested at an early age, she told Whitney, prompting Houston to share her own experience. Both Gary and Jones agreed it affected Houston mentally long term.
Director Kevin Macdonald juxtaposes the reveal with a 1990 interview in which Houston, seemingly out of the blue, told the interviewer that “child abuse” made her most angry.
That might explain why Houston insisted on bringing daughter Bobbi Kristina on tour with her — though several people point out in their interviews that growing up around adults aged the child far too fast.
2. She and Michael Jackson would sit together in silence.
Both at the top of the music industry, the two icons perhaps best understood how the other felt. Jackson would call to invite Houston over, and they would spend time together in quiet solidarity.
After Jackson died in 2009 from a fatal dose of propofol, Houston shared with Oprah Winfrey how she had worried about his drug use.
“Mike and I were very close,” she told Oprah. “No one have I ever met (who was) quite like that young man. … And to have it end like that saddens me.”
Was Jackson a “mirror” for Houston? “In some ways, yes,” she says. “I didn’t want to go down that road.”
3. She was not a fan of Paula Abdul.
In a shaky home video taken in Houston’s dressing room following a show, she airs some grievances about the Laker Girl-turned-choreographer-turned-pop singer.
“Paula Abdul ain’t (expletive). … That girl is singing off-key,” Houston says.
An earlier clip explores Houston’s complicated relationship with her contemporaries: She was jealous of other singers at times, though her mother tries to remind her that those artists are performing “fad music,” whereas Whitney is preparing for “legacy music.”
4. She loved to sleep.
A handful of interviewees note how much she liked to sleep — she was a particularly big fan of taking naps on the couch in front of a TV. Pat Houston calls her “simple,” noting that she really only “became Whitney Houston when it was time for her to get onstage.”
5. She had to take a drug test every week while filming “Sparkle.”
After showing up bloated and slurring at her first rehearsal for the 2012 film remake (released posthumously), Houston was told she would have to pass a weekly drug test to continue with the project — and she did.
Nicole David, Houston’s longtime agent, marveled at the temporary turnaround, attributing it to the “joy of having a purpose”: Houston died about three months after filming wrapped.