New allegations that Whitney Houston’s much older cousin Dee Dee Warwick sexually abused her as a child have cast new light on the late singer’s troubled life.
The allegations come from members of Houston’s inner circle and are presented in the new documentary “Whitney,” which premiered Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival and which comes to theaters July 7.
“There was something very disturbed about her, because she was never comfortable in her own skin,” the documentary’s director Kevin Macdonald told Vanity Fair in an interview Wednesday.
“She seemed kind of asexual in a strange way,” he added. “She was a beautiful woman, but she was never particularly sexy. I’ve seen and done some filming with people who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and there was just something about her manner that was reminiscent to me of that sort of shrinking — a lack of comfort in her own physicality that felt, maybe that is what it was.”
About three-quarters of the way through the documentary, Houston’s longtime assistant Mary Jones reveals that the late singer told her that Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of Dionne Warwick, molested her at a young age. Dee Dee Warwick, who was 18 years older than Houston, died in 2008, Page Six reported.
Houston’s brother Gary Garland-Houston also said he was molested between the ages of 7 and 9 by an unnamed female family member, according to Vanity Fair and Page Six.
In the film he recalls, “Being a child — being seven, eight, nine years old — and being molested by a female family member of mine. My mother and father were gone a lot, so we stayed with a lot of different people . . . four, five different families who took care of us.”
He claimed the abuse led to his own problems with addiction.
Whitney Houston likewise dealt with substance abuse issues, which she never publicly acknowledged but which contributed to her death in 2012 at age 48. The singer was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton, the day before the Grammy Awards. Coroner’s officials ruled that her death was caused by an accidental drowning but cited heart disease and drug use as contributing factors.
In the film, Jones suggests that the singer’s drug problems, as well as other emotional turmoil Houston dealt with in her life, stem from the sexual abuse. She also said Houston also grew up questioning her sexuality.
In his interview with Vanity Fair, MacDonald noted that Houston was one of those celebrities who were long rumored to be in the closet. It turns out that Houston may only have had one “proper homosexual relationship” in her life and that was with her longtime best friend and assistant Robyn Crawford.
“I think it only lasted quite a short time,” MacDonald said about Houston’s romantic relationship with Crawford. “The real story, as I dug deeper, had to do with her family, and to do with race, I suppose, and her childhood.”
In the film, Jones reveals that Houston never told anyone that she had been molested by her cousin, including not her mother Cissy Houston. Dee Dee Warwick was the niece of Cissy Houston and, like others in the family, also was a singer.
She and Dionne Warwick performed together in the 1950s and 1960s, and she sometimes sang with Cissy’s gospel group. Dee Dee Warwick later was a backup signer for Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley.
When Cissy Houston went on tour, she left Whitney, Gary, and their brother Michael for extended periods of time with relatives, including with Dee Dee Warwick.
In the film, Jones recalls that Houston was crying when she revealed the abuse to her.
“(Houston) looked at me and said, ‘Mary, I was molested at a young age too. But it wasn’t by a man—it was a woman,’” Jones said. “She had tears in her eyes. She says, ‘Mommy don’t know the things we went through.’ I said, ‘Have you ever told your mother?’ She says, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe you need to tell her.’ She said, ‘No, my mother would hurt somebody if I told her who it was.’ She just had tears rolling down her face, and I just hugged her. I said, ‘One day when you get the nerve, you need to tell your mother. It will lift the burden off you.’”
Macdonald told Vanity Fair that Cissy Houston has been informed that the accusation is made in the documentary. “Cissy knows. She was told, and is very upset,” Macdonald said. “I think she will watch the film at some stage, but it’s obviously up to her when she wants to do that.”