“The last thing I remember her saying was ‘I just want to love and be loved. I want to love like Jesus did. Unconditionally,’” Tiffanie Dixon, Whitney Houston’s hairdresser, tells contributing editor Mark Seal in June’s Vanity Fair of the last night she spent with the singer. Dixon was with Houston and her alleged boyfriend Ray J (the singer-actor famous for, among other things, being Kim Kardashian’s partner in a 2007 sex tape) at Tru nightclub, where the paparazzi overwhelmed Whitney when she left. She recalls that they returned to the singer’s hotel room to read the Bible. “Her glasses were broken, but she read by holding the little single lens. She had marked pages—Exodus, Mark, and Matthew.”
“Every time her voice would improve, I would stop working with her, and she would go off and do something—a concert or a tour. [Her handlers’] intentions were not malicious; I just think they made some fundamental miscalculations,” voice coach Gary Catona tells Seal of the singer’s mounting comeback. “She blossomed” under his guidance, Catona says. “She was the most devoted student I ever had.” The singer, says Catona, was focused on work, though she still struggled with her smoking: “Once, I forgot my keyboard, and she thought I had left. I went back in, and she started coming to the door with a cigarette in her hand. She hugged me, and I saw her flick the cigarette over her shoulder.”
Whitney’s new beau, Ray J, was a cause for concern; he was connected to Whitney’s former husband, Bobby Brown, as well as Karrine Steffans, Brown’s onetime girlfriend. Steffans says that one night she received a call from Ray J. “He said, ‘Is Bob still staying with you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s right here.’ And Ray said, ‘Tell him I fucked both of his chicks, you and now his wife.’” She tells Seal, “Bob’s big thing was everyone blamed him for her downfall, but when he met her she was already using drugs,” Steffans goes on to say. “He always felt very angry about that. He told me, ‘What everybody saw wasn’t the real Whitney.’ He always said her private persona—which you saw on Being Bobby Brown—was who she really was.”
Salim Akil, the director of Sparkle, tells Seal he feels the movie will go a long way to smooth over Houston’s complicated legacy. “Nobody is going to be able to say anything more profound than what Whitney says herself on that screen. There’s a line in the movie where she says, ‘Hasn’t my life been enough of a cautionary tale?’ All the questions that you ask people as you do this story, I feel she answers in this movie.… The answer is: ‘All the good things, all the beautiful things, that you ever thought about me are true.’ Her performance is consistent with the gifts that she gave us consistently. Isn’t that enough?”
Seal also reached out to Whitney’s longtime friend and former creative director, Robyn Crawford (once rumored to be the singer’s girlfriend—Whitney and Robyn would deny that they were anything more than friends and business associates). A package he sent in hopes of speaking with her was returned with “Refused by R. Crawford; does not want” written across the front.