Whitney's Private Hell: I Have Nothing

Article excerpt

Byline: Allison Samuels

A drug-using family. Heartbreaking dysfunction. Why no one could save Whitney Houston from herself.

In her final flight back home, singer Whitney Houston should have been surrounded by those who truly loved and cared for her. A few aboard the private plane that carried her body had been there for Houston through thick and thin. Her manager and sister-in-law, Pat Houston, was with her on this last journey, as was her beloved cousin, singer Dionne Warwick.

Also along for the ride that Monday afternoon in February was Raffles van Exel, a self-described entertainment consultant who met Houston years before on her concert tour and somehow wriggled his way into her close-knit inner circle. Van Exel was a partner with Houston's sister-in-law Pat in a new decorative-candle business, and the singer had been set to film a commercial for the line Feb. 11--the day she died. Van Exel never got his commercial, but he did manage to snap a picture of the singer in her casket and sell it to the National Enquirer for millions of dollars.

"Her family couldn't even protect her in death," says a close friend. "They had the person on the plane with her body that took her picture in the casket. That tells you a lot about the life she was living." Such was the tragic and twisted reality of one of the greatest singers of all time.

Houston wrestled with demons, drugs, and heartbreaking betrayals that continued to haunt her even after her lifeless, bloated body was found face down in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on the eve of the Grammys. Autopsy results revealed just how much self-inflicted damage Houston had done in her 48 years. The scalding bath water had burned her face, and there were bruises on her forehead, chest, and upper lip and numerous scars on her body. Years of cocaine use had burned a hole through her septum, she had heart disease, and toxicology tests showed residue of marijuana, Xanax, Benadryl, and other medications in her system.

"In many ways I'm surprised she lasted as long as she did," says a former assistant to the singer who didn't want to be identified due to a confidentiality contract she'd signed. "She was on a downhill road for a long time, and her body just gave out. I know she was tired, very tired, from it all."

Along that downhill road, Houston's drug use led her to forget the lyrics to her most famous songs, blow off concert dates at a moment's notice, lose her fortune, ruin her voice, and even sometimes ignore the basic needs of her only daughter. "She planned her day around the drugs, and nothing else mattered," says one of her closest friends, who requested anonymity because she herself often partied with Houston. "Drug sellers loved her, and everyone wanted to sell to her because she paid in cash. She would spend thousands of dollars a week buying drugs and stockpile it in the house so she wouldn't run out. The house would be a mess, with trash and dirty clothes everywhere, but she didn't want anyone to clean up, because she didn't want people to see how bad everything was. She didn't want a nanny for Bobbi Kristina for the same reason."

Houston's tragic end, say friends and associates, was the result of many factors and the fault of many people, with Houston herself at the top of the list. The once-fresh-faced teenager with the sculpted cheekbones and sinewy figure grew up in East Orange, N.J., where her family moved after living in Newark during the 1967 riots. Her parents did what they could to provide well for Whitney and her older brothers, Gary and Michael. But somewhere along the way, her brothers fell victim to drug use, and their little sister wasn't far behind.

"It wasn't Bobby Brown who introduced her to drugs," says Monique Houston, who married Gary Houston early in Whitney's career and divorced him in 2001. "Drugs were around her for years before she met Bobby and continued after he left. …