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‘I Never Saw Her Looking Like That. I Was Scared.’: Clive Davis Opens Up About the Moment He Knew Whitney Houston’s Drug Addiction Had Gotten the Best of Her

A new biopic about the late legendary vocalist Whitney Houston has reignited discussions about her troubled past with drugs.

Houston’s struggles with addiction were well documented in the latter years of her career. While the world looked on in disbelief, her mentor, Clive Davis, said he missed all of the red flags. In a recent interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, the five-time Grammy Award winner described Houston as “loyal, devoted.” He said, “She always was on when she was with me. So, admittedly, I didn’t see the sign early on.”

Davis signed the New Jersey native to her first major record deal in 1983. The revered mogul is recognized for helping to turn Houston into a global star whose vocals remain unrivaled today. He is also one of the producers who helped bring the biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to fruition. The film stars Naomi Ackie as Houston and deals with many of the peaks and valleys of her personal and private life. 

Speaking more about the lows, Davis said, “Unmistakably the lowest, if you ask me, the lowest would be the [2001] Michael Jackson concert [30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years] at Madison Square Garden. She walks out on stage and I can’t believe my eyes: She’s a skeleton. Now, Whitney was so prideful of her fashion, of her look, of her dress— you never suggested to Whitney what to wear, what her hairstyle should be. I never saw her looking like that. I was scared.”

During the aforementioned performance, the “I Will Always Love You” singer appeared emaciated as she wore a black, one-shoulder dress. Her cheeks were sunken, and bones such as her clavicle and sternum appeared prominent. It was then that Davis said he became acutely aware of Houston’s drug addiction and the toll it had on her. So he wrote her a letter. “I said ‘You have a severe problem, and you have to deal with it. And it’s a matter of life or death,” said the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

The famed music executive spoke candidly about his decades-long relationship with Houston in his documentary, “Clive Davis: Soundtrack of Our Lives.” In it, he also read the contents of the letter he sent to the singer after her performance. He wrote:

“When I got home, I cried. My dear, dear Whitney, the time has come. Of course, I know you don’t want to hear this. Of course, I know that you’re saying that Clive is being foolishly dramatic. Of course I know that your power of denial is in overdrive dismissing everything I and everyone else is saying to you. … I join your mother in pleading with you to face up to the truth now, right now, and there is no more time or postponement. You need help and it must begin now.”

Houston tragically died in February 2012, just two days after Davis said she appeared happy, healthy, and spoke about her sobriety. He told Page Six that her attempts to kick her habits were valiant. “She was showing me what she had done in rehab, how she had given up smoking, how she had cleared her throat of nicotine. And she was wanting to start going in the studio. … I never would have thought, 48 hours before her death, that she would pass, that there would be that horrendous, premature end to her life.”

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