Whitney Houstons long-rumored secret romance with her best friend and assistant Robyn Crawford has been detailed in the new documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me, which had its world premiere on Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Among never-before-seen footage taken throughout the legendary singer’s tumultuous life both on stage and behind the scenes, the film offers a sensitive, trenchant examination of the star’s relationship with Crawford, long a topic of innuendo.
While it appears Crawford herself was not directly involved with the new documentary, the work features new and archival in-depth interviews from family members, friends and those closest to Houston and points convincingly to signs that Crawford’s relationship with Whitney was more than platonic, and that her eventual exile from Houston’s life was an overt factor in the singer’s undoing.
“I don’t think she was gay, I think she was bisexual,” Houston’s longtime friend and stylist Ellin Lavar says in the film. Lavar adds: “Robyn provided a safe place for her...in that Whitney found safety and solace.”
The film shows that the late Houston, who first met Crawford as a teen in East Orange, New Jersey and was later married to Bobby Brown for 15 years from 19922007, was often in the middle of a contentious relationship between her husband and Crawford.
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By the end of the 1999 My Love Is Your Love world tour, tensions between Robyn and Bobby had reached a breaking point.
“Robyn and Whitney were like twins,” says Kevin Ammons, who worked security for Houston. “They were inseparable. They had a bond and Bobby Brown could never remove Robyn. He wanted to be the man in the relationship.”
“Bobby Brown and Robyn Crawford were like fire and ice. They hated each other,” says David Roberts, Whitney’s former bodyguard, on whom The Bodyguard was loosely based.
“They’d battle for her affections. Bobby and Robyn had some physical altercations and there were times where he wasn’t always the winner. But then Whitney would always come and pour oil over troubled waters,” he adds.
After the tour, Robyn left - and that’s when Houston’s “downfall” began, according to Lavar. “That was the downfall of of Whitney. Robyn was the person who was keeping her together,” Lavar recalls.
Houston was found submerged in the bathtub in her suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11, 2012, a day before the Grammy Awards, and was pronounced dead at the scene soon afterward. She was 48. The cause of death was deemed accidental drowning, and an autopsy showed she had various drugs in her system.
Following Houston’s death, Crawford wrote an exclusive obituary for Esquire in which she described the superstar as “a loyal friend” who “looked like an angel.”
“I loved her laughter, and that’s what I’ll miss most,” she wrote.
In 2013, Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston told Oprah Winfrey that it “absolutely” would have bothered her if her daughter was gay.
Cissy also wrote for the first time in her 2013 memoir, Remembering Whitney, about her daughter’s relationship with Crawford.
“I just didn’t want her with my daughter,” she wrote. “I know nothing about a romantic relationship. That’s what everybody said but they didn’t know either.”
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The film is co-directed by documentarians Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, with the latter having documented Houston throughout her career.
During a question-and-answer period following Wednesday’s premiere the directors admitted to receiving heavy legal pushback about the content of the film but did not disclose who all disapproved.
When asked what he made of Houston and Crawford’s relationship having known them personally, Dolezal told the audience, “I think that Robyn was probably the only person, at least that I met, who completely understood Whitney. Whitney trusted Robyn 100 percent. She was her confidante and that was the source of the friction and dilemma Whitney was in with now having a husband.”
Whitney: Can I Be Me screens three times at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its scheduled premiere on Showtime this August.