Cissy Houston Writes Frankly About Whitney's Life In 'Remembering Whitney'

Her book 'Remembering Whitney' reveals the late star as a "wonderful, giving person" who "made a lot of mistakes."

Gospel and soul artist and celebrity mom Cissy Houston had never planned to add author to her resume.

But then, Houston hadn't expected that her famous daughter would die at 48, leaving behind a legacy of both enormous success and avidly documented struggles and posing questions that were, in her mother's view, being addressed by the wrong people.

"Everyone was writing crap about Whitney," says Houston, 79. "I was reading things that weren't true, and that's when I decided that I needed to do something."

Cissy doesn't mince words on the page, either. Her book, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss and the Night the Music Stopped (HarperCollins), written with Lisa Dickey, arrives Tuesday. It offers a portrait of Whitney Houston as a loving daughter, sister and mother, a meticulous musician and a consummate professional who never took her achievements or her blessings for granted.

But Remembering Whitney also explores, often with surprising frankness, more troubled aspects of the pop superstar's life and career, from her drug abuse to her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown. Cissy remembers visiting her daughter in the hospital after she required surgery for a two-inch gash in her cheek, suffered while she was on a cruise with Brown. The couple "swore up and down later that it was just a freak accident," the result of Brown slamming his fist down while "acting out about something," sending a china shard flying.

There's also a harrowing account of Cissy arriving at the couple's Atlanta home accompanied by two sheriff's deputies and armed with a court injunction to retrieve Whitney for rehab: "I was shaking with emotion, holding the piece of paper out toward her ... She just stood there looking at me. The light had gone out of her eyes, and my baby looked so, so tired."

"Nippy," the affectionate nickname by which Cissy refers to her daughter, "was better than anybody I know at keeping her stuff private -- at least, private from me," she writes at one point. And later: "I'm still so angry -- at Nippy, at the world, at myself. There are days when the questions just consume me ... Was I a good mother? Was I too hard on her? And the worst one of all -- could I have saved her somehow?"

Sitting in a room off the lobby of her apartment building on a frigid January morning, Cissy doesn't convey a sense of anger -- or of fragility, for that matter. Greeting a visitor, she smiles brightly and seems fairly hardy for a near-octogenarian, even with a walking cane and a seasonal cold.

But asked, point-blank, what her life is like these days, she darkens. "Without my daughter ..." Her voice trails off. "It's still very new. I'm still in mourning. I don't think I'll ever be the same."

The book begins, as its title suggests, on Feb. 11, 2012, the day that Whitney was discovered lifeless in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where she had planned to attend the annual pre-Grammy Awards gala thrown that evening by her music industry mentor, Clive Davis. (The cause of death was determined to be accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use cited as contributing factors.)

Cissy then takes us back to Whitney's birth and what preceded it: her own upbringing, as the youngest of eight children born to a mother who died when Cissy was eight and a strict father who guided her and several siblings in a gospel quartet; her subsequent career as a member of the noted backup outfit the Sweet Inspirations, which led to gigs supporting Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, as well as solo recordings; and her marriage to Whitney's father, John Houston, with whom she also had two sons, Gary and Michael.

Cissy acknowledges that Whitney's brothers both grappled with drugs as well -- Gary, the elder, as a youth, and Michael later, with his sister, to whom he was very close. And she is candid about the challenges she endured with John, who would manage both her career and Whitney's; he eventually divorced Cissy and married a younger woman, and in 2002 filed a $100 million lawsuit against Whitney, accusing her of not paying for services rendered. He died the following year.

"We always loved each other," Cissy says in conversation; but when the suit is mentioned, her tone quickly cools. "It was left kind of unresolved. I don't know why he did that -- greed, or his being controlling. But Whitney forgave him for it." Cissy pauses, and her eyes harden meaningfully. "She forgave him."

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Elysa Gardner
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