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The Difficult Rise and Painful Fall of Whitney Houston in ‘Can I Be Me’
August 25, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Don’t go looking for a hero in Can I Be Me, a new documentary on the too-short life of Whitney Houston.

The Showtime production, directed by Nick Broomfield and getting its TV premiere at 9 p.m. ET Friday, strongly suggests that despite possessing one of the great voices of her generation, Houston never had a chance.

It’s not that she didn’t accomplish anything before she was found dead in a hotel bathtub in 2012, age 48.

She sold millions of records, became a movie star, won dozens of awards and earned something like a quarter of a billion dollars.

But Can I Be Me pointedly does not focus on the things that went right, like much of her music. Rather, it suggests she spent much of her life asking the film’s title question and never getting an affirmative answer.

Using archival interviews with Houston and her family, supplemented by new interviews with band members and others who had worked alongside her on the road, Can I Be Me paints a picture of a star who felt trapped by a level of fame for which no one, perhaps, could have been prepared.

The most common bad boy in most Houston stories, her husband Bobby Brown, catches some of the blame here for enabling her worst impulses.  

But like Brown himself and others, this documentary suggests Houston was already into drugs and walking on the wild side before she met him.

Clive Davis, Houston’s guru at Arista Records, is faulted for packaging Houston from the beginning as a fairy tale crossover pop artist, a move that was commercially brilliant but took her away from the gospel-rooted music she loved and had grown up singing.

Some responsibility is assigned to Whitney’s mother Cissy (left), who is portrayed as harsh, somewhat distant and probably jealous that Whitney found the pop music success Cissy never quite achieved.

The whole Houston family takes some blame for pushing Whitney to keep performing, even though she clearly needed a break, because she was their meal ticket.

Perhaps the most chilling scene in the documentary comes when David Roberts, Whitney’s real-life bodyguard, recounts how he sent a report to the family after a tour saying Whitney had a serious drug problem and before anything else happened, she needed to get help.

The family responded by firing him.

If anyone in the Houston circle emerges with integrity and genuine caring, it’s Robyn Crawford (below, with Houston).

Crawford was Whitney’s best friend and confidante for years. Her presence also led to tabloid rumors about Whitney’s sexual orientation, and, for different reasons, both Cissy and Bobby worked as hard as they could to get her out of Whitney’s life.

Crawford finally did leave, which Can I Be Me suggests was a serious blow to Whitney’s happiness and stability.

Can I Be Me also pinpoints a couple of other specific flashpoints – the Soul Train Awards at which she was booed for selling out and the crush of fans who made it impossible for her to go out in public after the success of her film The Bodyguard – as moments at which Houston began to find fame more suffocating than rewarding.  

Already insecure, she began to withdraw into a smaller world where drugs were part of the escape.

She had never treated her voice particularly well – she smoked cigarettes as well as stronger things – and began to neglect it more.

Can I Be Me acknowledges the powerful impact of Houston’s voice. But for a story focusing on Whitney Houston, the artist, fans will have to look elsewhere – perhaps to a rival family-endorsed documentary now in production.

Can I Be Me speaks instead to the downside of fame, and how this surreal ride down roads with no map can too easily end with a crash-and-burn.

The young Whitney Houston, and even the newly-married Whitney Houston, comes off as someone who laughed a lot and liked to have fun. As she gets older, we see her get harder, more cautious, more defensive.

She doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself very much, which is what the tabloid press had been suggesting for years even when it seemed so counterintuitive for the millions of fans who would have given anything to be Whitney Houston.

This documentary suggests Whitney Houston wanted to be that mythical person, too.

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Mark Isenberg
Whitney made a horrible mistake in marrying Bobby Brown and then in denial of her drug addiction,did the Diane Sawyer interview. She should still be here instead of a Union,NJ cemetary. But nobody got through to her and certainly not her loved ones.
Aug 25, 2017   |  Reply
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