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Whitney Houston’s Confidante Robyn Crawford Breaks Her Silence

Those instincts end up rendering Houston slightly flat in this memoir, which portrays the singer as blindingly talented and incapacitatingly troubled, but not terribly complex. As a retrospective of Houston’s career, it’s spotty, lingering on the earliest days and speeding through the peaks.

Many of the most pointed moments in the audiobook tell of things that are done to Houston, not things that Houston does herself. The stories about Houston’s mother, Cissy, are far more vivid and telling. Cissy “never helped Whitney get ready for school”; she was informed of her teenage daughter’s drug use but turned a blind eye; and, in one confrontation while Crawford was in Houston’s employ, she slapped Crawford for leaving Houston alone.

That same day, Crawford says, Houston also slapped Crawford for spending the day with another woman, a rare indication of Houston’s possessiveness (and perhaps of things left prudently undisclosed).

As a narrator, Crawford is patient and deliberate, and almost completely without judgment. That Crawford has maintained such equanimity is admirable, especially given how scrutinized she was by the tabloids. She recalls one National Enquirer story that suggested Houston’s father and manager, John, wanted Crawford’s kneecaps broken.

She still has a glimmer of New Jersey in her voice, compressing Newark into “Nawrk,” and her tone hovers between loving and knowing, with only flecks of exasperation. The only moment in the whole audiobook in which her voice breaks is when she recalls her mother’s AIDS diagnosis. Indeed the most harrowing sections of this memoir are the deep dives into Crawford’s own family’s trauma — her abusive father, her older brother’s losing battle with AIDS.

By comparison, some of the passages about Houston feel almost perfunctory, retreads of widely known struggles. Crawford had an up-close window onto Houston’s drug use, which Crawford says predated their friendship. They also promised each other they would leave it behind. “Whitney would often say, ‘Cocaine can’t go where we’re going,’” Crawford remembers. And yet there it went, as durable a companion as Crawford, and ultimately more so.

By the time Crawford escapes from Houston’s orbit in 2000, she suspects physical abuse in Houston’s marriage to Brown, has found burned spoons in Houston’s house, has attempted to get Houston into rehab. In the end, Houston’s demons are stronger, and Crawford leaves.

That allows her to return to her own life, which, free of Houston’s gravitational pull, is anchorless. Crawford finds it challenging to steady herself professionally and personally, but eventually finds love and starts a family. Although she “made a conscious decision to … not get sucked back into Whitney World,” Houston nonetheless lingers in the distance, scuttling a job opportunity, leaving voice mail messages with no return number. Crawford remains calm throughout; though their relationship was profound, she doesn’t let on how painful its demise might have been. Best not to share too much — a bodyguard until the end, and beyond.

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