She wanted the movie 'Sparkle' to redeem her. But drugs were more powerful than her dreams
- Last Updated: 2:39 PM, August 12, 2012
- Posted: 10:10 PM, August 11, 2012
She was laying unconscious on the bed, completely unresponsive. Having reportedly overdosed on cocaine, Whitney Houston was moments from death. In the hotel room around her lay the signs of drug abuse, including a rolled-up bill and a pipe. Her panicked staff iced her body in the bathtub as a private doctor was summoned in order to keep the incident out of the press. The singer’s life was eventually saved, but her soul would be another story.
This was back in 2000, a year that also saw the singer busted for pot possession at a Hawaiian airport, mysteriously fail to turn up to mentor Clive Davis’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction and get fired from an Academy Awards gig because of erratic behavior.
Over the next decade, she would attempt to get clean and launch multiple comebacks. Her latest and final one, “Sparkle,” opens Friday, with Houston playing a past-it singer felled by the pressures of the spotlight. At one point, she utters a chilling line: “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”
This was supposed to be a movie in which the parallels between the real Houston and her character were more poignant than painful. This was supposed to be a woman pouring all of her traumatic life experience into a role and coming out stronger on the other side to launch a new phase of her career. Instead, the character and that line about a “cautionary tale” will have nothing but tragic echoes after the singer was found dead, facedown in a Beverly Hilton hotel bathtub in February at age 48.
“Sparkle” tells the story of a 1960s girl group made up of three sisters (played by Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter). The trio makes it big but are ultimately torn apart by infighting, drug abuse and tragedy. Houston plays their single mother, Emma.
“Whitney wanted that part of the film portrayed as realistically as possible,” says director, Salim Akil. “She didn’t want it to be glossed over or romanticized, but dealt with in an honest way. She wanted it to affect people.”
Houston helped Ejogo understand her troubled character.
“She was very open with me about her battles. I was quite shocked,” Ejogo says. “She shared some very personal stories. She was willing to be totally vulnerable so I could understand what it was like. She wanted my character to be authentic, and she ‘went there’ in order for me to be able to bring that to the screen.”
“Sparkle” was especially important to Houston because she’d been trying to get the film made for 15 years, having fallen in love with the 1976 original (starring Irene Cara, who went on to appear in “Fame”) as a teenager, seeing it every Saturday for three months straight.