- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2012

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered flags to be flown half-staff on Saturday, the date of Whitney Houston’s private funeral, an interesting debate ensued, one centrally focused on whether a well-known substance abuser deserves such an honor.

Whether you liked her music, hated the fact that America’s first black “girl next door” married bad-boy Bobby Brown or remain one of few people old enough to get an AARP card and can sincerely say “Whitney who?” there’s no getting around the truth: The lime-lighted life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston has many teachable moments.

For this journalist, a lesson from Miss Houston came in 1995, while attending a San Francisco press junket for the girl flick “Waiting to Exhale.” Attended by the director and all the major stars, a publicist for Miss Houston began laying ground rules: We couldn’t ask any questions about her family, her health or her personal life, and she said Miss Houston would be sipping a warm lemon-tea concoction because of a sour throat.

Then she instructed me to seat myself elsewhere because no one should sit on either side of Miss Houston. The publicist then left.

After Miss Houston appeared, all of the other journalists seated at the round table adhered to the publicist’s requests, while I sat quietly, taking notes, next to Miss Houston who, at the end of the interview, noticed I had said nothing other than a polite “hello” and asked in an obviously hoarse voice if I had any questions, to which I replied, “Yes.”

“I hear you, Janet Jackson and Halle Berry are vying for a biopic about Dorothy Dandridge,” I said. “Want to comment?”

With an astonished look, she turned the table on me, asking who do I thought should play the Dandridge role.

I told her that Halle might not have the voice, but she’s a solid role-player whose acting ability could pull off the sensuousness of the late actress, and that Janet’s youthfulness would underwhelm Miss Dandridge’s sensuality.

“And me?” she queried.

“I’m betting on Halle,” I said.

That didn’t sit well with Miss Houston, who ended the interview. I then followed her out to the lobby where, with several female members of what I assumed were her entourage, she retrieved a pack cigarettes out of the back, right pocket of her faded jeans and began puffing away.

None of them saw me as I got an inside peep at the real Miss Houston.

Small wonder her magnificent voice was hoarse, and we all now know that tobacco smoke wasn’t the only thing she waited to exhale.

I have never reported all that I saw and heard that day of her private moments with her girls, although some day I might.

Journalists withhold information all the time, so in that respect I’m hardly in a club of one.

Neither was Miss Houston, who, like most heavily publicized celebrities, let us into all of her public life and much of her private life.

Read and re-read the stories, watch the videos and you will see what I saw — being Whitney Houston was inseparable from being Mrs. Bobby Brown, and that Whitney Houston was a remarkable shining star, albeit through a glass, darkly.

That is why Mr. Christie exercised his gubernatorial prerogative.

May her troubled self rest in peace.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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