Family Absent From Premiere Of Houston Biopic

Colleagues and friends of Whitney Houston gathered Tuesday night to screen “Whitney,” a new telefilm about the beloved entertainer’s triumphant career, often troubled life and tragic death.

But Houston’s family was conspicuously absent from the premiere, which took place at the Paley Center for Media, located just blocks away from The Beverly Hilton hotel, where the 48-year-old Houston drowned in her guest room in February 2012. The official coroner’s report listed heart disease and cocaine as contributing factors in her death.

Relatives were invited to participate in the “Whitney” project from the start, explained Angela Bassett, the Oscar-nominated actress marking her feature-directing debut with the biopic, which debuts Jan. 17 on the Lifetime cable network.

Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
(l-r) Suzzanne Douglas, Angela Bassett, Arlen Escarpeta, Yaya DaCosta and Yolonda Ross at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“And it was the family’s choice and decision, because of what they want to do and whatever their desires or their plans are, not to be involved in this one,” Bassett said. “But they didn’t have anything negative to say about it. You know, sometimes to be silent is the greatest gift.”

And at least the family could breathe a bit easier knowing Bassett was at the helm. The “Whitney” director and Houston worked closely during production and promotion of the 1994 big-screen drama “Waiting to Exhale,” and Bassett expressed fond memories of her co-star.

“To have had that experience of being around her,” noted Bassett, “all that came back to serve me in the making of this.”

Nevertheless, without the family’s blessing, the “Whitney” production was not allowed to use Houston’s original recordings. So, to deliver something approximating Houston’s remarkable voice, Bassett hired singer Deborah Cox, Houston’s one-time label mate, recording partner and long-time friend.

Cox took the gig, even if it was destined to be a thankless one.

“I knew I would be judged,” Cox said, with a smile. “Everyone was going to come for me. Don’t. I come with love.”

As did actress Yaya DaCosta (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”), who said she took on the role of Houston concerned about just one critic: Houston herself.

“When we were on set, that’s all I thought about: ‘I don’t really care what any living person thinks. I want to make her proud,’” DaCosta recalled. “And that, for me, is all I needed to be O.K. with this project.”