Rosie O’Donnell Recalls Whitney Houston’s Conflict With Her Sexuality

Whitney Houston and Brandy enchanted a new generation of fans when their television adaptation of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” was unveiled on the Disney+ streaming platform last month. 

Nearly 23 years after its debut, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” is remembered for its diverse casting as well as having been a showcase for Houston, who died in 2012 at age 48. The six-time Grammy winner’s well-documented addiction struggles, however, nearly eclipsed the movie’s fall 1997 release, when she abruptly backed out of an appearance on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” just 45 minutes before her interview was set to air live. 

Appearing on the “Hot Takes & Deep Dives” podcast this week, O’Donnell looked back on the incident, noting that Houston’s pal and purported girlfriend, Robyn Crawford, saw it as a turning point for the star. 

Houston “was, at that time, really in a downward spiral with drugs, and it was obvious to anyone who was watching her,” O’Donnell told host Jess Rothschild in an interview that aired Monday. “And Robyn, who was her partner for a while, she had written me and told me that was a very big day for them ― the crew around her ― to think that they had to make inroads to try to help her, and sadly, they didn’t. Or couldn’t.” 

During her lifetime, Houston was dogged by media speculation over her sexuality. Former husband Bobby Brown, however, wrote in his 2016 autobiography that he knew his wife was bisexual. Those claims were corroborated by Crawford herself in 2019’s “A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston,” in which she revealed that she’d been in a relationship with “The Bodyguard” star in the early 1980s. Houston, she said, called off the romance after she signed with Arista Records in 1983, but the pair remained confidantes. 

In her chat with Rothschild, O’Donnell said she met Crawford at a party in New York, where it was understood she was Houston’s girlfriend. 

“Whitney was troubled by, I think, the gay part of her life and didn’t want it exposed,” O’Donnell said. “I think that there was a lot of conflict about that.” 

O’Donnell shared her thoughts on Houston in a wide-ranging interview that also delved into her experiences on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “The View,” and touched on her longtime friendship with Madonna, with whom she co-starred in 1992’s “A League of Their Own.” 

She’ll resume her acting career later this year in Season 2 of Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q,” in which she plays the fiancée of Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman). 

“It allows me to look through all my self-esteem issues,” O’Donnell said of the role. “And when they find out that I have some 12-step stuff going on, and I’ve got some demons in my past, and not taking care of myself, weight stuff. … So they put it all in there and I’m grabbing it by both horns.” 

Rothschild, who is based in New York, launched “Hot Takes & Deep Dives” in 2019. The aim of the podcast, she said, is to explore “the nostalgia of how it felt to watch reality TV when LGBTQ representation was not yet mainstream.” Future guests include Mohammed Bilal of MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco” and pop songwriter Kara DioGuardi, who has worked with Britney Spears and Pink, among others. 

“My goal is for listeners to reconnect and bond with the gay icons they idolized at one of the most significant moments in their lives,” Rothschild told HuffPost, “and to feel like every question they have ever had has been answered!” 

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