Monique Houston, Whitney Houston’s former sister-in-law and ex-wife of Gary Houston, speaks out for the first time in an exclusive interview with Ebony.com about being shut out of the family and why the singer’s death was not a surprise for her.
Monique Houston said she is aware of the consequences and she made the mistake of speaking out years ago about what she said was a pattern of enabling within the Houston family. The result? She was cut off. Monique Houston was married to Gary Houston and the two share a son and daughter. But this time, Monique Houston says she will not be silent.
Like most people who’ve ever been affiliated with Whitney Houston and who have spoken out since the singer’s death, she says she wasn’t surprised at how her story played out. But the culprit, Monique Houston says, is that for years there’s been a pattern of enabling, and she hopes that by speaking out now, she’ll help save the next generation of the Houston clan.
EBONY: Why do you want to talk now?
Monique Houston: If it’s not now, when? I just really had to speak out about the cycle that has gone on for a number of years. Now is the time for me really to take this situation and speak about it. So that’s where I’m at now. I’ve really tried to shield my children. They’ve dealt with a lot over the years and I really try to shield them from a lot of negativity that would come their way, but now that they are adults and they’re as healthy as they can be under the circumstances, I think they’re prepared for what’s ahead and some of the realities.
EBONY: It sounds like you really weren’t all that shocked at how things unfortunately ended for your former sister-in-law, is that correct?
MH: No, I wasn’t shocked. I was caught off guard. You know, we all prayed that she would recover and …recovery with a drug addict is an ongoing process. But she just was so healthy and beautiful from the press that came out of Sparkle, that it just totally caught me off guard. I really was sitting back and looking forward to the movie actually coming out and what would happen for her with that. So I was really caught off guard, but unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised.
EBONY: When was the last time you’d actually spoken with her?
MH: Many years ago. I left right after her wedding to Bobby Brown. I left my husband around that time, and then I think I had Thanksgiving with her and Bobby and Mrs. [Cissy] Houston about a year or two after that. So that was one of the last times I had actual contact with her.
EBONY: What do you think the real issue was? You kind of say that the burden of being Whitney Houston is what ultimately killed your former sister-in-law. What do you mean about that, specifically?
MH: Well, it was a large image to live up to. I mean, the image they created for her was a part of who she was, but it wasn’t the whole person. And I feel that trying to live up to that perfect type of pop diva type of image they created for her was a lot of weight. Trying to live up to what everybody in her family wanted or needed from her was a huge responsibility for her also. And then the media just picked at her constantly and always questioned her lifestyle … I just feel like that was an awful lot of pressure.
EBONY: Did you ever talk with her about that pressure back when you all still had a relationship and were talking more frequently?
MH: We never talked about the pressure, per se, but anytime that she did have down time, you could really get a general sense that she cherished it. It was an awful lot to get out there and work. The road was very demanding and tiring and Whitney was really a homebody. I believe she did love to sing, but my opinion is the performance end of it and the rigors of that really took a toll on her as well.
EBONY: How about your children? I know that they’re older, but how are they handling it? And what have you said to them about it?
MH: It was really devastating. The first thing they did was basically to come home and withdraw a little bit. My son didn’t want to go to school—he’s finishing up at Morehouse. The conversation I have had with them has been the truth over the years. My ex-husband was arrested for drugs in North Carolina (when they were kids). So here I am as a parent trying to shield them and not have them watch TV and they go to school and somebody in the first grade says, ‘Your father was arrested for drugs; he’s a drug dealer.’ You know? Or they would come at them, ‘Oh, your aunt’s this or your aunt’s that.’ Over the years, I
had to always reassure them, and educate them, and be honest with them. I’ve always been honest with them about their father’s addiction. I had to also prepare them for the reality of what would be coming out in the press, as far as their aunt was concerned.
EBONY: Are you concerned about any backlash from the Houston family, talking about some of those issues now?
MH: Not really, because I’ve been through so much with them. I basically raised my kids on my own. I’ve had a lot of different issues with my ex-husband and his wife over the years. Mrs. Houston doesn’t speak to me after I did speak out publicly about six years ago about some of the issues that I was having. I also made comments on the “Being Bobby Brown” reality show. So the relationship between my kids and the Houstons has not been a straight line. Whatever relationship they choose to have with their family in the future … I don’t feel that I could negatively affect something that hasn’t been fluid to start with. I told my kids that they have had a lifetime to get to know my children and the door was always open for access. This information I’m revealing is kind of like ‘don’t kill the messenger.’ It’s hard to hear, and a lot of people don’t want to hear it, but it’s the truth. And sometimes the truth is painful.
EBONY: What are you hoping happens after this interview?
MH: Well my hope is for the next generation in the Houston family. I can’t really hold a lot of hope for the adults. I think a lot of the adults in the family have had a responsibility to have healthier relationships within the family and they haven’t. So I really would hope my kids and their cousins would be able to take some of the information and apply it to their lives and move forward. I hope Bobbi Kris can find a healthier lifestyle in the future. I don’t’ know what environment she is in, but that’s one reason why I came forward. I just felt like some of the denial and some of the covering, which is part of enabling, it has to stop now—not only for my children’s benefit but for her wellbeing going forward.
EBONY: You’ve expressed concern for Bobbi Kristina. Are you thinking she’s jumping into the business too soon?
MH: If this is what she wants, I believe in educating yourself or framing or studying your craft if that’s what she wants to do. I think that she does need some type of focus as far as something to do with her life and direction and I was really pleased that somebody like Tyler Perry did reach out to her. He would be an excellent mentor for her as far as some of the things he’s been through, how he’s come through and how he’s flourished. I think she could learn a lot from his story, as far as survival and recovery—that may help her. I just felt that the Oprah interview was just a little too soon, as far as timing.
EBONY: Do you have a relationship with Bobbi Kristina?
MH: No, I don’t. When I walked away, I walked away. I didn’t expect to have any continuing relationships, necessarily. I did have one with Mrs. Houston, but that fell apart. And the only thing I’ve wanted was that my children have those healthy relationships—which sometimes did not happen.
EBONY: Are they close with your ex-husband?
MH: Not at all. Not at all. That’s really, right now—in my opinion—a toxic relationship.
EBONY: What’s something you would love for the world to know about your former sister-in-law? What’s something that maybe wasn’t as obvious to the rest of us as was to you?
MH: She just had a great sense of humor and she loved to laugh. And you know, that’s the thing that I think about the most —when she was relaxed at home it was all a bunch of laughter and jokes and being silly—especially with her brothers, and her brother Michael. So that’s the biggest thing. She loved her nieces and her nephews. She loved having children around. When she would be backstage—either coming off stage or going on—when the kids were little, she liked to sit them on her lap, and I think that calmed her down a lot. So just the fun-loving person that she was. And one thing that I wish that she could have done was continue acting, and even have been in a comedy cause she just had that wit that a lot of people didn’t get to see.