‘The Preacher’s Wife’ actor Courtney B. Vance remembers his time working with costar Whitney Houston as “beautiful”
“I loved her so much,” says the Emmy-winning actor, 63, when asked about starring opposite the late singer in the hit 1996 film The Preacher’s Wife.
“For me to be playing her husband, I was in a state of euphoric shock,” remembers Vance, who played the titular preacher, Reverend Henry Biggs. Houston starred as his wife Julia, alongside Denzel Washington as the angelic Dudley.
The acclaimed Penny Marshall-directed film changed the course of both Vance’s personal and professional trajectories, he tells PEOPLE. “It was a turning point in my life and Whitney was a huge, huge part of that.”
Prior to starring in the film (a remake of the 1947 classic starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young), Vance had followed Houston’s meteoric music career only as a fan. He remembers seeing her debut self-titled album in 1985 — “that hair pulled back, just gorgeousness,” he says — and, upon meeting her, thought, “‘She's so beautiful, so sweet, such a wonderful, wonderful human being.’”
But, the People v. O.J. Simpson star adds, “People are going through stuff.” Vance “didn’t know the extent” of Houston’s drug and alcohol use, he remembers.
“We just were on sets together and respecting each other,” the actor says. “But I didn't go into the depth of what was happening in her life.”
When Houston died in February of 2012 of accidental drowning with contributing factors of heart disease and cocaine use, Vance was devastated. He and his wife, Angela Bassett, released a statement on Facebook at the time: “There were life-issues that needed to be dealt with, and she had to deal with them on the ‘world-stage.’ It comes with the territory of being a mega-star.”
The statement continued, “Yes, Whitney had life-issues. So what. Welcome to the world! Angela & I prefer to remember people for the good things they did and how they blessed people – and my God did she ever bless us all!”
Soon afterward, when it came time for Houston’s funeral service, Vance opted not to attend, he tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Angela, I cannot go. She means so much to me. I want to remember her and I don't want to see the drama that surrounds funerals.’
“It might've hurt my spirit,” he adds. “And I have in my mind our time together and it was beautiful.”
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He asked Bassett, who costarred with Houston in 1995’s Forest Whitaker-directed Waiting to Exhale, to attend in his place. “I knew Angela would be there representing the family. So I said, ‘I'm good. You go. Give the family love and all.’”
Much of Vance’s work in the years since has involved advocating for his communities’ mental health and well-being. His new book co-written with Dr. Robin L. Smith, The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaiming Their Power, is designed as a guidebook for those struggling in secret not unlike Houston was.
Vance will next star in the live-action adaptation of Lilo & Stitch.
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