Whitney Houston's mother is taking a stand on her children's substance abuse problems.
Cissy Houston, the great R&B and gospel singer, is leading a prayer vigil next Monday night in Harlem. In a simple announcement on New York radio station KISS-FM Houston called the two-hour event "mothers praying for healing."
"Let us pray for healing and deliverance," Houston said in the recorded message, "for our children affected by substance abuse."
The event will held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Sources tell me that by Monday Houston and others involved in the planning should have quite a team of performers, celebrities and clergy who will participate. My guess is that Cissy's cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, as well as many other notables, will attend.
For Cissy Houston, who is also a deacon of her own church in East Orange, N.J., this is a heroic decision. Both of her sons have had problems with drugs. Most famously her daughter Whitney is in a downward spiral involving drugs and denial. Two weeks ago she supposedly checked into a rehab facility in Atlanta, only to check out after five days. My sources — as reported here — say she never even went into the program. It's unclear where she is, or who's taking care of her 11-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Whitney's husband, Bobby Brown, has spent time in two different jails in the last two months.
So let's pray for Cissy Houston, and hope her candor and courage will be a beacon for lots of other mothers with similar problems — and for Whitney, too.
Last night's bizarre and celebrity-deprived shindig for Janet Jackson in New York got only weirder when Courtney Love showed up. She came right up to the VIP area at Spice Market — a section of the restaurant hidden by arches and protected by a velvet rope — only to be turned away. "Janet's people didn't want her anywhere near them," one security guard told me.
OK, so who did Janet want? There weren't that many choices. Patti LaBelle arrived with an entourage, Al Sharpton came with Lennox Lewis, someone said they saw Paris Hilton. The most important people music-wise, Hal Jackson and his wife Debi from New York's WBLS, were treated like second-class citizens and left. No Puffy, but Jermaine Dupri — Janet's beau — was outfitted in a bright white suit with matching hat.
Jackson, of course, was a good 45 minutes late to her own party. When she did arrive, she descended the stairs from the main floor to the basement area with many beefy guards of her own. She cut through the crowd of invited guests and disappeared into a private room beyond the special area, where she ate dinner by herself.
Meanwhile, there was much buzz about her brother Michael, who's apparently coming to the East Coast on Wednesday for a big fancy dinner hosted by Black Entertainment Television. The dinner is free, but I'm told that guests will be asked to make a donation to some charity. Since Michael no longer has any valid operating charities, I do advise said guests to be lazy with their checkbooks until they get the whole story. And it should be a doozy.
Somewhere in NBC's vaults is a tape of the night the old David Letterman show slowly turned upside down. The year was 1986 and the main guest was Peter Ustinov, whom I booked onto the show to promote a book about UNICEF; Peter was their goodwill ambassador and willing to do anything to help the cause. That night the producer Bob Morton told me the show would look as though it was slowly rotating clockwise through the hour. Would Peter be up for it? he asked. Was Reagan a Republican? I replied.
By the time Peter stepped out, it would already be a few degrees at a tilt, and moving. Ustinov was brilliant that night, keeping an eye on the monitor and responding in kind. He didn't have to do it, and he didn't need to prove himself. He was 64 years old, an Oscar winner, and known around the world as an author, humorist, actor and bon vivant. But that night he even had Letterman in stitches, holding onto his desk so as not to "fall over." It was a hoot. When the show was completely upside down, Peter was in full comic mode, eyes rolling up, tie flapping. It was an award-winning performance.
I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Peter Ustinov in the autumn of 1986 as the publicity person for the now defunct Atlantic Monthly Press. We traveled to Hollywood, where he did Joan Rivers' late-night talk show and lots more interviews to promote the book. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Peter in a bungalow, me in a broom closet. One afternoon he asked to borrow one of the hotel's cars to go shopping on Rodeo Drive. The goal was to buy a dress for his wife at a chic boutique he liked. I remember the dress was very expensive — $200! — and he made a fuss out of getting the right one.
He also got a kick out of the fancy Bijan boutique for men, where one had to make an appointment to buy a tie. Needless to say, we didn't go in. But next door, at Battaglia, he signed the guest book "Peter Ustinov" on the name line, and next to it, under comments, he wrote "by appointment only." He also surprised me, buying me two very expensive Leonard ties as a thank-you for schlepping around with him.
I went with him to do publicity in Washington, D.C., where he attended the Kennedy Center honors in December 1986. After the dinner he handed me one of his famous caricatures — this one of Secretary of State George Schulz, who was sitting next to him and was right in the middle of the Iran-Contra mess. I have the drawing framed next to my desk. Peter couldn't stop imitating Schulz — he was a hilarious mimic — and the next day he was even funnier on the shuttle home when we spotted Elliott Abrams, who'd been disgraced that week also in the Iran- Contra scandal. We then ran into Omar Sharif, and these two gave Peter plenty of ammunition for levity on the way home.
Besides his enormous kindness, mostly what I remember about being with Peter is laughing so hard I couldn't see straight. He imitated everyone, with a special fondness for Jack Nicholson. I don't think there was a meal that went by without constant laughter. That was Peter. He was one of the biggest stars in the world, but he couldn't have been more down-to-earth or more generous. I know UNICEF, the world, and his family will miss him dearly, and so will I.
It looks like the war between TVT Records and Island/Def Jam is not over.
You may recall stories here last year about Def Jam's Lyor Cohen causing the company to incur an initial judgment of $132 million in a lawsuit brought by TVT Records over Ja Rule. A jury decided Cohen had infringed on TVT's business. The damages were split evenly between Cohen himself and Def Jam, which is owned by Universal Music Group.
Eventually the amount Cohen was supposed to pay was lowered to $3 million based on his personal financial reports. But now Billboard magazine reports in a big front-page story this week that Cohen lied about his net worth and failed to mention that he'd be making $20 million from the sale of Phat Farm Fashions. Whoops! Now TVT is asking a judge to reopen the case for re-evaluation based on Cohen's real net worth.
Of course, Cohen is long gone from Def Jam. He is now running the new non-Time Warner Warner Music Group with Edgar Bronfman. Last week, these guys wound up in a lawsuit with Madonna over her record label, Maverick. That was strike one. Now here's strike two, from TVT, a situation Cohen no doubt assured Bronfman would not follow him from Def Jam. But it has, like the proverbial cat, come back the very next day.
What's next? Well, Bronfman's purchase of the Warner Music Group includes Atlantic Records, which for 40 years improperly reported royalties on records to the union AFTRA. Now AFTRA is the subject of a federal lawsuit, and pension specialists and legal eagles are buzzing about the fact that none of the big rock stars from 1954 to the present have proper pensions. There are currently 10 plaintiffs in the suit, including several who are very much alive and want their money.