What a difference a song makes, especially when sung by the Greatest Voice of All.
That was undoubtedly the case when Whitney Houston’s epic rendition of “I Will Always Love You” hit No. 1 before “The Bodyguard” — the blockbuster that spawned the hit single — was released even 30 years ago on November 25, 1992. But Houston’s forever-claiming cover of Dolly Parton’s 1974 country hit wasn’t the original soundtrack choice as the singer and Kevin Costner embrace in a bittersweet farewell at the end of the romantic thriller.
“She would sing ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,'” Maureen Crowe, music supervisor for “The Bodyguard,” told The Post of the 1966 Jimmy Ruffin Motown classic. “But if you slow that song down, it’s like a lament . And it was covered for ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ [by Paul Young in 1991], and it climbed the charts when we were recording “The Bodyguard.” So we couldn’t use that number because it looked like we ripped it off of Fried Green Tomatoes. ”
It was Crowe who then suggested “I Will Always Love You” – which she had only heard before from Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 remake – to producer-star Costner. And the rest is movie history.
R-rated ‘The Bodyguard’ became the world’s second-biggest movie of 1992, behind the highest-grossing G-movie ‘Aladdin’. With Costner on an unstoppable roll from 1987’s “The Untouchables,” 1988’s “Bull Durham,” 1989’s “Field of Dreams,” and 1990’s “Dances with Wolves,” and Houston at the peak of her pop powers with nine No. hits already within her career, it was a magical encounter of the best – and greatest – of both worlds.
In fact, it was hard to say which was stronger: the movie or the soundtrack. With Houston at the helm of crystal clear notes, the LP “Bodyguard” became the best-selling soundtrack of all time and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1994. Although it was the debut for the late superstar, she had serious doubts about whether she would be in the role would step from another überdiva – Rachel Marron – who needs bodyguard Frank Farmer (Costner) to protect her from a stalker.
“She was nervous about the whole thing, and I remember she said a few times, ‘You know, I don’t know what I’m doing – I’m a singer, I’m not an actor,'” said Tomas Arana, who was a former agent of the Secret Service played Greg Portman, who turned out to be the assassin hired to kill Rachel. “And I said to her, ‘Whitney, you’re a star – don’t worry about that.’ ”
Indeed, Costner — who finally got cameras rolling on the Lawrence Kasdan script after it was originally paired with Steve McQueen and then Ryan O’Neal to play opposite Diana Ross in the ’70s — only wanted Houston in the part of Rachel. Marron.
And DeVaughn Nixon — who played Houston’s son Fletcher in “The Bodyguard” at age 8 — believes the part of Rachel Marron was just as tailored to her as one of the custom costumes she wore in the movie.
“It was pretty true to herself,” said Nixon, who now stars in HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” — playing his basketball star dad Norm Nixon — and FX’s “Snowfall.” “There weren’t too many differences. I mean, she wasn’t much of a diva — she had to up it for the movie, of course — but she almost told her story in a way. I just feel like Rachel Marron is the alter ego [in whom] she was finally able to escape… play this person who she basically was.
But Houston “never played the star map,” said Gary Kemp, who played Rachel’s publicist Sy Spector. “She hung out with the crew, she didn’t rush to her caravan… She had the sweet partner of hers, Robyn [Crawford, Houston’s former assistant and secret lover]most of the time with her.”
Houston would even treat the cast and crew by breaking into song behind the scenes. “One of my predominant memories is sitting in a caravan at 6am, having my make-up applied and her sitting next to me bursting into gospel,” said Kemp, who was a member of British band Spandau Ballet. from the 1980s, had his own pop experience that earned him points at Costner. “He said, ‘That song you wrote, [the 1983 hit] ‘True’ belongs to me and my wife.’ ”
Unfortunately, Kemp also shared a bond of grief with the cast and crew of “Bodyguard” over the tragic death of truck driver William Vitagliano, who was accidentally crushed between some cranes about six weeks into January 1992 filming. “It was devastating, said Kemp, who will release a solo album, ‘INSOLO’ in 2021. “It was a pretty tough experience for everyone. But after we took some time off, we continued filming.”
And for Nixon, there would be many happy moments — from snowball fights with Costner in Lake Tahoe to poolside fun at the Beverly Hills mansion that served as Rachel’s home. Known as the “Beverly Hills Compound,” it was the same location where the famous horse head scene took place in “The Godfather.”
Most of all, though, Nixon remembers the special bond he had with Houston as his “guardian” on set. “Whitney looked over me,” he said. “I was like her child. She sang hymns to me, she taught me about the Bible. She would just teach me everything.
However, Houston was teaching himself on the set of “The Bodyguard.” And when it came time for a kissing scene with Arana, she didn’t feel comfortable closing lips. “The first time I met her was when we were in the bedroom doing the kissing scene,” he said. “She said, ‘I’m so sorry, but I’m just so nervous. I don’t really want to kiss on the lips.’ So I ended up just kissing her neck, and we sort of caressed each other, but we don’t really kiss on the lips.”
As for his romantic rival in “The Bodyguard,” Arana said Costner was “a sweetheart, super nice, level-headed” during the shoot. When a nasty bout of food poisoning sent Arana to the hospital while filming at Miami’s iconic Fontainebleau Hotel, the “Yellowstone” star paid him a visit with a very special gift.
“Kevin and I were talking about baseball,” said the actor, who stars in the movie “Limonov,” due for release in 2023. [Hall of Famer] Brooks Robinson that he had. He had played some kind of charity baseball or softball game with him.”
But aside from convincing Houston to take the role, perhaps Costner’s greatest angle of genius was the idea for his leading lady to start “I Will Always Love You” a cappella. Those 42 seconds of sheer brilliance had us all at “hello.”
“There was some nervousness about the fact that if we go ahead with it as a single, maybe the radio will think, ‘People will think we’re off the air,'” Crowe said of the version that Houston recorded live with her band in a few takes on set. “And that turned out to be no problem at all. It exploded on the radio.”
With special releases celebrating the 30th anniversary of “The Bodyguard” — as well as the Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” due out Dec. 21 — the love for Houston lives on 10 years after her death. And to this day, Arana plays “I Will Always Love You” before crying for a scene.
“It’s because I associate it with Whitney Houston’s wonderful soul, the sweetness of her smile, and the tragedy of her too-short life.”