Whitney Houston’s posthumous turn: As star of ‘Sparkle’

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The death of Whitney Houston at the age of 48 is a deep loss for the music world. But it also has reverberations in another artistic realm--the movies.

Houston had recently finished shooting ‘Sparkle,’ the remake of the 1976 Irene Cara film that, eerily, focuses on talented young musicians whose lives are ruined by addiction. Houston also served as an executive producer on the movie, acquiring rights to the original film more than a decade ago. The movie, shot this past fall and currently in post-production, is scheduled to be released in August. No word yet on any release-date changes; we’re awaiting word from a producer.


[Update, 7:41 pm, Saturday: A producer on the film said Saturday night he had actually just seen a rough cut. ‘I’m in total shock,’ executive producer Howard Rosenman told The Times. ‘I have no idea about the impact on ‘Sparkle,’ which I saw last night. [Houston] was unbelievably fantastic in it.’ Meanwhile, a spokesman for the studio, Sony Pictures, said the movie remains set for an Aug. 17 release.]

The original ‘Sparkle’ told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee’s Sister, the group also features Sister’s sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister’s life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The new version, directed by Salim Akil (‘Jumping the Broom,’ television series ‘The Game’), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters’ less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

Though the film has a heavy music component, it is not known how much Houston’s character sings on screen, if at all. Derek Luke and Cee Lo Green co-star opposite Houston, with Carmen Ejogo as Sister Williams.

In another surreal turn, Houston had said she originally wanted Aaliyah for the title role but was forced to reconfigure the project when the R&B singer was killed in a plane crash in August 2001.


FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston dead at 48

Houston’s publicist confirmed on Saturday that the star had died in Los Angeles, just a day before the Grammy Awards honoring the music world’s finest. No cause of death has been given.

The ‘Sparkle’ remake was supposed to serve as an auspicious return to the big screen for Houston, who gained fame as a silver-screen actress playing a pop star in 1992’s ‘The Bodyguard’ and then three years later as TV producer Savannah Jackson in the adaptation of the bestseller ‘Waiting to Exhale’ but hadn’t been in a movie since ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ sixteen years ago.

Houston also had a strong influence on numerous film soundtracks, producing and recording on ‘Exhale’ and a host of other films. (A number of those songs could get some air time at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.) Houston also had an important if less high-profile role in the movies: she served as a producer on ‘The Princess Diaries’ franchise.


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--Steven Zeitchik