Whitney Houston: How Kevin Costner helped make 'I Will Always Love You' a huge hit

(Warner Bros)
Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner at the premiere of The Bodyguard in Los Angeles in November 1992. (Warner Bros)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

If there was anyone in the early ‘90s who knew what a hit song from a hit movie sounded like, it was Kevin Costner.

If you turned on a television or a radio in the summer of 1991, the chances were substantially high of being greeted with Bryan Adams’s mega-hit, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”.

The song, which spent a record 16 weeks at the top of the UK music chart, was the lead single from the soundtrack to Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a humungous box office success in its own right.

Without each other, the song and the movie would have happily co-existed, but together they were an unstoppable and ubiquitous force.

Synergy, is what the marketing people would call it. Lightning in a bottle.

And yet, just over a year later, lightning struck again. And Costner was the common denominator. But this time, he had “The Voice”.

As singers’ nicknames go, it’s a pretty hefty one, but Whitney Houston had earned it, coming off the back of three albums laden with US number one hits.

(Warner Bros)
Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in the 1992 film The Bodyguard. (Warner Bros)

Ten years ago today, on 11 February 2012, Houston died at the age of 48. It is 30 years since The Bodyguard was released in cinemas.

Back in 1992, Houston was one of music’s biggest superstars. And she wanted to get into acting.

Costner had the perfect project for her, The Bodyguard, in which he would play the titular character, and Houston the star he is assigned to protect.

The film is synonymous with the song that propelled it into the stratosphere, Houston’s magnificent version of “I Will Always Love You”, originally written and recorded in 1973 by Dolly Parton, who, remarkably, composed it on the same day she came up with the song "Jolene".

Houston’s version spent 10 weeks at number one in the UK, and helped The Bodyguard pass $400m at the box office worldwide.

Whitney Houston in Concert at Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London, 5th November 1993. The Bodyguard World Tour 1993. (Photo by Chris Grieve/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Whitney Houston performing at Earl's Court in London on 5 November 1993 as part of The Bodyguard World Tour. (Getty Images)

The song’s success is a testament to Houston’s vocal range, whispering one moment and a powerhouse the next, but without the advice of Costner, who also produced the film, things could have been quite different.

Originally, Parton’s song wasn’t in the running to be the soundtrack’s main showstopper.

The plan had been to have Houston record a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, but when a version of that song by Paul Young featured in the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes, there was a rethink.

Read more: That’s not Whitney Houston on ‘The Bodyguard’ poster, reveals Kevin Costner

It was Costner who picked out Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, which had previously been overlooked in the selection process, and suggested it to Houston.

If that seems a stroke of genius in hindsight, then his next piece of advice was similarly inspired… he said Houston should sing the opening of the song a cappella, without any accompanying instruments.

(Warner Bros)
Whitney Houston made her film debut in The Bodyguard. (Warner Bros)

The record company was aghast, claiming radio airplay would be hampered by not starting the song with a bang, but Costner won out, and Houston’s soft opening to the song is just as hard-hitting as the rousing, more widely celebrated conclusion.

In 2008, Costner told Country Music Television (CMT): “I said, 'This is a very important song in this movie. I didn't care if it was ever on the radio. I didn't care.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - APRIL 05:  Singer Whitney Houston and actor Kevin Costner at Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XIV at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa on April 5, 2008 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Michael Caulfield/WireImage)
Whitney Houston and actor Kevin Costner pictured together in April 2008. (Getty)

"I said, 'We're also going to do this a cappella at the beginning. I need it to be a cappella because it shows a measure of how much she digs this guy - that she sings without music.'"

Costner had suggested the song to Houston after hearing country singer Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 version - when Parton got wind of this, she pitched in and helped out, telling the producers about the final verse in her original arrangement, which was missing from Ronstadt’s.


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In the US, “I Will Always Love You” was number one for 14 weeks. According to Guinness World Records, it is the best-selling single of all time by a female artist, selling some 20 million copies.

Just this week, it was named the UK’s favourite love song in a survey.

Parton has no regrets about Houston taking her song and making it her own, saying she had to pull her car off the road when she first heard it on the radio because of how amazing it sounded.

File photo dated 29/06/14 of Dolly Parton, who has written a novel with best-selling US author James Patterson. Parton will release an album in March 2022 simultaneously with the book, which is her first, and has been titled Run, Rose, Run. Issue date: Wednesday August 11, 2021.
Dolly Parton has said she loves Whitney Houston's version of her song, 'I Will Always Love You'. (PA)

Last year, she revealed that she used the royalty money she made from Houston’s version to invest in an office complex in a Black neighbourhood in Nashville, Tennessee.

Parton told the Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen show last August: “It was a whole strip mall, and I thought this is the perfect place for me to be, considering it was Whitney, so I just thought, ‘This is great, I’m just going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well.’

Read more: A 'no-holds-barred' Whitney Houston biopic is on the way

“I love the fact that I spent that money on a complex and I think, ‘This is the house that Whitney built.’”

Forbes magazine estimates that Parton earned at least $10m in royalties from Houston’s version of her song.

Watch: Dolly Parton reveals what she did with royalties from Whitney Houston cover