As news of Whitney Houston’s untimely death at the age of 48 sent powerful ripples around globe, Israelis could look back at a brief often eccentric 2003 tour of the Holy Land by the six-time Grammy winner, which, sadly, proved to be her first and last visit to Israel.
In 2003 the U.S. diva, already past the prime of her career and still married to Bobby Brown, made a memorable, if not altogether strange visit to the Holy Land, hosted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group centered in the southern desert town of Dimona.
Houston, protected by a ring of publicists and family, rarely spoke to the local media during her trip, even famously evading a hand shake with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon while meeting him with Brown in Jerusalem.
Noting that this was their first trip to Israel, Sharon hoped it would be the first of many, to which Houston replied, “Yes.”
When Sharon asked her how she felt in Israel, Houston said, “It’s home, it’s home.”
Speaking of the awkward encounter, Israeli entertainment reporter Guy Pines remarked in a panel interview to MSNBC at the time that Sharon gave “her his hand, she like pulls Bobby’s hand, very very strongly and she doesn’t want to give the prime minister her hand and she makes Bobby shake his hand.”
“If I had a dollar for every time I said ‘strange’ in this interview, I’d be a rich man by now,” Pines said.
Speaking to the media in the American superstar’s stead, Houston’s sister and acting spokeswoman Patricia Houston said of the visit at the time: “She is loving it.”
“She is a spiritual woman and wanted to come here and touch the land and be around the saints of Dimona,” Houston’s sister added.
The quirkiness of Houston’s Israel visit was a mark of the latter part of her career, which found the musical titan wading in a sea of personal challenges, involving drug abuse and a troubled 14-year marriage to Brown.
In 2000, she and Brown were stopped at an airport in Hawaii, and security guards discovered marijuana in their luggage. In a 2002 TV interview, she admitted using marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs.
The pair also starred in a reality TV series, “Being Bobby Brown,” which painted an often unflattering portrait of the couple.