Most people will remember Whitney Houston for her voice. Calgary native Sean Cheesman’s lasting memory of the singer will be her laugh.
“She had a really hearty, full-of-life laugh,” says the Los Angeles-based choreographer, who has worked with artists including Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Britney Spears.
Houston, who died Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the age of 48, had a handful of connections to Canada. Some were tenuous, such as appearing in a Canada Dry commercial at 19, three years before releasing her self-titled debut album. Others, such as working with famed producer David Foster, profoundly shaped her career. Victoria native Foster produced the soundtrack for 1992 hit The Bodyguard.
It was that movie that brought Cheesman and Houston together.
“She was at the height of her fame,” recalls Cheesman, who worked on the film as a choreographer and even played a small part as a choreographer named Rory in the movie.
“Surprisingly, in a great way, she was so nice. You’re always afraid that your idols or somebody who is so famous is going to be a diva, and she was definitely not a diva,” he recalls. “She was very friendly and very nice to everybody, and she was also nervous.” After all, it was Houston’s first movie, and she was starring alongside Kevin Costner, who had recently taken home two Oscars for Dances With Wolves. “She would be going over her lines relentlessly right before we started shooting,” Cheesman says.
The two became such good friends that Cheesman attended Houston’s wedding to Bobby Brown and went on to choreograph Houston’s video for I’m Every Woman.
The video shoot was proof of another side to Houston, Cheesman says. Early in her career Houston had sung backup vocals on Chaka Khan’s debut album, and when it came time to do her version of the song Khan made famous, Houston gave her a cameo in the video.
“She was a very loyal person,” he says.
The two drifted apart over the years, and Cheesman was just as shocked as the rest of us to learn of her death.
“I remember her as this young woman who was full of life and joy,” he says.