You probably already knew that Whitney Houston’s recording of “I Will Always Love You” is one of the biggest singles of the last 25 years… and the song that defined her legacy, as proven by its use as the lone ballad of homage to Houston at Sunday night’s Grammys. Maybe you even know that a not-so-behind-the-scenes songsmith named Dolly Parton wrote and first recorded it, almost 20 years before Whitney spent a then-record 14 weeks at the top of the singles chart in 1992-93 with what turned out to be her signature song.
But did you know that Kevin Costner is the one who found the song for Houston? That a cash dispute scotched an Elvis Presley recording of the tune? Or that Saddam Hussein was also a huge fan? Here are a dozen lesser-known facts about the power ballad that America and the world will always love:
Dolly Parton wrote it about a professional breakup, not a personal one.
When Parton wrote it in 1973, it was as a farewell to her mentor, producer, and longtime duet partner, Porter Wagoner, with whom she never had a romantic relationship. Wagoner was reluctant to have her go solo, to say the least. “It’s saying, ‘Just because I’m going don’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here,'” Parton told CMT. “And I took it in the next morning. I said, ‘Sit down, Porter. I’ve written this song, and I want you to hear it.’… And he was crying. He said, ‘That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did.” She even sang it on one of her last appearances on Wagoner’s TV show in 1974.
Kevin Costner effectively usurped the role of music supervisor on “The Bodyguard,” forcing it into the movie when another intended song didn’t work out.
The big finale of “The Bodyguard” was supposed to be a cover of “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted.” But when Costner found out that was being used in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” he had to go back to the musical drawing board. That’s when he came up with the Parton tune, which had previously only been associated with country-rock. It was also Costner’s idea to begin Houston’s version of the song a cappella. “I thought using no music at the beginning was a stupid idea,” producer David Foster admitted to ABC News. But Costner insisted, and Foster said he was never so glad to be proven wrong.
Clive Davis didn’t think the song would work for Whitney… at first.
According to Costner, the reaction was less than unanimously enthusiastic when he told execs at Arista Records what the movie’s big closing ballad would be. “When I said to Whitney, ‘You’re gonna sing “I Will Always Love You,”‘ the ground shook,” Costner said. “Clive Davis and those guys were going, ‘What?!’
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