Though the mood was celebratory on the eve of the 43rd NAACP Image Awards, which airs tonight on NBC, celebrities attending the pre-show gala for nominees had the untimely death of Whitney Houston on their minds.
“It was so shocking. I was sitting at home, taking a break before going to a Grammy party and it came on the news and I was like, ‘Is this confirmed? Is this real?’ I don’t want to say much because the family hasn’t said anything, but we lost a huge icon,” said Elise Neal. “This has been such an incredible year of loss,” reflected Loretta Devine, naming Etta James, Don Cornelius and others who recently died. “I’m going to miss her tremendously. You get married, fall in love, make love to her music — so many things you’ve done because of her and the joy that she brought,” she noted, adding, “Stars that die young are young forever.”
“It broke my heart because I knew Whitney. She was a beautiful person, a lovely spirit gone too soon,” said director Robert Townsend. “It’s a rough business and you get attacked by all kinds of demons and the demons got her. I pray for her soul, and I pray for Bobby [Brown] and for her daughter as well.” Louis Gossett Jr.’s thoughts were also with Bobbi Kristina. “If I were to tell her anything, I’d say, ‘Take your mama’s light and put it inside you, and she’ll always be alive for you.’” Added teen star Zendaya Coleman, “Whitney will be missed for her voice and her talent. Everybody’s going to remember that forever.”
Coleman (Shake it Up) was savoring her first nomination for Outstanding Youth Performance. “Not only am I nominated but I get to be here with people I look up to,” she said. Also a nominee for Showtime’s The Least Among You, Gossett would have attended regardless. “I’m here every year,” said the actor, who’ll play “a messenger from God” in his next release, The Lamp.
Elise Neal, “Going for a Rihanna vibe” in a slinky black dress, said she’d skipped the Pan-African Film Festival premiere of her movie The Under Shepherd, a church exposé, to be there. “I play a bad girl, the pastor’s mistress,” she said, adding that she’s about to produce a film she’s written that incorporates music, “like Stomp the Yard and Purple Rain.”
Townsend talked about his next film, In the Hive, the true story of an educator named Vivian Saunders who transformed the lives of delinquent boys. It stars Loretta Devine, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of dementia-afflicted Adele Webber on Grey’s Anatomy. ”So many people have to deal with the Alzheimer’s issue with their parents,” she pointed out. Happily moving between light and darker fare, she’ll play a madam in the Lifetime series The Client List opposite Jennifer Love Hewitt and Cybill Shepherd, premiering in April.
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(Photo: Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)