“REGARDLESS OF WHICH RECORD IS No. 1 next week, in two weeks, it will face off with ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston,” wrote then-Billboard Hot 100 chart manager Michael Ellis in the Nov. 21, 1992, issue, when the track vaulted from its No. 40 debut to No. 12.
Ellis’ prediction was off by a week. Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s 1974 classic hit No. 1 on the very next chart, Nov. 28, 1992 — the fastest rise to the top by a woman at the time.
From there, more records followed: The song remained at No. 1 for a then-unprecedented 14 weeks and moved 3.1 million copies to become the year’s top-selling single in just nine weeks, according to Nielsen Music.
“Always” was released on the soundtrack for Houston’s 1992 film debut, The Bodyguard, in which she plays a pop diva who falls in love with her hired protector, played by Kevin Costner.
The soundtrack, which also contains the top five Hot 100 hits “I Have Nothing” and an update of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” locked up 20 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was the first LP to sell more than 1 million copies stateside in one week since Nielsen began tracking data in 1991.
The album and singles went on to win 11 Billboard Music Awards and eight American Music Awards. At the latter event, Houston’s haul prompted co-host Will Smith to remark out of a commercial break, “Welcome back to the Whitney Houston show!”
Three Grammy Awards followed, including record of the year for “Always,” and 20 years later, it remained Houston’s signature song. After her drug-related drowning death on Feb. 11, 2012, the song returned to No. 3 on the Hot 100, only the second time that a song has reached the top three in two distinct cycles.
At Houston’s funeral, “Always” played as her casket departed the church.