How living with Elvis Presley inspired Whitney Houston’s classic ‘I Have Nothing’

16 May 2022, 10:13 | Updated: 17 May 2022, 08:57

The inspiration for Whitney's timeless ballad 'I Have Nothing' came from an unlikely source.
The inspiration for Whitney's timeless ballad 'I Have Nothing' came from an unlikely source. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

To this day, The Bodyguard still holds the record for the best-selling film soundtrack ever.

And no wonder - the Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner-starring romance flick spawned iconic songs such as ‘I Will Always Love You’, ‘Run To You’, and ‘Queen Of The Night’.

One of the soundtrack’s most famous songs, and undoubtedly one of Whitney’s most timeless ballads is ‘I Have Nothing’.

But the track itself was inspired by an unlikely source: the King himself, Elvis Presley.

The opening lyrics, "Take my love, I'll never ask for too much, Just all that you are and everything that you do," were written from an incredibly personal experience of living with and loving Elvis.

The person behind the song's lyrics? Linda Thompson.

Former beauty pageant winner turned songwriter extraordinaire, Thompson, was in a relationship with Presley for over four years from July 1972 until late 1976.

Elvis Presley together with Linda Thompson.
Elvis Presley together with Linda Thompson. Picture: Getty
Linda dated Elvis for more than four years back in the 1970s.
Linda dated Elvis for more than four years back in the 1970s. Picture: Rex Features

Even after the couple parted ways, she remained deeply in love with Elvis.

On the night that he died, Thompson was the first person that his young daughter Lisa Marie chose to contact after receiving the dreadful news of her father's passing.

Years after, Linda married Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner), and then married again to music producer David Foster who became her songwriting partner, teaming up on 'I Have Nothing'.

Recently she spoke about the inspiration behind the song, saying: "That song was definitely inspired by my living with Elvis."

"I knew what it was like to live with the biggest male diva of all time. I had to write this lyric around Whitney Houston who was the female diva in The Bodyguard."

"So I took some of the happenings and some of my feelings about having lived with Elvis and wrote about it in The Bodyguard."

She drew parallels between Whitney's lead character Rachel Marron, who was a pop star in the film, and Elvis.

"Like (the lyrics) 'Stay in my arms if you dare or must I imagine you there" –  because it was a challenge to be with someone who was that larger than life, someone who was such a huge rock star" she goes on to say.

Obviously inspired by her lasting love long after their breakup, the song is tinged with regret, as Thompson knew Elvis would never settle down into the married life she hoped for.

She also had her own ambitions of becoming a singer-songwriter, which came to fruition later in life alongside her David Foster.

"I wanted to carve out my own position in life, write my own songs, carve out my own career, have my kids and my family and then write about my life and where he fit into it, which is, of course, the greatest love imaginable."

It didn't work out that way, but as we now know 'I Have Nothing' became a major hit because of Whitney's incredible vocal performance.

And Thompson recalled what happened seeing Whitney belt it out in the recording studio:

"She was a racehorse, stepped up to the microphone without any warm-ups, and just hit those big notes."

The soundtrack for The Bodyguard is still the best-selling of all time, even 30 years after its release.
The soundtrack for The Bodyguard is still the best-selling of all time, even 30 years after its release. Picture: Warner Bros Studios

Surprisingly, The Bodyguard didn't have the long list of powerhouse tracks for its leading lady at first.

Whitney's long-term producer Clive Davis later revealed the story behind the soundtrack.

"Typically, the head of any record label is going to want more music throughout the film but unless you establish Whitney’s stardom, the script didn’t provide that."

"So I wrote a letter to the director and Kevin [Costner] saying just that 'If you don’t get more music, if you don’t get more performance from Whitney, you do not have a great film.'"

He was emphatically correct, with The Bodyguard soundtrack eventually going on to sell over 45 million copies worldwide, helped by the success of 'I Have Nothing'.

But it could've been very different. Strangely, we have Elvis to thank.