The Meaning Behind the Elvis Presley Inspired Whitney Houston Hit, “I Have Nothing”

Whitney Houston is a music giant, yet there’s another music legend to partially thank for the inspiration behind one of her biggest songs, “I Have Nothing”: Elvis Presley.

Co-written by hit songwriters, David Foster and Linda Thompson, “I Have Nothing” was released as the third single off The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album. As the star of The Bodyguard, Houston recorded several songs for the film that casts her as a diva pop star who falls in love with her bodyguard, portrayed by Kevin Costner.

“I Have Nothing” earned both critical acclaim and commercial success, hitting the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It was also nominated for Best Original Song at the 1993 Oscar Awards.

The song made history, as it solidified Houston as the first artist to have three songs inside the Top 11 on the Hot 100 at the same time, alongside “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Every Woman” off the soundtrack. So how is Presley involved with the song’s origins?

Meaning Behind the Song
Thompson and Foster were married at the time the song was released in 1993. Two decades prior, Thompson dated Presley for four years from 1972 to 1976, breaking up one year before Presley’s death. Over the years, Thompson has shared that her life with Presley inspired the lyrics to “I Have Nothing.”

“That song was definitely inspired by [my relationship with Elvis] because I knew what it was like to live with the biggest [rock star] of all time,” Thompson says in a Tik Tok video. She also reveals in her 2016 book, A Little Thing Called Life: On Loving Elvis Presley, Bruce Jenner, and Songs in Between, that director Mick Jackson approached her about writing a song for the film.

“It was centered around this gorgeous megastar,” Thompson writes in the book about Houston’s character. “She’s petulant. She’s a diva. And she has this bodyguard, he’s protecting her, but she’s difficult. And then she starts to fall in love with him. And the song has to be called ‘I Have Nothing.’”

She also shares that the lines, Stay in my arms if you dare / Or must I imagine you there / Don’t walk away from me, are inspired directly by her time dating megastar Presley. “Having lived with the very biggest rock star of all time, I had a good deal of experience to draw on while creating that lyric,” she continues.

The legacy of “I Have Nothing” continues to live on, as “I Have Nothing” is reportedly the most performed song in American Idol history as well as one of the songs that lead to the most advances on the show.

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