Kevin Costner says ‘broken’ Dionne Warwick asked him to speak at Whitney Houston’s memorial

"Whitney was certainly so worthy to talk about, but it's not my first instinct to go out there, to rush to the mic," Costner says.

Singer Whitney Houston and actor Kevin Costner attend "The Bodyguard" Hollywood premiere on Nov. 23, 1992, at Mann's Chinese Theatre in California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Kevin Costner is sharing why he chose to speak at Whitney Houston’s memorial after turning down several invitations to do so. 

The actor, who starred in the hit ‘90s film “The Bodyguard” alongside Houston, told People that he initially chose to grieve the “Exhale” singer privately until he received a call from Houston’s first cousin, singer Dionne Warwick. It was only after Warwick called him, overwhelmed with grief, that Costner decided to publicly pay tribute to Houston, who died at age 48 on Feb. 11, 2012. 

“Whitney was certainly so worthy to talk about, but it’s not my first instinct to go out there, to rush to the mic,” Costner said. “But I got a call from Dionne Warwick and I could tell in her voice she was broken. I said yes to her when I had been saying no all week.” 

“I heard in her voice how tired she was, how many decisions she was probably having to make, who would speak, who wouldn’t speak,” the Oscar winner shared in this week’s People cover story. “She goes, ‘Kevin, can I ask you?’ and I [just] said, ‘Yes.’ “

After agreeing to speak, Costner began to have cold feet. 

“I’m thinking, ‘Why am I speaking? I just was her imaginary bodyguard,’” he explained, adding that he made “a promise to protect” Houston during the filming of “The Bodyguard.” 

“I didn’t read the tea leaves correctly, how much it meant to other people,” Costner said. The 69-year-old actor shared that he was struck by the emotions at Houston’s funeral, which was held at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. 

“I remember being in the pews, and I had never been in a church that was more electric,” he said. “Two bands were playing … I thought this place was on fire.”

Costner was filled with nerves but that didn’t stop him from delivering a beautiful 17-minute eulogy at Houston’s memorial. 

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“I remember looking back and seeing Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey … I think they were sitting together, and I went, ‘Can you do my speech?’ ” he recalled. “I really wanted them to do it. I didn’t want to go up, but I did.” 

Costner was told by a guest to keep his speech short because “CNN’s covering this,” however, he decided to give Houston the tribute she deserved. 

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize CNN was here, but they can take a commercial break,’” he shared. “‘I’m going to say what I want to say. I came a long way to talk about this little girl.’”