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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pop Queen Whitney Houston Dies On Eve Of Grammys



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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop  music’s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal  image was tarnished by erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died on the eve of  the Grammy Awards she once reigned. She was 48.

Houston was pronounced dead Saturday afternoon in her room on the fourth  floor of the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills police Lt. Mark Rosen said. “There  were no obvious signs of any criminal intent,” he said.

Search: Watch Whitney Houston videos

The cause of death was unknown, said Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster.

Houston’s death came on the night before music’s biggest showcase, the  Grammys. She will be remembered Sunday in a tribute by Jennifer Hudson, organizers said.  Houston had been at rehearsals for the show Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica, according to a person who was  at the event but was not authorized to speak publicly about it. The person said  Houston looked disheveled, was sweating profusely and liquor and cigarettes  could be smelled on her breath.

At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the  mid-1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists.  She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful and peerless vocals rooted in the  black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.

Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits  like “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.”

She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had  sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.

She influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to  Mariah Carey, who when she first came out sounded so much like Houston that many  thought it was Houston.

Photos: In Memoriam: Whitney Houston

But by the end of her career, Houston became a stunning cautionary tale of  the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her  once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public  appearances. She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her once  pristine voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes as she had  during her prime.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,”  Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband  Brown by her side.

It was a tragic fall for a superstar who was one of the top-selling artists  in pop music history, with more than 55 million records sold in the United  States alone.

Her longtime mentor, Clive Davis, went ahead with his annual concert Saturday  at the same hotel where her body was found. He dedicated the evening to her and  asked for a moment of silence. Houston was supposed to appear at the gala.

Aretha Franklin, her godmother, said  she was stunned.

On Facebook: Share your thoughts about Whitney  Houston

“I just can’t talk about it now,” Franklin said in a short statement. “It’s  so stunning and unbelievable. I couldn’t believe what I was reading coming  across the TV screen.”

Houston seemed to be born into greatness. In addition to being Franklin’s  goddaughter, she was the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and the cousin  of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick.

She first started singing at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., as  a child. At the church on Sunday morning, a couple of sympathy cards were tied  to a fence post. “To the greatest songstress ever,” one said, and tied next to  it was a small bouquet of fresh flowers.

The pastor asked for strength for Houston’s family, said churchgoer Shawn  Cooper, 32, of Newark. He said he hadn’t regularly attended church but felt  compelled to go on this Sunday.

“The Houston family means a lot to this community, they have done a lot for  this community, and being there for them is the best thing we can do as a  community,” he said.

Related: Celebs react to Houston’s death

In her teens, Houston sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in  addition to modeling. It was around that time when music mogul Clive Davis first  heard Houston perform.

“The time that I first saw her singing in her mother’s act in a club … it  was such a stunning impact,” Davis told “Good Morning America.”

“To hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really  sent the proverbial tingles up my spine,” he added.

Before long, the rest of the country would feel it, too. Houston made her  album debut in 1985 with “Whitney Houston,” which sold millions and spawned hit  after hit. “Saving All My Love for You” brought her her first Grammy, for best  female pop vocal. “How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love  of All” also became hit singles.

Another multiplatinum album, “Whitney,” came out in 1987 and included hits  like “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

More: Pre-Grammy gala celebrates Whitney Houston

Her decision not to follow the more soulful inflections of singers like  Franklin drew criticism by some who saw her as playing down her black roots to  go pop and reach white audiences. The criticism would become a constant refrain  through much of her career. She was even booed during the “Soul Train Awards” in  1989.

“Sometimes it gets down to that, you know?” she told Katie Couric in 1996. “You’re not  black enough for them. I don’t know. You’re not R&B enough. You’re very pop.  The white audience has taken you away from them.”

Some saw her 1992 marriage to former New Edition member and soul crooner Bobby Brown as an attempt to respond  to those critics. It seemed to be an odd union; she was seen as pop’s pure  princess while he had a bad-boy image and already had children of his own. (The  couple had one daughter, Bobbi Kristina, born in 1993.) Over the years, he would  be arrested several times, on charges including DUI and failure to pay child  support.

But Houston said their true personalities were not as far apart as people may  have believed.

Also: Bobby Brown on Miss. stage: ‘I love you, Whitney’

“When you love, you love. I mean, do you stop loving somebody because you  have different images? You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same  place,” she told Rolling Stone in 1993. “You see somebody, and you deal with  their image, that’s their image. It’s part of them, it’s not the whole picture.  I am not always in a sequined gown. I am nobody’s angel. I can get down and  dirty. I can get raunchy.”

Brown was getting ready to perform at a New Edition reunion tour in  Southaven, Miss., as news spread about Houston’s death. The group went ahead  with its performance, though Brown appeared overcome with emotion when his voice  cracked at the beginning of a ballad and he left the stage.

Before his departure, he told the sell-out crowd: “First of all, I want to  tell you that I love you all. Second, I would like to say, I love you, Whitney.  The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage.”

Brown said he decided to perform because fans had shown their loyalty to the  group for more than 25 years. During an intermission, one of Houston’s early  hits, “You Give Good Love,” played over the speakers. Fans stood up and began  singing along.

It would take several years for the public to see the “down and dirty” side  of Houston. Her moving 1991 rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super  Bowl, amid the first Gulf War, set a new standard and once again reaffirmed her  as America’s sweetheart.

In 1992, she became a star in the acting world with “The Bodyguard.” Despite  mixed reviews, the story of a singer (Houston) guarded by a former Secret  Service agent (Kevin Costner) was an international success.

It also gave her perhaps her most memorable hit: a searing, stunning  rendition of Dolly Parton‘s “I Will Always Love  You,” which sat atop the charts for weeks. It was Grammy’s record of the year  and best female pop vocal, and the “Bodyguard” soundtrack was named album of the  year.

She returned to the big screen in 1995-96 with “Waiting to Exhale” and “The  Preacher’s Wife.” Both spawned soundtrack albums, and another hit studio album,  “My Love Is Your Love,” in 1998, brought her a Grammy for best female R&B  vocal for the cut “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay.”

But during these career and personal highs, Houston was using drugs. In an  interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, she said by  the time “The Preacher’s Wife” was released, “(doing drugs) was an everyday  thing. … I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two,  it was every day. … I wasn’t happy by that point in time. I was losing  myself.”

In the interview, Houston blamed her rocky marriage to Brown, which included  a charge of domestic abuse against Brown in 1993. They divorced in 2007.

Houston would go to rehab twice before she would declare herself drug-free to  Winfrey in 2009. But in the interim, there were missed concert dates, a stop at  an airport due to drugs, and public meltdowns.

She was so startlingly thin during a 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert that  rumors spread she had died the next day. Her crude behavior and jittery  appearance on Brown’s reality show, “Being Bobby Brown,” was an example of her  sad decline. Her Sawyer interview, where she declared “crack is whack,” was  often parodied. She dropped out of the spotlight for a few years.

Houston staged what seemed to be a successful comeback with the 2009 album “I  Look To You.” The album debuted on the top of the charts, and would eventually  go platinum.

Things soon fell apart. A concert to promote the album on “Good Morning  America” went awry as Houston’s voice sounded ragged and off-key. She blamed an  interview with Winfrey for straining her voice.

A world tour launched overseas, however, only confirmed suspicions that  Houston had lost her treasured gift, as she failed to hit notes and left many  fans unimpressed; some walked out. Canceled concert dates raised speculation  that she may have been abusing drugs, but she denied those claims and said she  was in great shape, blaming illness for cancellations.

Houston was to make her return to film in the remake of the classic movie  “Sparkle.” Filming on the movie, which stars former “American Idol” winner  Jordin Sparks, recently wrapped.

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