HER final days offered glimpses of her peerless talent, but also ominous reminders of the crippling addictions which robbed her of her crown as the queen of pop.
Whitney Houston, one of the most celebrated female vocalists of all time, had embarked on a raucous party just days before her death at the weekend, according to reports yesterday.
The Grammy-award winning star was discovered dead in a Los Angeles hotel late Saturday afternoon, aged just 48. The singer, whose career and personal life had long been afflicted by drug misuse, was reportedly found in the bath of her room on the fourth floor of the Beverly Hilton shortly before 3:55pm local time.
While a post-mortem examination has yet to be carried out, Lieutenant Mark Rosen from the Beverly Hills Police force said there were “no obvious signs of any criminal intent” in relation to her death, and Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster, said it was unclear how her client had died.
Houston died just a day before she was due to attend the LA gala of the Grammy Awards, the music industry’s most celebrated evening and the stage where she was once lauded as the most outstanding vocalist of her generation.
On Thursday, the mother of one had attended rehearsals for the show, coaching singers Brandy and Monica, but onlookers described her appearance as dishevelled, and said she was sweating profusely and smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. The following day, she performed at a pre-Grammy party with singer Kelly Price, where she delivered a rendition of the gospel classic, Jesus Loves Me, her once powerful voice registering softly.
Singer Kenny Lattimore, who hosted the event, said Houston was gregarious and was in a good mood. “She just seemed like she was having a great night that night,” he said.
It is understood she had been due to perform at another party held by her long-term mentor, record producer Clive Davis, but was found dead just hours before it began. Organisers of the Grammys said Houston was to be remembered at last night’s ceremony with a special tribute by Jennifer Hudson.#
Last night, her 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was taken to hospital in Los Angeles, though there was no immediate explanation as to why.
As news of her death spread around the world yesterday, some of the biggest names in the music industry led the tributes to Houston, describing her as an artist who had influenced an entire generation of vocalists. Mariah Carey, who recorded the duet When You Believe with Houston in 1998, said she was “heartbroken”.
“Heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend, the incomparable Ms Whitney Houston,” she wrote on Twitter. “My heartfelt condolences to Whitney’s family and to all her millions of fans throughout the world. She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices to ever grace the Earth.”
Music mogul Simon Cowell described Houston as “one of the greatest singers of all time”.
He said: “You have to remember a lot of the people who are going to be getting awards at the Grammys, they owe an awful lot of their success, I believe, to Whitney, because Whitney was a trailblazer. It’s a night she deserves to be remembered fondly.”
Houston had appeared on The X Factor show in 2009 following an invitation from Cowell, and he recalled that while her problems were evident, she had retained the aura of a star.
“We all knew that she had issues, and I last met her when she came on X Factor in England when she was doing her comeback album and you could sense at the time there were a still few problems,” he added.
“But she was a delight to work with on the day, she was very professional, she was kind to everyone around her, she probably wasn’t altogether there, but it was still Whitney Houston and you know that you are in a presence of a legend and I will never forget that day.
“There are so few people like her in the world. They are a rarefied breed, these are true superstar, legendary divas and I say divas in the nicest possible way. She had one of the greatest voices I have ever heard in my life, ever.”
In a tribute on Twitter, her godmother, Aretha Franklin, wrote: “I just can’t talk about it now. It’s so stunning and unbelievable. I couldn’t believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen. My heart goes out to Cissy, her daughter Bobbi Kris, her family and Bobby.”
In a statement, country singer Dolly Parton, whose song I Will Always Love You was famously covered by Houston, said: “Mine is only one of millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston. I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart: ‘Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.’”
Houston won multiple Grammys, including album and record of the year, selling millions of albums and singles worldwide. The I Will Always Love You and Saving All My Love singer also carried her success into the film industry, appearing in hit movies including The Bodyguard. But her career began to unravel as she battled with drug addiction, and in 2007, her tumultuous 15-year marriage to husband Bobby Brown came to an end.
In an interview with the US ABC television channel in 2002, she acknowledged that her drug habits were threatening to derail her entire life, explaining: “The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
The pop and soul star had made a comeback in 2009 releasing a new album after seven years off the scene, but her live performances were plagued by vocal problems. Brown, also a singer, was performing to a sell-out crowd in Mississippi when he learned of his ex-wife’s death, and paid tribute to her. “I would like to say, I love you Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage.”
At the New Jersey church where her singing career first took flight, fans and admirers gathered yesterday to mourn. Cards and flowers were tied to the railings of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where Houston’s career began as a soloist in a gospel choir.