Published February 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES – Whitney Houston, who reigned as pop music's queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, died Saturday night. She was 48.
The Beverly Hills Police Department responded to an emergency call at the Beverly Hilton hotel Saturday, Lt. Mark Rosen of the Beverly Hills Police Department said.
Members of hotel staff and fire department officials attempted to revive a person on the fourth floor, who has since been confirmed to be Houston, Rosen said.
Officials did not see obvious signs of criminal intent, and are currently investigating to determine the cause of death, he said.
A coroner's official says Whitney Houston's body has been transported from the hotel and is awaiting an autopsy.
Capt. Brian Elias of the Los Angeles County coroner's office says the examination has not been scheduled and that investigators are awaiting reports before an autopsy can be conducted.
He says he could not release any information about how Houston's body was found at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Her body remained at the hotel for several hours before being taken to the morgue.
Houston's death on the eve of the Grammy Awards sent shock waves through the music industry, with many stars expressing surprise and sadness.
Brown reportedly broke down backstage before a show with his band New Edition in Southhaven, a few miles south of Memphis.
Brown skipped the first song of the concert, but appeared onstage for the second. He shouted, "I love you, Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage." He then blew a kiss to the sky with visibly teary eyes.
Houston's longtime mentor Clive Davis held his annual concert and dinner Saturday at the hotel where her body was found. Producer Jimmy Jam, who had worked with Houston, said he anticipated the evening would become a tribute to her.
Aretha Franklin, her godmother, also said she was stunned.
"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."
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he would call for a national prayer Sunday morning during a service at Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
Houston's death is sure to put a damper on the Grammy's, which are considered music's biggest night of the year.
Jennifer Hudson and Chaka Khan will perform a tribute to Houston at the awards, according to reports.
Grammy executive producer Ken Erhlich said event organizers believed Hudson -- an Academy Award-winning actress and Grammy Award-winning artist -- could perform a "respectful musical tribute" to Houston, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It's too fresh in everyone's memory to do more at this time, but we would be remiss if we didn't recognize Whitney's remarkable contribution to music fans in general, and, in particular, her close ties with the Grammy telecast and her Grammy wins and nominations over the years," Ehrlich told the newspaper.
According to ET Online, Chaka Khan will also perform as part of Sunday night's tribute to Houston.
At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world's best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were 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.
"Six-time GRAMMY winner Whitney Houston was one of the world's greatest pop singers of all time who leaves behind a robust musical soundtrack spanning the past three decades," Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy said in a statement.
"Her powerful voice graced many memorable and award-winning songs. A light has been dimmed in our music community today, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, fans and all who have been touched by her beautiful voice," he said.
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.
Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she 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."
The New York Times wrote that Houston "possesses one of her generation's most powerful gospel-trained voices, but she eschews many of the churchier mannerisms of her forerunners. She uses ornamental gospel phrasing only sparingly, and instead of projecting an earthy, tearful vulnerability, communicates cool self-assurance and strength, building pop ballads to majestic, sustained peaks of intensity."
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 refute 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 a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in 1993.) Over the years, he would be arrested several times, on charges ranging from DUI to failure to pay child support.
But Houston said their true personalities were not as far apart as people may have believed.
"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."
It would take several years, however, for the public to see that 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 2010, 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 2010. 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.
The Associated Press and Newscore contributed to this report.