Investigators worked Sunday to piece together what killed Whitney Houston as the music industry’s biggest names prepared for a Grammy Awards show that will be undoubtedly feel as much like a memorial as a celebration.
Houston’s body arrived at a Los Angeles morgue early Sunday, hours after the 48-year-old had been found dead in a hotel room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where she was preparing for a pre-Grammy gala. Officials did not say when an autopsy would occur, but any cause of death determination will likely be delayed while they await toxicology results.
Meanwhile, paramedics say they took Houston’s daughter to a Los Angeles hospital Sunday morning for unspecified medical reasons. The Beverly Hills Fire Department says Bobbi Kristina Brown was taken from the Beverly Hills Hilton around 10:30 a.m. Sunday. An email message sent to a representative of her father, singer Bobby Brown, was not immediately returned.
Sunday’s Grammys were to feature a musical tribute to Houston by Jennifer Hudson, and the show is likely to feature remembrances of Houston from fellow musicians on the red carpet and during the live telecast.
Houston herself won six Grammys and had been expected to perform at the pre-awards gala Saturday night thrown by music impresario Clive Davis, her longtime mentor.
Davis went ahead with his annual party and concert, which were held at the same hotel where Houston’s body was found — and where it remained for most of Saturday night. He dedicated the evening to her and asked for a moment of silence.
Houston had been at rehearsals for the Davis concert on 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. It was the latest of countless stories about the decline of a uniquely gifted and beautiful woman, once the golden girl of the music industry.
A sensation from her very first album, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. She awed millions with soaring, but disciplined vocals rooted in gospel and polished for the masses, a bridge between the earthy passion of her godmother, Aretha Franklin, and the light pop of her cousin, Dionne Warwick.
Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she became a rare black actress with box office appeal, starring in such hits as The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale.
She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: gorgeous, but wholesome; lively and fun-loving. And 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 couldn’t tell the difference.
But by the end of her career, Houston had become a stunning and heartbreaking cautionary tale. 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 precious voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes of 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.
Seemingly born into greatness, 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.
In her teens, Houston sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. Clive Davis, who as head of Arista Records had already signed up Warwick and Franklin, was instantly smitten by the statuesque young singer.
“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 the singer 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 “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Some saw her 1992 marriage to Brown, the former New Edition member and soul crooner, as an attempt to toughen her image. 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.
“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.
Houston once told Oprah Winfrey that she used drugs because of 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.