Whitney Houston’s death has created heartrending echoes of tragedies past: The painstaking investigation that follows the shocking loss. Why was Houston found underwater in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub, beyond resuscitation?
The 48-year-old singer, who had prescription drugs in her room, left behind disconsolate family and friends and unfulfilled dreams. Her body was flown Monday by private jet to New Jersey, where she was born and where her funeral is being planned. Late Monday, a hearse under heavy police escort arrived at the Newark, New Jersey, funeral home that officials said was handling the arrangements for the late pop star.
After an autopsy Sunday, authorities said there were no indications of foul play and no obvious signs of trauma on Houston. It could be weeks, however, before the coroner’s office completes toxicology tests to establish the cause of death.
The singer had struggled for years with cocaine, marijuana and pills and her behavior had become erratic, including in the period before her death. Some described her as upbeat and eager to perform at producer Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy Awards bash. Others described an unfocused woman, unkempt and smelling of alcohol and cigarettes.
It recalled the end of Michael Jackson’s life, as he tried to turn his career around with an ambitious series of London concerts. The 50-year-old struck many as youthfully energetic and upbeat, while others said he was bedeviled by insomnia that led him to a fatal dosage of prescription drugs in June 2009.
Jackson’s death was quickly linked to the anesthetic propofol, although the criminal prosecution of his doctor was played out through 2011. It took three months for a London coroner to rule that Amy Winehouse drank herself to death last July.
Like Jackson, Houston may also get a grand goodbye.
Houston’s family raised the possibility of holding a wake Thursday and a funeral Friday at Newark’s Prudential Center, which hosts college and professional sporting events and seats about 18,000 people.
A picture of Houston appeared Monday night on the electronic board outside the arena, one of the nation’s busiest entertainment venues, with a New Jersey Devils ice hockey game Friday night posing a logistical challenge to a planned funeral that day.
Jackson’s Los Angeles memorial service included members of the public, 1.6 million of whom had vied for about 9,000 tickets, along with songs from Usher, Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey and speeches from other celebrities.
An impromptu memorial for Houston was held during a sadness-tinged Grammys Sunday night, with Hudson saluting her memory with a performance of “I Will Always Love You.” Viewership for the awards show soared over last year by 50 percent, with about 40 million viewers tuning in to the program on CBS.
“It was the greatest honor of my life to be able to be the one to pay tribute to Whitney’s memory,” Hudson said in a statement Monday. “It was from my heart. I haven’t stopped crying since she passed.”
The White House said President Barack Obama’s thoughts and prayers were with Houston’s family, especially her daughter. Press secretary Jay Carney paid tribute to the singer’s “immense talent” and called it a tragedy to lose somebody so gifted at such a young age.
Houston was found at the Beverly Hilton Hotel by a member of her staff about 3:30 p.m. PT Saturday, just hours before she was supposed to appear at Davis’ party, police Lt. Mark Rosen said. She was pulled from the tub by members of her staff, and hotel security was promptly notified, Rosen said. She was pronounced dead about a half-hour later.
Los Angeles County coroner’s assistant chief Ed Winter said there were bottles of prescription medicine in the room. He would not give details except to say: “There weren’t a lot of prescription bottles. You probably have just as many prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet.”
Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange. She began singing as a child at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program for many years.
Mourners left flowers, balloons and candles at the wrought-iron fence around the tall brick Newark church where she got her start. It sits near an abandoned housing project and the train line leading to New York City.