WHITNEY Houston,the multimillion-selling singer who emerged in the 1980s as one of her generation’s greatest R&B voices,only to deteriorate through years of cocaine use and an abusive marriage,died on Saturday in Beverly Hills,California. She was 48.
Her death came as the music industry descended on Los Angeles for the annual celebration of the Grammy Awards,and Houston was one of its queens. She was staying at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Saturday to attend a pre-Grammy party being hosted by Clive Davis,the founder of Arista Records,who had been her pop mentor.
Houston was found in her room at 3.55 pm local time,and paramedics spent close to 20 minutes trying to revive her. There was no immediate word on the cause of her death,but authorities said there were no signs of foul play.
From the start of her career more than two decades ago,Houston had the talent,looks and pedigree of a pop superstar. She was the daughter of Cissy Houston,a gospel and pop singer who had backed up Aretha Franklin,and the cousin of Dionne Warwick. (Franklin was Houston’s godmother.)
Houston’s range spanned three octaves,and her voice was plush,vibrant and often spectacular. She could pour on the exuberant flourishes of gospel or peal a simple pop chorus; she could sing sweetly or unleash a sultry rasp. Dressed in everything from formal gowns to T-shirts,she cultivated the image of a fun-loving but ardent good girl,the voice behind songs as perky as I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and as torchy as what became her signature song,a version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.
All of Houston’s studio albums were million-sellers. Two have sold more than 10 million copies in the US alone: her 1985 debut album and the 1992 soundtrack to The Bodyguard.
But by the mid-1990s,even as she was moving into acting with films like The Bodyguard and The Preacher’s Wife,she became what she described,in a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey,as a “heavy” user of marijuana and cocaine. By the 2000s she was struggling; her voice grew smaller,scratchier and less secure,and her performances grew erratic.
Her marriage to singer Bobby Brown also grew miserable,and in the 2000s,her singles slipped from the top 10. The National Enquirer once ran a photo of her bathroom showing drug paraphernalia.
Each new album,including Just Whitney in 2002 and I Look to You in 2009 — became a comeback. On the world tour that followed the release of the album I Look to You,she was often shaky.
Houston was born on August 9,1963,in Newark. She sang in church,and as a teenager in the 1970s and early 1980s,worked as a backup studio singer and featured vocalist with other acts.
Davis signed her after hearing her perform in a nightclub,and spent two years supervising production of the album ‘Whitney Houston’,which was released in 1985. It placed her remarkable voice in polished,catchy songs,and it included three No. 1 singles: Saving All My Love for You,How Will I Know and The Greatest Love of All.
With Saving All My Love for You,she won her first Grammy award,for best female pop vocal performance,an award she would win twice more. Her popularity soared for the next decade. Her second album,’Whitney’,in 1987,became the first album by a woman to enter the Billboard charts at No. 1,and it included four No. 1 singles.
For much of the 1990s,she turned to acting. She played a pop diva in The Bodyguard,with its soundtrack winning the Grammy for album of the year. The song I Will Always Love You won record of the year (for a single). After making films Waiting To Exhale in 1995 and The Preacher’s Wife in 1996,Houston resumed her pop career with My Love Is Your Love in 1998.
Houston married Brown in 1992,and in 1993 they had a daughter,Bobbi Kristina (now 18),who survives her. Houston’s 2009 interview with Winfrey portrayed it as a passionate and then turbulent marriage,marred by drug use and by his professional jealousy,psychological abuse and physical confrontations. They divorced in 2007.
Neil R Portnow,president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences that bestows the Grammys,called her “one of the world’s greatest pop singers of all time”. “A light has been dimmed in our music community today.”
Lt Mark Rosen,a spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department,said that emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “There were no obvious signs of foul play,” he said.
Houston arrived at the hotel with an entourage of friends and family,some of whom were in the hotel suite at the time.
At Davis’s party,where Houston was a regular guest,tourists shot cellphone pictures of a police van parked outside. Inside,the glamour of the event seemed undiminished,even if Houston’s name was on everyone’s lips.
A number of fans came to mourn Houston. “I was in utter,total disbelief,” Lavetris Singleton said. “Who was not a fan of Whitney Houston at some point?”