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 undoubtedly feel as much like a memorial as a celebration.
Coroner’s officials say they will not release any information on Houston’s autopsy at the request of police detectives investigating the singer’s death. Capt. John Kades says an autopsy was scheduled Sunday, but that a security hold prevents him from releasing any details on its status or whether any probable cause of death has been established.
Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen said that his agency may release more details Monday about Houston’s death, but it will depend on whether detectives feel comfortable releasing any information. A member of Houston’s entourage found the 48-year-old singer unresponsive in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, just hours before she was supposed to appear at a pre-Grammy gala.
Houston’s body arrived at the morgue early Sunday. An official determination of her cause of death will likely take weeks while investigators await the results of toxicology tests.
Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen said there were no signs of foul play when Houston was found by a member of her entourage. Paramedics worked to revive Houston, but were unsuccessful and the singer was pronounced dead shortly before 4 p.m. He said he could not comment on the condition of Houston’s room or where she had been found.
Meanwhile, Houston’s daughter was transported by ambulance to a Los Angeles hospital Sunday morning and later released. A source close to the family who did not want to speak given the sensitivity of the matter said she was treated and released for stress and anxiety. Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, who is Houston’s daughter from her marriage to singer Bobby Brown, had accompanied her mother to several pre-Grammy Awards events last week.
“At this time, we ask for privacy, especially for my daughter, Bobbi Kristina,” Bobby Brown wrote in a statement released about an hour after she was transported from the hotel. “I appreciate all of the condolences that have been directed towards my family and I at this most difficult time.”
Sunday’s Grammys were to feature a musical tribute to Houston by Jennifer Hudson, and the show is likely to feature remembrances from fellow musicians on the red carpet and during the live telecast. During a show Saturday night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Elton John called Houston an “angel” and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He then performed his melancholy classic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.”
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.
The singer seemed fine
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 artist, once the golden girl of the music industry.
The Rev. Al Sharpton remembered Houston while preaching Sunday morning at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
“Yes, she had an outstanding range,” he said. “Yes, she could hit notes no one else could reach. But what made her different was she was born and bred in the bosom of the black church.”
The congregation applauded and answered him with shouts of “Amen” and “Tell it!”
“A lot of artists can hit notes but they don’t hit us. Say words but they have no meaning. Have gifts and talent but no anointing. Something about Whitney that would reach in you and make you feel,” Sharpton said.
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 bouncy 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.” Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Texas minister and producer on Houston’s final film project, a re-make of the 1970s release “Sparkle,” said he saw no signs she was having any substance issues. He said Houston was a complete professional and moved the cast and crew to tears two months ago when she sang the gospel hymn “Her Eyes on the Sparrow” for a scene shot in
“There was no evidence in working with her on ‘Sparkle’ that there was any struggle in her life,” Jakes said Sunday. “She just left a deep impression on everybody.”
She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: gorgeous, but wholesome; grounded, but un-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.”
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.