American singer and actress Whitney Houston has died aged 48. The star, whose powerful voice made her one of the world’s bestselling artists during the 1980s and 90s, died in a hotel suite at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles yesterday, on the eve of the Grammy Awards.
Paramedics who were called to Houston’s room pronounced her dead at 3:55pm local time. As yet, the cause of her death is unknown.
Houston was to have performed at music mogul Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammys party that was taking place elsewhere in the hotel. Late last night, Davis told shocked celebrities who had gathered for the event that he had a “heavy heart” and was “personally devastated” by Houston’s death, “but simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family has asked for us to carry on”.
The tragedy brings to a close a life that was marked by huge success but also profound personal struggle, with her problems with drug and alcohol addiction well documented in the media. In a famous interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2002, Houston confessed: “The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
Born on 9 August 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, Houston was raised in an intensely musical environment. Her mother was renowned gospel singer Cissy Houston, her cousin was Dionne Warwick and her godmother Aretha Franklin.
Houston’s talents were spotted early: aged 11, she joined her local church choir, and at 15, she featured alongside her mother as a backing singer on Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit I’m Every Woman. She went on to worldwide success with classic ballads such as I Will Always Love You, which sold 12 million copies and featured among her six Grammy wins. Other top-selling songs include How Will I Know in 1985, Greatest Love of All in 1986 and I Wanna Dance with Somebody in 1987.
Houston also starred in several films, including The Bodyguard (alongside Kevin Costner) and The Preacher’s Wife (with Courtney B Vance and Denzel Washington).
During the late 1990s and more recently, it was Houston’s turbulent relationship with singer/songwriter Bobby Brown that kept her in the spotlight. The pair’s exploits with drugs and drink were seen by many commentators as having led to the decline in her career, and the quality of her voice, although her last album I Look to You in 2009 received positive reviews.
Just hours after Houston’s death on Saturday, Bobby Brown took a moment to honour his ex-wife on stage in Mississippi, where he was performing with his R&B band New Edition. “I love you, Whitney,” he shouted, blowing a kiss to the sky.
Further expressions of grief have come from both sides of the Atlantic. Simon Cowell told Heart FM, “It’s really, really horrible. She was a delight to work with.” Pop star Rihanna posted a message on Twitter, saying “No words, just tears”, and Mariah Carey wrote, “Heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend, the incomparable Ms Whitney Houston. My heartfelt condolences to Whitney’s family and to all her millions of fans throughout the world. She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices to ever grace the earth.”
Dolly Parton, who allowed Houston to cover I Will Always Love You, said in a statement: “Mine is one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston. I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did of my song, and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, ‘Whitney, I will always love you.’ You will be missed.”