Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Whitney Houston, the pop-soul diva whose record-setting career fell victim to substance abuse and a turbulent marriage, has died. She was 48.
Houston was found in the bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on the eve of yesterday’s Grammy Awards ceremony, Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
He said details from an autopsy done yesterday won’t be released at the request of police, AP reported. Officials said there were no signs of foul play and they weren’t ruling out any cause of death until toxicology results are known, which may take weeks.
Houston was the only artist to have seven consecutive No. 1 singles on Billboard magazine’s pop chart. The streak began with “Saving All My Love for You,” from her debut album in 1985. She also reached the top of Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues, adult- contemporary and dance charts.
“I just want to be recognized for my music and for what it does, and how it inspires people, and how it makes people feel, as opposed to a talking-about-Whitney-all-the-time kind of thing,” she told the MTV network in a 2009 interview.
Starring roles in three movies, “The Bodyguard,” “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Preacher’s Wife,” broadened her resume in the 1990s. Her version of “I Will Always Love You,” from the “Bodyguard” soundtrack, was the biggest-selling single ever.
‘Crack Is Whack’
Houston’s personal and artistic descent coincided with a dependence on marijuana and cocaine and turmoil in her 15-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown, she told talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in 2009. Remarks that she blurted out in other television appearances became part of popular culture.
“Crack is whack,” she told ABC News’s Diane Sawyer in 2002 when asked about crack cocaine, which she denied using. “Hell to the no!” she told her then-husband on “Being Bobby Brown,” a reality show that the Bravo cable network broadcast in 2005.
Houston returned in 2009 with “I Look to You,” her first studio album of new songs in seven years. Although the record climbed to the top of Billboard’s pop and R&B charts, subpar performances and health-related cancellations marred a subsequent concert tour.
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born to John and Cissy Houston on Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey. She joined a musical family that included an older brother, Michael, and a half-brother, Gary, from her mother’s previous marriage.
Cissy Houston was part of the Sweet Inspirations, a vocal group, before going solo in 1970. She backed up Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and her niece, Dionne Warwick. John Houston served as his wife’s manager and later did the same for his daughter, nicknamed Nippy after a cartoon character.
The Houstons moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where an elementary school is now named for Whitney, after race riots swept through Newark in 1967.
Even so, the family maintained its membership at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother was choir director and Whitney became a soloist at the age of 11.
Houston sang backup vocals with her mother and other artists, including Chaka Khan, the Neville Brothers and Lou Rawls, as a teenager. She first appeared on record in 1978’s “Life’s a Party” by the Michael Zager Band. Zager had worked with her mother as a producer and arranger.
Music wasn’t her only ambition at the time. She had a modeling career with the Wilhelmina Agency and made the covers of Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Seventeen magazines, among others.
Arista Records signed Houston in 1983 and spent two years working on her first album. During that period, she teamed with singer Teddy Pendergrass on a duet, “Hold Me,” which reached the top 50 on Billboard’s pop charts as a single. She also had roles on television’s “Gimme a Break” and “As the World Turns.”
Houston’s self-titled first album was the biggest-selling debut for a female artist at the time. After the record yielded a top-five single, “You Give Good Love,” the No. 1 streak began. “Saving All My Love for You” was followed by “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love of All” at the top of the pop charts.
The first four singles from her 1987 follow-up album, “Whitney,” also got there: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
“I’m Your Baby Tonight,” her third album, arrived in 1990. The title song and “All the Man That I Need” added to her list of No. 1 singles. Eight years passed until she delivered her fourth studio release, “My Love Is Your Love.”
During the hiatus, she married Brown, a former member of the New Edition vocal group. The couple wed in 1992 and had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, the next year.
Movie roles and soundtracks also filled the gap between albums. In “The Bodyguard,” from 1992, she was a pop singer protected by a former Secret Service agent, played by Kevin Costner. The film’s soundtrack was the biggest album of her career. More than 17 million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
“I Will Always Love You” topped Billboard’s pop, R&B and adult-contemporary singles charts at the same time for a record five weeks and scored U.S. sales of 4 million copies. Her feats eclipsed the song’s success for its writer, Dolly Parton, who reached No. 1 on the country charts with two versions.
“Waiting to Exhale,” a 1995 release, starred Houston and Angela Bassett in a story about four women friends. The soundtrack album and “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” one of only three songs on which she appeared, both led Billboard’s pop charts.
Super Bowl Performance
“The Preacher’s Wife,” where she played the title role alongside Denzel Washington, followed in 1996. She returned to her gospel roots on the soundtrack, featuring performances by her mother, Shirley Caesar and the Georgia Mass Choir.
“My Love Is Your Love” was followed by a greatest-hits collection in 2000, “Just Whitney” in 2002, and “One Wish: The Holiday Album” in 2003. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, her decade-old version of “The Star Spangled Banner” from Super Bowl XXV was released as a single. It made the Top Ten.
Drugs surfaced as an issue in January 2000, when Hawaiian authorities discovered marijuana in Houston’s luggage and filed charges against her. While the case was later dismissed, she was fired from an Academy Awards show two months after the incident.
“I’ll grant you, I partied,” she told Sawyer when asked about her marijuana, cocaine and alcohol use. Responding to a follow-up question about crack, a lower-grade form of cocaine, she said: “Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. OK? We don’t do crack. We don’t do that. Crack is whack.”
Dispute With Father
Arista signed her to a contract that the label valued at more than $100 million in 2001. The six-album deal triggered a legal conflict with her father, who had guided her career since 1986 and kept the position after divorcing her mother in 1993.
John Houston Entertainment LLC, his management firm, filed a $100 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against her in August 2002. That December, her father appeared on TV from a hospital bed and called for her to settle. He died of cardiac arrest in February 2003, and the case was thrown out the next year.
Houston also had issues with her husband, who went into rehabilitation for alcohol abuse in 1995. The couple split for a couple of months that year. Two years later, they broke up again for about a month, Houston later told Ebony magazine.
“Emotionally, he was abusive,” she said in the interview with Winfrey. Brown once spit in her face after a birthday party she gave for him at an Atlanta nightclub, she said.
“Being Bobby Brown,” which made it to Bravo only after Houston agreed to participate, was filmed in 2004 and broadcast the next year. Along with “Hell to the no!” responses, the show had references to the couple’s sex life and personal hygiene.
In 2006, she split with Brown for the last time and filed for divorce, which was granted the next year. She then started working on “I Look to You,” which came out two years after its scheduled release at the end of 2007.
Houston’s comeback tour failed to build on the album’s success. She sang with a rasp at times, struggled to hit high notes and took mid-show pauses for breath. She apologized to a London audience for her singing, and postponed other European shows because of what aides called a respiratory infection.
--Editors: Charles W. Stevens, Steven Gittelson
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