At a news conference, police officials said they received a call at 3:23 p.m. Saturday saying that someone was unconscious at the Beverly Hilton. Emergency crews summoned to the scene tried to resuscitate the singer in her room on the fourth floor. Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. She was 48.
Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen said that there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent” and that the cause of death was being investigated.
The R&B singer and six-time Grammy winner was due to make an appearance at Clive Davis’s Grammy eve gala on Saturday night at the Hilton. She was spotted in the hotel on Thursday morning, when she was overheard chastising an assistant.
Later that night, Houston got into an altercation with The X Factor finalist Stacy Francis at an R&B appreciation event, where she was said to be acting “belligerent.” On Friday night, as THR broke news that Houston had been approached for a seat on the judges’ panel on The X Factor, her publicist said the singer was at a spa.
Says a source close to Davis, “This is a sad day, and it will be a sad Grammys weekend.”
“Whitney Houston was one of the world’s greatest pop singers of all time, who leaves behind a robust musical soundtrack spanning the past three decades,” Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said Saturday. ”A light has been dimmed in our music community today.”
Houston will make a final appearance on the big screen playing the mother of showbiz sisters in Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 film loosely based on the career of The Supremes. It could have marked the beginning of a feature film comeback for Houston, who shone briefly but brightly during the ’90s with starring roles in The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife.
Billboard reported Saturday that Houston’s final recordings will be heard in the film, which Sony will release Aug. 17 as planned. She sings the gospel classic “Eyes on the Sparrow” and duets with Jordin Sparks – who stars as the title character — on a new R. Kelly song, “Celebrate,” over the end credits.
Born Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, N.J., Houston was a part of a musical bloodline: Her mother was gospel singer Cissy Houston, and she was the cousin of pop diva Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin. She sang in church as a child and by age 11 was performing with the gospel group New Hope Baptist Junior Choir.
Houston tried modeling in the early ’80s, appearing in Glamour and on the cover of Seventeen, but it was her voice that would make her a rarefied superstar, with worldwide sales of more than 170 million albums, singles and videos.
“The news of Whitney’s death has sent shock waves around the world,” Jim Donio, president of the music business trade group NARM, said Saturday. “She was, without question, one of the most brilliant and unforgettable singers the music industry will ever know.”
In her teens, Houston sang backup for the likes of Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. It was soon after this that Arista Records label head Davis took note of Houston while she was performing in a New York nightclub. He signed her to his label and served as her mentor for the next two decades.
Houston was 21 when she exploded onto the pop scene in 1985 with the ballad “You Give Good Love,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. She followed that with a phenomenal run of seven consecutive No. 1 singles – from “Saving All My Love for You” through 1988’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” – beating the record of six shared by The Beatles and The Bee Gees. She went on to rack up 11 chart-topping singles, tied with Rihanna for sixth-most in the history of the Hot 100.
Her self-titled debut album was released March 14, 1985, and reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart almost exactly a year later, eventually spending 12 weeks at the summit and becoming the top album of 1986. The record, the first debut album and first by a woman to spawn three No. 1 hits, has been certified 13 times platinum.
Houston followed that with 1987’s Whitney, which became the first album by a female act to debut at No. 1. It topped the Billboard chart for eight weeks and generated four more No. 1 singles — “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” – and the top 10 hit “Love Will Save the Day.”
The following year, NBC used her song “One Moment in Time” as its theme for the Seoul Summer Olympics. It reached the Billboard top 5.
Her 1990 album I’m Your Baby Tonight was not as big as its predecessors, peaking at No. 3, but it did spawn two more chart-topping singles in the title track and “All the Man That I Need” and eventually went quadruple-platinum.
Houston was one of the world’s biggest stars when she was tapped to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Her stirring performance – rousing the huge crowd that was brimming with patriotism fueled by the Gulf War — was released as a single and made the national top 20.
But all that was a warmup to 1992, when Houston reached the pinnacle of her career. That July, she married R&B singer Bobby Brown, who’d had a pair of No. 1 solo singles after leaving the teen vocal group New Edition. Four months later, her first film, The Bodyguard, was released.
Houston starred opposite Kevin Costner, who was among the biggest leading men in Hollywood, coming off JFK and his Oscar-nominated role in Dances With Wolves (he won the 1991 Academy Awards for best director and best picture). Bodyguard grossed $121.9 million domestically and a staggering $411 million worldwide, becoming the year’s second-biggest film behind Disney’s Aladdin. Reviews weren’t great – the film drew seven Razzie nominations, including worst actress and worst new star for Houston – but no matter: The soundtrack led to Houston rivaling Michael Jackson as the biggest star in pop music.
The album spent 20 weeks atop the Billboard chart and featured “I Will Always Love You,” Houston’s soulful take on the song Dolly Parton wrote and took to the top of the country charts in 1974. The single spent 14 weeks at No. 1, topping the Hot 100 record of 13 set by Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” a few months earlier.
Houston was on top of the world, and she followed the mammoth success of the Bodyguard film and album with star turns in the 1995 ensemble dramedy Waiting to Exhale and a year later opposite Oscar winner Denzel Washington in The Preacher’s Wife. Both films did respectable box office, and the Exhale soundtrack spent five weeks at No. 1, generated the chart-topping single “Exhale” and eventually moving more than 6 million units.
But Houston’s career had peaked, and hard times loomed.
Her problems with drugs began to surface and eclipse her singing career. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, Houston admitted to using drugs and blamed her difficult relationship with Brown on some of her behavior. They divorced in 2007, with Houston winning custody of their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who was born in 1993. Houston went to rehab twice, and said she was drug-free in 2010.