Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop musicâ€™s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal image was ruined by erratic behaviour and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died. She was 48.
Beverly Hills police Lieutenant Mark Rosen told reporters outside the Beverly Hilton that Houston was pronounced dead at 3.55pm Los Angeles time in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel.
Her body remained there and Beverly Hills detectives were investigating.
â€œThere were no obvious signs of any criminal intent,â€ Mr Rosen said.
Houstonâ€™s publicist, Kristen Foster, said the cause of death was unknown.
Mr Rosen said police received an emergency call from hotel security about Houston at 3.43pm local time.
Paramedics who were already at the hotel because of a Grammy party unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the singer, he said.
Houstonâ€™s end came on the eve of musicâ€™s biggest night â€“ the Grammy Awards. It is a showcase where she once reigned, and her death was sure to cast a heavy pall on the ceremony which gets under way in the early hours of Monday UK time.
Her long-time mentor Clive Davis was to hold his annual concert and dinner at the hotel where her body was found, and a representative of the show said it would proceed.
Producer Jimmy Jam, who had worked with Houston, said he anticipated the evening would become a tribute to her, and he expected there to be one at the Grammys as well.
Houston was supposed to appear at the gala, and Davis had said she might perform: â€œItâ€™s her favourite night of the year … (so) who knows by the end of the evening,â€ he said.
Houston had been at rehearsals for the show on Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica.
Two days ago, she performed at a pre-Grammy party with singer Kelly Price.
Singer Kenny Lattimore hosted the event, and said Houston sang the gospel classic ‘Jesus Loves Me’ with Price, her voice registering softly, not with the same power it had at its height.
Lattimore said Houston was gregarious and was in a good mood, surrounded by friends and family, including daughter Bobbi Kristina.
â€œShe just seemed like she was having a great night that night,â€ said Lattimore, who said he was in shock over her death.
Aretha Franklin, her godmother, also said she was stunned.
â€œI just canâ€™t talk about it now,â€ Franklin said in a short statement. â€œItâ€™s so stunning and unbelievable. I couldnâ€™t believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen.â€
At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the worldâ€™s best-selling artists.
She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were rooted in the church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.
Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like ‘The Bodyguard’ and ‘Waiting to Exhale’.
She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.
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 thought it was Houston.
But by the end of her career, Houston became a stunning cautionary tale of the toll of drug use.
Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanour and bizarre public appearances.
She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her once pristine voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes as she had during her prime.
â€œThe biggest devil is me. Iâ€™m either my best friend or my worst enemy,â€ Houston told ABCâ€™s Diane Sawyer in a 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.
It was a tragic fall for a superstar who was one of the top-selling artists in pop music history, with more than 55 million records sold in the United States alone.
She seemed to be born into greatness. In addition to being Franklinâ€™s goddaughter, she was the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and the cousin of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick.
Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she sang back-up for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modelling. It was around that time when music mogul Davis first heard Houston perform.
â€œThe time that I first saw her singing in her motherâ€™s act in a club … it was such a stunning impact,â€ Davis told ‘Good Morning America’.
â€œTo hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really sent the proverbial tingles up my spine,â€ he added.
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 her 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 multi-platinum album, ‘Whitney’, came out in 1987 and included hits like ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’.
The New York Times wrote that Houston â€œpossesses one of her generationâ€™s most powerful gospel-trained voices, but she eschews many of the churchier mannerisms of her forerunners. She uses ornamental gospel phrasing only sparingly, and instead of projecting an earthy, tearful vulnerability, communicates cool self-assurance and strength, building pop ballads to majestic, sustained peaks of intensityâ€.
Her decision not to follow the more soulful inflections of singers like Franklin drew criticism by some who saw her as playing down her black roots to go pop and reach white audiences.
The criticism would become a constant refrain through much of her career. She was even booed during the Soul Train Awards in 1989.
â€œSometimes it gets down to that, you know?â€ she told Katie Couric in 1996. â€œYouâ€™re not black enough for them. I donâ€™t know. Youâ€™re not R&B enough. Youâ€™re very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them.â€
Some saw her 1992 marriage to former New Edition member and soul crooner Brown as an attempt to refute those critics. It seemed to be an odd union; she was seen as popâ€™s pure princess while he had a bad-boy image, and already had children of his own. The couple only had one daughter, Bobbi Kristina, born in 1993.
Over the years, he would be arrested several times, on charges ranging from driving under the influence to failure to pay child support.
But Houston said their true personalities were not as far apart as people may have believed.
â€œWhen 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,â€ she told Rolling Stone in 1993.
â€œYou see somebody, and you deal with their image, thatâ€™s their image. Itâ€™s part of them, itâ€™s not the whole picture. I am not always in a sequinned gown. I am nobodyâ€™s angel. I can get down and dirty. I can get raunchy.â€
Brown was getting ready to perform at a New Edition reunion tour in Southaven, Mississippi, as news spread about Houstonâ€™s death.
The group went ahead with its performance, but Brown acknowledged that it was difficult.
He told the sell-out crowd: â€œFirst of all, I want to tell you that I love you all. Second, I would like to say, I love you Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage.â€
Brown said he decided to perform because fans had shown their loyalty to the group for more than 25 years.
During an intermission, one of Houstonâ€™s early hits, ‘You Give Good Love’, played over the speakers. Fans stood up and began singing along with the song.
It would take several years for the public to see the â€œdown and dirtyâ€ side of Houston.
Her moving 1991 rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Super Bowl, amid the first Gulf War, set a new standard and once again reaffirmed her as Americaâ€™s sweetheart.
In 1992, she became a star in the acting world with ‘The Bodyguard’. Despite mixed reviews, the story of a singer (Houston) guarded by a former Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner) was an international success.
It also gave her perhaps her most memorable hit: a searing, stunning rendition of Dolly Partonâ€™s ‘I Will Always Love You’, which sat on top of the charts for weeks.
It was Grammyâ€™s record of the year and best female pop vocal, and the ‘Bodyguard’ soundtrack was named album of the year.
She returned to the big screen in 1995-96 with ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and ‘The Preacherâ€™s Wife’.
Both spawned soundtrack albums, and another hit studio album, ‘My Love Is Your Love’, in 1998, brought her a Grammy for best female R&B vocal for the cut ‘Itâ€™s Not Right But Itâ€™s Okay’.
But during these career and personal highs, Houston was using drugs. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, she said by the time ‘The Preacherâ€™s Wife’ was released, â€œ(doing drugs) was an everyday thing. … I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two, it was every day. … I wasnâ€™t happy by that point in time. I was losing myselfâ€.
In the interview, Houston blamed 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 2010. But in the interim, there were missed concert dates, a stop at an airport due to drugs, and public meltdowns.
She was so startlingly thin during a 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert that rumours spread she had died the next day.
Her crude behaviour and jittery appearance on Brownâ€™s reality show, ‘Being Bobby Brown’, was an example of her sad decline.
Her Sawyer interview, where she declared â€œcrack is whackâ€, was often parodied. She dropped out of the spotlight for a few years.
Houston staged what seemed to be a successful comeback with the 2009 album ‘I Look To You’. The album debuted on the top of the charts, and would eventually go platinum.
Things soon fell apart. A concert to promote the album on ‘Good Morning America’ went awry as Houstonâ€™s voice sounded ragged and off-key. She blamed an interview with Winfrey for straining her voice.
A world tour launched overseas, however, only confirmed suspicions that Houston had lost her treasured gift, as she failed to hit notes and left many fans unimpressed; some walked out.
Cancelled concert dates raised speculation that she may have been abusing drugs, but she denied those claims and said she was in great shape, blaming illness for cancellations.
Houston was to make her return to film in the remake of the classic movie ‘Sparkle’. Filming on the movie, which stars former American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, recently wrapped.
Celebrities remembered Houston at Davis’ annual pre-Grammy gala at the same hotel where she died.
Stars like Alicia Keys had been prepping for the festive gala there but, despite Houstonâ€™s death, the event went on as planned.
Stars including Dr Dre, Adam Lambert, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian were in attendance.
Organisers of the Grammy Awards said Houston will be remembered at the awards tonight in a tribute by Jennifer Hudson.
Davis dedicated his annual concert at the hotel to Houston and asked for a moment of silence as a photo of the singer, hands wide open, looking to the sky, appeared on the screen.