Before Saturday’s memorial, we take a look back at a week’s worth of news following the untimely passing of a pop icon.
By John Mitchell
Music fans around the world were shocked when reports of Whitney Houston‘s unexpected death were confirmed last Saturday. The singer had been staying at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as she prepared for Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party and was seen out on the town in the days before her passing.
While the Los Angeles County coroner’s office has not confirmed the cause of the legendary “I Will Always Love You” singer’s death, a lethal mix of prescription medication and alcohol is heavily rumored to be the culprit.
The week since Houston’s passing has been a hectic one, as officials scramble to find out what killed the singer and whether negligence on the part of medical professionals treating her is at least partially to blame. Meanwhile, Houston’s family, friends, fans and music-industry peers continue to mourn the star, who will be laid to rest Saturday (February 18) in her native Newark, New Jersey. Flags across the state will be flown at half-staff this weekend out of respect for Houston.
With so much information pouring in since Houston’s death, it’s been difficult to discern what is fact, speculation and pure rumor. So as the world prepares for her memorial service, we have pulled together what we know so far about Houston’s passing, the impact it’s had on the entertainment industry, the reaction of her fans, family and friends, and her legacy.
Houston’s Untimely Death
Twitter first ignited with rumors of Houston’s death last Saturday after emergency medical professionals were called to the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The sad rumor was confirmed to MTV News by Houston’s rep, Kristen Foster, with Beverly Hills Police Lieutenant Mark Rosen telling on-scene reporters, “Someone in her entourage found her unresponsive in her room. … Our detectives are still in the room, and her body is still here as well. I can confirm that Whitney Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. this afternoon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. We received a call at 3:43 p.m. from hotel security and Beverly Hills Fire, and police responded minutes later.”
Houston was found in the bathtub of her hotel suite by a member of her personal staff. Paramedics initiated CPR on the “I Will Always Love You” singer but were unable to revive her. No illegal drugs were found in Houston’s suite, however, prescription medication was discovered. On Monday, Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office downplayed speculation that Houston had succumbed to an accidental overdose, saying “not many prescription bottles” were found, adding that the amount of medication found did not correspond with the amounts typically present in deaths attributed to overdose. Rather, the current leading theory remains that it was combining those medications (heavily rumored to be Xanax and other mood-altering benzodiazepines) with alcohol that led to the star’s death.
Houston’s family is, of course, deeply distraught over her unexpected passing. Daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown was taken by paramedics from the Beverly Hilton Hotel to Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in a state of emotional distress early Sunday. Her father and Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, flew to California to be with his daughter after breaking down himself onstage Saturday night. “First of all, I want to tell you that I love you all,” Brown told the audience at a New Edition concert in Mississippi. “Second, I would like to say, ‘I love you Whitney.’ The hardest thing for me to do is come on this stage.”
Houston’s family released a statement, saying, “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Whitney. This is an unimaginable tragedy and we will miss her terribly. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from her fans and friends.”
The reaction to Houston’s death was swift, as stars expressed their grief on Twitter, in statements through their representatives and in person to press assembled at the 54th Grammy Awards on Sunday — just one day after her passing.
The most immediate responses to her death hit Twitter early Saturday evening. Mariah Carey was among the first to issue a statement, tweeting, “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.”
Rihanna and Nicki Minaj hit the social network to express their sadness soon after. Rihanna wrote, “No words! Just tears #DearWhitney.” Unable to hide her grief, Minaj was a bit more profane, tweeting, “Jesus Christ, not Whitney Houston. Greatest of all time,” along with a vintage photo of the late singer alongside Michael Jackson.
“The loss of Whitney Houston is painful. I remember meeting Whitney for the first time when I was 15. She was the ultimate legend. The ultimate woman,” Beyoncé said in a statement to MTV News. “I, like every singer, always wanted to be just like her. Her voice was perfect. Strong but soothing. Soulful and classic. Her vibrato, her cadence, her control. So many of my life’s memories are attached to a Whitney Houston song. She is our queen and she opened doors and provided a blueprint for all of us. God bless her.”
The Grammys took on a somber note following Houston’s death. On the red carpet before the show, stars expressed their grief. Fergie told MTV News that Houston was “such an inspiration to me ever since I was a little girl,” while Kings of Leon’s Michael Followill remarked that Houston had “literally one of the most beautiful voices of maybe any female singer ever — perfect tone, great range, just a mix of all the things you want to hear.”
At the top of the show, host LL Cool J led the audience in a prayer for Houston. A tribute to the late star was added at the last minute, with Jennifer Hudson, one of the many strong-voiced stars who have been compared to Houston over the years, agreeing to perform her biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You,” on the telecast. With tears in her eyes, Hudson delivered a performance that brought the house down.
Houston’s career was, in many ways, unprecedented. At her peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s, she was among the most famous and beloved pop stars in the world, and the list of honors and records she achieved is seemingly endless.
Houston was the first woman to receive two diamond awards from the Recording Industry Association of America, after her self-titled debut and “The Bodyguard” soundtrack both topped 10 million in sales. Until Britney Spears’ … Baby One More Time unseated it, her debut was the top-selling debut ever for a female artist. Her signature single, “I Will Always Love You,” topped the Hot 100 charts on Billboard for 14 consecutive weeks, a record at the time, and is one of the best-selling U.S. singles of all time. Her sophomore set, Whitney, was the first album by a woman to enter the Billboard albums chart at #1.
She was also one of the few pop stars who was ever able to find success in film. “The Bodyguard” was a massive success at the box office, grossing $410 million worldwide. A few years later, she found success again in “Waiting to Exhale” and earned career-best reviews for “The Preacher’s Wife.” Before her death, she completed filming on a remake of the 1967 film “Sparkle,” which will be released by Sony in August.
To her fans, though, Houston will remain “the original diva” who had “one of the best voices in R&B history.”
Houston’s death has reinvigorated interest in her music. In the days immediately following her death, Houston’s back catalog experienced a sales surge of nearly 900,000 digital song downloads and 100,000 albums. Whitney: The Greatest Hits re-entered the Billboard 200 at #6 and “I Will Always Love You” leapt back onto the Hot 100 at #7. Three other Houston albums — “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, Whitney Houston and her final studio album, 2009’s I Look to You — resurfaced on the albums chart, and seven singles charted on the digital songs chart.
Ultimately, as she revealed in a 1991 interview showcased as part of MTV’s tribute special “Whitney Houston: In Her Own Words,” Houston hoped to remembered as a good person who always had the best intentions.
“Well, they’re going to remember me how they’re going to remember me. They’re going to write books, they’re going to do this, they’re going to write that, and everybody is going to have their own idea,” she said. “I don’t know, I want to be remembered for being a real nice person, somebody who cared and tried to do everybody righteously.”
Stick with MTV News all day Saturday as we cover Whitney Houston’s memorial in her native Newark, New Jersey.