The pop superstar died on the eve of the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles at the same hotel where her mentor, record mogul Clive Davis, was holding an annual pre-event party featuring scores of music industry celebrities, Reuters reports.
Some guests at the hotel bar watched news of the singer’s death unfold on a CNN television screen while others in the lobby were cheering the arrival of party guests, including Britney Spears and reality television star Kim Kardashian, to the red carpet.
Beverly Hills police said they were called to the Beverly Hilton at around 3:43 p.m. PST, and fire department personnel who were already at the location responded immediately.
Houston was in her fourth-floor room but was unresponsive to CPR, and she was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m.
Typically, coroners conduct an autopsy within a day or two, at which point they might release some preliminary information about the death.
If drugs or alcohol are involved, however, an official cause of death would not be released until after toxicology tests, which could take six to eight weeks.
According to The Telegraph, an emotional Mr Davis later told the stunned celebrity audience at the party: “I am personally devastated by the loss of someone who has meant so much to me for so many years.”
“She graced this stage with her regal presence and gave so many memorable performances here over the years. Simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family asked us to carry on,” he said.
Her frantic daughter and cousin Dionne Warwick are said to have got into a ‘furious screaming argument’ with police who refused to let them into the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles to see their relative, reports Daily Mail.
Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys, told the audience at Davis’s party that Jennifer Hudson would sing a tribute to Houston at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards.
“We will do something appropriate tomorrow, and nothing could be more appropriate than having Jennifer Hudson sing on stage for Whitney,” Portnow said. “In our community, we celebrate things … let’s celebrate Whitney Houston.”
The singer was reportedly found in a bath tub in her room. The website also reported that she had been “partying” in the hotel bar with friends the night before she died.
She was also photographed leaving a nightclub in Los Angeles looking dishevelled on Thursday night. The singer’s mother Cissy Houston spoke with her on the telephone only half an hour before she died.
News of the death brought a string of public tributes from the music industry. Barbra Streisand said in a statement: “She had everything, beauty, a magnificent voice. How sad her gifts could not bring her the same happiness they brought us.”
Pop star Rihanna posted on Twitter “No words, just tears.” Mariah Carey said she was “heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend.”
Lionel Richie said: “I think what we’re going to do in the long run of her life story is focus on the voice, not the tragedy, but the voice.”
Her ex-husband Bobby Brown was said to be ‘in and out of crying fits’ upon hearing the news – but still appeared on stage on Saturday with his band New Edition, and cried out ‘I love you, Whitney!’ in the middle of the concert.
A relative of Brown said Houston’s former husband is struggling to cope with the news. “He was sobbing, and by the end of the call, I was sobbing, too,” the family member told People magazine. “He’s beside himself right now.”
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 world’s best-selling artists.
She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were rooted in the black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.
Her 1985 debut, “Whitney Houston,” became the best-selling debut album by a female act at that time, and spawned several hits including “How Will I Know.” Her second studio CD, 1987’s “Whitney,” became the first album by a female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
She crossed over from music success to TV and movies, appearing in “The Bodyguard” (1992), as well as “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) and “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996).
But by the end of her career, Houston became a cautionary tale of the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming.
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.
In 1992 she married singer Bobby Brown, who had a bad-boy reputation, and their tumultuous 14 years together were marred by drug abuse and domestic violence.
In 2000, she and Brown were stopped at an airport in Hawaii and security guards discovered marijuana in their luggage. In a 2002 TV interview, she admitted using marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs.
“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.
She launched a comeback tour in 2009, and in April 2010 she called media reports she was using drugs again “ridiculous.” In May 2011, Houston enrolled in a drug and alcohol rehab program.