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Whitney Houston's Final Days; Prescription Drug Dangers

Aired February 15, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on East Coast, special coverage tonight in the death of Whitney Houston, starting with breaking news.

A source briefed on her behavior and activity in her final days telling CNN that Houston was seen drinking by the pool at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday morning, the day she died. Her behavior, according to this source, did not appear erratic, that same source telling us though that she was seen drinking heavily last Wednesday and Thursday in the morning as early as 10:00 a.m. poolside and in the hotel bar.

And her appearance suggested she was drunk. The source saying other hotel guests on both those days overheard her accusing the bartender of watering down her drink. This picture from TMZ shows her poolside Wednesday, a drink by her side. We don't know what that drink contained.

We should also underscore that the account of her drinking comes from a single source, one whom CNN believes to be reliable. We have obtained a copy of the preliminary death certificate. You can see the immediate cause of death is listed as deferred, deferred in this case because drug screening results won't be complete for as many as several weeks.

The funeral, as we have been reporting, is on Saturday. We will be joined tonight shortly by the Reverend Marvin Winans, who will be giving the eulogy, who also married Whitney Houston to Bobby Brown.

Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Drew Pinsky are here to weigh in on the dangers of mixing booze and pills, something which goes far beyond what may have happened to Whitney Houston. It's a conversation I urge you to listen to. It was eye-opening for me. We just did it right before the show began.

First though here's what investigators are looking into right now.


COOPER (voice-over): Prescription pills found inside Whitney Houston's Beverly Hills hotel room are now the focus of the investigation into her still unexplained death. Authorities tell CNN they have issued subpoenas to Houston's doctors in Los Angeles and on the East Coast, seeking her medical records and are looking specifically into what type of prescriptions she was given. Investigators also are contacting various pharmacies where her prescriptions were filled including this one, the Mickey Fine Pharmacy in Beverly Hills, which was raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2009 after Michael Jackson died from an overdose of prescription drugs.

The DEA is not involved in Houston's case but sources say issuing subpoenas is an unusual step for an investigation into a death that's not considered a homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of right now, it's not a criminal investigation.

COOPER: The prescription pill bottles found by police were all under Houston's name. Officials say it does not appear Houston was filling out multiple prescriptions from different doctors commonly known as doctor shopping, but they have not ruled it out.

It's too soon in the investigation to determine if Houston was prescribed any drugs she didn't need or if she used an alias to secure some of the pills. The doctors and pharmacies contacted by investigators have been cooperating according to the coroner's office and nothing out of the ordinary has been found so far.

"The New York Daily News" reports some of the pill bottles were not labeled. A couple of the bottles were older prescriptions and at least one was filled recently. CNN has confirmed Houston visited Dr. Shawn Nasseri, shown here on "Extra," four days before she died. Nasseri had been treating the singer for throat and vocal problems for several years.

A family friend told CNN Houston had recently been on prescription medication for a throat infection and also had been taking anti-anxiety medicine.

Houston may have mixed some of these medicines with alcohol. According to friends, she was drinking champagne two nights before her death and another source tells CNN she was seen drinking that weekend in the hotel. A close family friends tells CNN Houston was known to have a drink if she went out.

The singer battled drug and alcohol problems for many years and she entered rehab last year and a family friend said she had been clean of hard drugs for several years. Investigators said they would be looking for the presence of illegal as well as prescription drugs and the results of the toxicology tests which may be ready within weeks.

Houston's funeral is set for Saturday, a private service in her hometown, Newark, New Jersey. As for reports that the Houston family had banned the singer's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, from the attending the funeral, sources tell CNN that was never the case and Brown may very well be at the service, after all, to pay tribute to Houston's life.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: The funeral, as I said, will be held at Whitney Houston's childhood church. As for friends and families, Aretha Franklin will sing and the Reverend Marvin Winans of the gospel singing Winans family will give the eulogy. He will join us shortly.

Digging deeper now into that new reporting on Houston's drinking and what light if any it sheds on her death.

Just a short time ago, I spoke with 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta, host of "SANJAY GUPTA M.D.," also addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of "DR. DREW" on HLN.


COOPER: Dr. Drew, what do you make of this report now from a single source to CNN about Whitney Houston being seen drinking in the morning no less in the hotel over the weekend?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: A couple things, Anderson.

One is first of all, I hate to think that we have to have this report of humiliating behavior to understand simply that if she's drinking she's in harm's way. The fact that there were multiple reports of her toasting and partying a couple nights before her death should have been enough for anyone near her to understand that she was in real serious trouble.

We don't have to, necessarily, bring in these other stories that sound rather humiliating but not surprising. The fact the level of consumption that's being reported begins to make sense in terms of the potential of causing respiratory suppression. Simply adding that level alcohol that has been reported to one or two of those benzodiazepine medication would be sufficient to cause her to stop breathing.

COOPER: It can be as simple as alcohol in combination with a drug like Xanax or one or two other drugs?



COOPER: Because don't plenty of people who take Xanax also drink and not end up dead?

PINSKY: Anderson, people are accusing me of getting excited about this story. And I'm getting angry and I want people to listen because this is something I have been fighting most of my career as an addictionologist.

People don't understand how problematic these medicines are, especially if someone has a history of addiction. It's potentially a life-threatening exposure when they're exposed to this medication and add to that how many stories have we reported of people, celebrities, dying pharmaceutical deaths? And these are the medicines that have always been involved with that. COOPER: But are you saying that anybody who has had a past history of drug use can never drink?

PINSKY: Can never drink?

COOPER: Because people would say, so she was having some drinks, that doesn't necessarily mean she was relapsing, does it?

PINSKY: Anderson, I'm trying not to get as excited as I have been the last couple nights on this show.

Categorically, that's a severe relapse. She's not somebody who is in the early stages of addiction. She's somebody that has had many years of severe addiction. Had been treated three times and, believe me, Anderson, in each of those treatments, abstinence was the goal and what they insisted upon in every one of those treatments.

The fact that she could go to those treatments as recently as last May and come out and she and the people around her think that partying without alcohol is, somehow, OK because her problem is other drugs is -- it shows that the treatments were abject failures, abject failures, and that she needed a lot more treatment. She didn't need to be out in public. She didn't need to be paraded around at parties. She didn't need to be working on a movie.

Her life was in danger, as we no know, but we should have known that four months ago.

COOPER: Sanjay, one of the things you have done a lot of reporting on is doctor shopping, someone going to multiple doctors for different kinds of prescriptions. We have seen people do that in the past.

There's no evidence that Whitney Houston did that and coroners say they want to rule that out. That's why they're now subpoenaing and in contact with pharmacies and doctors. But you had actually done a report on just how easy it is to get multiple prescriptions.

I want to show some of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a contact number for you?


So that took about 15 minutes. I was able to walk in with my prescription, about $20 on my charge card. They asked me for my address and I walked out with 40 pills of narcotics.


COOPER: So, how does that happen?

GUPTA: Well, you know, one thing that is important to point out, as you said, there's no evidence or at least suggestion of doctor shopping here.

But what I was trying to show in that report was that the regulation, the sort of keeping tabs on people filling these types of prescriptions, is pretty woefully inadequate in just about every state. You have a prescription from one doctor. You go to one pharmacy. Literally, 10 minutes later, you can go to another pharmacy and fill another prescription.

When you start aggregating all these medicines you are getting a lot of different pills and it's very, very hard for someone that wants to get these pills, maybe not the fault of the doctor, maybe not the fault of the pharmacy, it's just the system is not designed to be able to catch people like that. And you could see within 15 minutes what I was able to do.

COOPER: And, Dr. Drew, there's going to be people now watching this who are taking multiple prescriptions for things who are suddenly going to get worried, wait a minute, do I know about the interaction of all these drugs?

The point though that you make time and time again, besides that they should be, but for an addict, an addict is more likely to take extra, to take more than the doctor has told them to take?

PINSKY: That's right. And it doesn't take much extra, by the way.

In fact, in their mind, they're probably taking it as prescribed. And of course their perception is that it's safe.

But, Sanjay, I have to ask you a question. She's alleged to have Xanax and Valium and lorazepam in her bathroom. Can you think of any condition where she should have all three of those medications, any condition?


PINSKY: Go ahead.

GUPTA: No, I don't know. I heard that Xanax was in her bathroom. I hadn't heard about the other things.

But the point that I think is important here, there's really two things. One is that you always hear from the doctor when you get the pills, don't take this with alcohol. It's been this sort of perception that's not a great idea, but I will be fine if I do.


COOPER: I got to tell you, I have taken things that I wasn't supposed to take with alcohol with alcohol and think, well, look, how bad can it really be, like an Ambien or something like that.


GUPTA: One in 20 people do this over the age of 12, and these are some alarming statistics.

Drew, one of the things I think is important, this one in 20 number, one in 20 people misuse these medication in some way. Take too much, take it the wrong way or they combine it with something else. A lot of them aren't addicts.

Drew, let me ask you. The addicts may have a higher tolerance so maybe it takes more. But in someone who doesn't do this and they have an accidental overdose, I think this is an important message for like what Anderson is saying. The average person out there thinks, look, it's not a great idea, but it's not going to kill me.

PINSKY: And I believe this Whitney Houston circumstance is not going to be doctor shopping. It will not be. She doesn't have to shop. She is an addict, was given benzodiazepines. She should not have had it.

And not only did she have one. She had three different kinds. And as I said, Sanjay, if indeed those were what was in the bathroom, neither you or I can think of any circumstance where any patient should have all three of those medications.


COOPER: We will have more with both these guys in just a moment.

The whole notion of the dangers of mixing something like a sleeping pill with even two glasses of wine, again I find really eye- opening. We will talk more about that after the break. We will dig deeper also into celebrity culture and how it may be a destructive force in the life of a recovering addict. Stay with us.

Also, let us know what you think. Join us. We're on Facebook, Google+. You can add us to your circles. Or follow me on Twitter tonight @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting in the hour ahead.

Later: video out of Syria that makes your blood boil, a child fleeing, apparently as a sniper takes aim at the child. Pretty unbelievable. That's not all that's happening and the Syrian regime denies almost all of it. We're "Keeping Them Honest." Our Arwa Damon is there on the ground in Homs.


COOPER: Well, the breaking news tonight, new details in the death of Whitney Houston, including a report that was seen drinking on the morning she did and seen drinking heavily on the Wednesday and Thursday mornings prior to her death.

Before the break, Dr. Drew and 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta were weighing in on that.

More now on that conversation, which turned to talk about celebrity culture and how it may enable addiction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: One of the reasons we are covering the story a lot beyond the tragedy of Whitney Houston -- again I was listening to her music just again last night. It just hits you time and time again what a tragedy this is. What a waste this is, regardless of the cause of her death.

But this is a larger story. The story of prescription abuse and the dangers of prescription drugs is a really important story.


COOPER: I want to show you something that Celine Dion said on "Good Morning America."


CELINE DION, MUSICIAN: When you think about Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, to get into drugs like that for whatever reason, is it because of the stress and bad influence, what happens? What happens when you have everything? What happens when you have love, the support, the family, motherhood?

You have responsibilities of a mother, and then something happens and it destroys everything. There's something that happens that I don't understand. And that's why I'm so scared. I'm scared of show business. I'm scared of drugs.


COOPER: Does that miss the point? Is it just something about show business? This is a larger issue as well? No?

PINSKY: My patients today, my addicted patients when they die they die a pharmaceutical death without exception.

This is the third night in a row I'm saying this on your show, Anderson. And I would urge people to think back to the rock stars of the last 20 to 30 years who have used tons of illicit drugs, the exception being I.V. heroin, but all the other elicit drug use, they are still with us. They are all still alive.

But the ones that graduate to the prescription drug, which really has been the last five years that we have seen this tidal wave of this problem -- and again Celine Dion said -- by the way, she is not an addict, you can tell, not an addict, but she listed all the people that have died. There are many, many more. They are all pharmaceutical death. What is happening in Hollywood and in the musical field is simply a reflection of what's going on in this country.

COOPER: Do you think -- it is somebody who -- we hear about it so much when it's celebrities, but as you say it's happening every few seconds and minutes in the United States.

I think you and I have talked about this, Dr. Drew. Is there something what drives people to be a celebrity, what drives people to be in the public eye that also then is more likely to drive them to seek a high?

PINSKY: Yes. They do have more trauma. They do tend to -- I have explicit objective research on this that I have published. Yes, they do have more trauma and they do have more of the genetic heritage of addiction. They do have more narcissistic pathology.

And celebrity is sort of a bid to solve that power for them. But as you know, celebrity ends up with power, with sycophants surrounding them. So when they do manifest their problems they tend to progress more severely. The rest of us would have an employer. Again these people are all independent contractors. They don't have an employer that can come in and pull them said and say you're going to lose your job if you don't get it together.

Similarly, they have sycophants around them that are afraid of losing their access to them. And they have power. If you remember Deepak Chopra told us a story about how he confronted Michael Jackson about his drug use and was dismissed from the inner circle. They have the power to do that. They have the power for their disease to progress.

COOPER: It does seem, Sanjay, that some doctors -- not all, certainly, but there are some doctors who like having celebrities in their lives and maybe more willing to prescribe them something just to kind of keep them in their lives.

GUPTA: And we just saw this, obviously this trial of Conrad Murray. We have heard about this with other celebrities.

There are these concierge doctors, which we have reported on. They just take a few patients. They're celebrities. And those celebrities expect that doctor to essentially take care of them and get them the things that they say they need.

But, Anderson, to your point earlier, when you say there's a larger point here, we do talk about celebrities because they're famous and perhaps because they have this access. But there are a lot of people that have these sorts of problems.

And I can't stress that enough. We have talked about all these famous people, but one in 20 people are misusing these medications right now. We may not hear about their deaths, but every 19 minutes, one of them will die, so again the warning about don't misuse these drugs isn't supposed to be a polite thing saying hey, if you think about it, don't misuse this. It literally should say this could kill you.


GUPTA: Doctors don't like to say it, but I think they need to in this case.

COOPER: What's the advice, Sanjay, then for someone watching tonight who is taking multiple things? Maybe they have a Ambien prescription and a Xanax prescription and they're not sure of how all it all -- is it just a question to question your doctor as much as possible?

GUPTA: I think you need to be very transparent.

I don't want to condemn anybody in particular. But a lot of patients who are getting these types of medications, to Drew's point earlier, is because they are getting someone to get Xanax and to get another benzodiazepine or another anti-anxiety medication. They're probably not being forthright.

Because any doctor would say, why are you taking all these various medications? So, to be very, very transparent about it. But also if you're just somebody who says I'm not an addict. I haven't had this problem. I'm watching all this stuff about Whitney Houston, that's not me, I don't have to worry about this.

Yes, you do. You have to think about this because the next time you think about it, maybe because you have had a catastrophic event as a result of combining, misusing or overdosing on these medications.

COOPER: I have to say, Dr. Drew, it really to me is an eye- opener. Because I'm not a drinker. But I will have an occasional glass of wine.

But the idea that I sort of -- if I'm going to take an Ambien one night, I just kind of pooh-pooh the whole alcohol/drug combination thing.


PINSKY: Sanjay, this is the third time our patient has mentioned Ambien. I think we ought to pull them aside for a little talk here.



COOPER: I don't really take Ambien either. But I do occasionally have -- if I'm traveling or whatever on a plane...

PINSKY: I got that the first time you said it, I heard it.


COOPER: Now you're saying I'm an addict.

PINSKY: No, I'm not. I'm not. And I'm making fun of you.

But the fact is, you're a great example of how cautious someone must be. You're someone who is trying to use these things intelligently. You saw the caution on the label and so you're trying to be careful. If I have a glass of wine, what's the big deal? I'm being careful. I'm not driving a vehicle.

But the fact is, you have two glasses of wine and Ambien, you really could be in harm's way.

COOPER: Really?

GUPTA: Let me just say one thing more about that specifically, because I think this illustrates a point. When you combine these things, we mentioned that they're synergistic. It's not just adding it. It becomes exponentially worse.

But specifically it sort of tinkers with this part of your brain known as your hypothalamus. That's the part of the brain that sort of tells you to breathe, so you don't have think about it, regulates your heart rate. If your hypothalamus is tinkered with, and this is more science than maybe your audience wants to know, but if it is tinkered with, when you go to sleep, your drive to breathe may go away.

You can see how potentially deadly that can be. So this has been known for awhile.


COOPER: Your drive to breathe goes away?


PINSKY: And, also, your swallowing mechanism becomes suppressed and you can aspirate, which is the other thing I see all time, which is either they stop breathing, or they come in with bad and overwhelming pneumonias.


We keep having this conversation, but I got to tell you I think this is an important conversation to have. Again, it's a much larger issue than just this one tragedy.

Dr. Drew, appreciate it and Sanjay, appreciate it. Thanks.


COOPER: So, just to underscore, even legitimately prescribed medicine can kill, especially in a combination with as few as a couple of drinks.

By the same token, it also bears repeating we do not yet know what happened in the case of Whitney Houston. It's important not to get ahead of the facts. But one fact is sadly abundantly clear.

As Dr. Drew mentioned, if prescription drugs played a role in the death of Whitney Houston, that wouldn't be the first time.

More on that angle tonight from Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this video taken days before Michael Jackson's death, the king of pop rehearsing for an upcoming tour looks like the picture of physical health. But off stage, he was suffering from a crippling addiction to the powerful anesthetic propofol, or milk, as he liked to call it. It was an addiction enabled by his doctor, Conrad Murray.

DR. CONRAD MURRAY, PERSONAL PHYSICIAN OF MICHAEL JACKSON: I then decided to go ahead and give him some of the milk so he could get a couple of hours sleep so that he could produce, because I cared about him. I did not want him to fail. I had no intentions of hurting him.

MARQUEZ: Just six months later, Hollywood would be rocked by yet another death. Actress Brittany Murphy, who played Eminem's love interest in "Eight Mile" and was an ugly duckling who became a swan with the help of Alicia Silverstone in the teen comedy clueless.

BRITTANY MURPHY, ACTRESS: Why am I even listening to you to begin with? You're a virgin who can't drive.


MARQUEZ: The coroner ruled that Murphy's death at age 32 was an accident due to the combination of pneumonia, iron deficiency and -- quote -- "multiple drug intoxication."

But Murphy's husband and mother disputed those findings to Larry king.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the record, a declarative statement, my wife had not taken any drugs that could harm her that morning. That is...

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": No drug overdose or...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Britney was scared to...

KING: So she never had a drug problem?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had a heart murmur.

MARQUEZ: And there was Heath Ledger, the actor known for his groundbreaking performance in the movie "Brokeback Mountain," where he played a gay cowboy opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. Ledger died just months before the release of his biggest blockbuster, "The Dark Knight." Critics and audiences raved over his turn as the arch villain, the Joker.

HEATH LEDGER, ACTOR: No, no, you -- you complete me.

MARQUEZ: Ledger died from an accidental overdose of painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills. He was only 28.

Singer Amy Winehouse's struggles with addiction were well known. But in the end, the singer wasn't done in by drugs. In a ruling disputed by Winehouse's father, the coroner said she died from an accidental alcohol poisoning.

(on camera): Celebrities dying from drug and alcohol abuse isn't new. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Anna Nicole Smith, just to name a few, but recent deaths have focused attention on one of Hollywood's dirty little secrets, doctors who make prescription drugs readily available to the stars.

(voice-over): Actress Mackenzie Phillips told Kareen Wynter that despite her history as an addict, doctors willingly overprescribe her pills.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are some doctors out there, many doctors perhaps, who may be enamored by a star and they're just trying to please their client. But come on, you have to have stars on the other end who may be using their fame to get these drugs.

MACKENZIE PHILLIPS, ACTRESS: Well, I'm sure that that is definitely something that helps them to get the doctor to give them whatever they want. And I know I have been in that position myself.

MARQUEZ: Now investigators also want to know. Is that what happened to Whitney Houston?

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: Still ahead tonight, family and friends of Whitney Houston will pay tribute to the singer on Saturday. Pastor Marvin Winans will be delivering the eulogy. He joins me next live.

And later, what CNN's Arwa Damon is seeing right now in Homs, a one-sided war, her words, the government using everything it has to crush its people. We're "Keeping Them Honest."


COOPER: Breaking news tonight: a source telling CNN Whitney Houston was seen drinking on the morning that she died and drinking heavily the prior Wednesday and Thursday. The official cause of death, though, will not be determined until toxicology results come back.

The funeral, we know, takes place on Saturday at Whitney Houston's childhood church. This is, you'll recall, where her mom ran the music program. It's where a young Whitney Houston sang in the choir, then soloed and then grew into that voice. And those to be there to pay tribute will indeed be members of popular and gospel music world royalty. Her mother, of course, Cissy; godmother Aretha Franklin; Chaka Khan; the Winans family; Bebe, CeCe, and pastor Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy.

The Houstons and the Winans have been close for decades. Here's Whitney performing with Bebe and CeCe in 1989.



COOPER: That was Whitney Houston, Bebe Winans and CeCe Winans at the 1989 NAACP Image Awards.

Joining me now, another member of the Winans family, gospel singer and pastor of the New Perfecting Church of Detroit, Marvin Winans.

Reverend, I appreciate you being with us, Pastor. You and your family, obviously, so close to the Houston family. How is -- how is your family doing and how is -- how is Whitney's family doing?

PASTOR MARVIN WINANS, FRIEND OF HOUSTON FAMILY: Well, my -- my mother, after we had heard it, she said she felt as if she had lost one of her children. And I said, "Mom, it's because you have."

And talking with Cissy, just you know, when I called, I said, "Mom, it's going to be all right."

Faith plays a great part in how we cope with uncertainties in life. It is not something that we run from in difficulty. It's something that we run to. So, by the grace of God, everyone is holding up pretty well.

COOPER: You were there for her wedding, and you're there for her coming home, and a celebration of her life this weekend. What -- how do you go about writing the words that you're going to say? I mean, do you know what you're going to say?

WINANS: Well, it's -- it's about praying and, you know, folk will talk about doing the eulogy. My job is not that of a eulogist. In technical term, my job is the homilist. And my -- my job is to speak on behalf of God as it relates to where we are and how we go further.

So we pray, we speak from our heart, and we allow the holy spirit to lead us so we might begin to minister hope and healing to those who are there.

COOPER: And how do you give that? I mean, obviously, you said faith is extraordinarily important. But you know, in times like this, people question their faith and say, you know, why would a young woman be taken from us with such talent and such potential and such life ahead of her?

WINANS: Well, the wonderful thing about salvation is that it is a choice. And as I was talking to some people the other day, I thought about an old gospel song that says, "We are our heavenly father's children, and he loves us one and all. Yet, there are times we will answer to another's beck and call."

And so, salvation is constantly a choice. It is a constant vigil of doing the right things. It's not a blame game on God that somehow God just took Whitney from us. It is a fact that we have choices and the choices we make may not be the best choices. But just as a son or daughter may disappoint their father, doesn't mean that he doesn't love them.

COOPER: You and I were talking right before the show, and I was asking what you want to get across. And one of the things you said was really important, which is that the importance of praising people and telling them how much you care about them and love them in their life, not just after they passed.

WINANS: It is amazing. And we take life and love for granted so often. As you play that video of Bebe and CeCe, Whitney was actually supposed to sing with the Winans first. But we ran into some contractual problems, and she ended up with Bebe and CeCe.

But just as a family, we lost our brother Ronald, and Whitney came and sat with us and rode with us to the cemetery. And that's what families do. We rally around each other when someone is hurting. We lay aside what we do professionally, and we find the time to be there. The power of presence is so great.

And so, people need to learn how to say, "I love you" and "I miss you." Last week, Whitney was alive. I was here preaching. There were no cameras. No one was calling me.

But since her death, you know, we're fighting off news agencies, simply because they don't understand that we lost a sister. This is not a break or an opportunity. We are really hurting and seriously grieving. And it amazes me the -- the insensitivity of the media when it comes to things like this.

COOPER: I think, you know, the -- often people see this as -- reporters see this as a news story, and there's facts to get out for family in the epicenter of this. In a family of friends, it is -- it's not a story; it is life and death. It is heart break.


COOPER: A heart break that never heals.

WINANS: It's -- it's someone that was there, and now you can no longer speak to them. And maybe you didn't tell them that you loved them. Maybe you -- if you had known, you would have did some things differently. And so, there's a lot of questions, a lot of things that go through minds: "Why wasn't I there? Why didn't I help? What if I had picked up the phone? What if I went and got her?"

And you have to reconcile all of that within yourself, and you miss that person so greatly.

COOPER: There had been some discussion, I understand, or talk publicly about a public service. Obviously, this is going to be a private service now. I think a lot of her fans, you know, wanted some sort of public service that they could take part in.

For you, the importance of it being private and of it being family is -- is clear, no?

WINANS: I don't think, knowing Cissy and the Houston family, I don't think it was a matter of public or private, as it was "This is my daughter. This is my sister. This is my mother. This is my friend. And we want to do this with dignity. We don't want to have a parade."

We loved her when she was Nippy in New Jersey. The world loves her because of her voice. But if Nippy could not sing, the Houston family would love her. And I knew that Momma Houston would do it the way she wanted it done. We're going to church, and we're not going to be worried about if the world can get in. We are going to lay our daughter to rest in the confines and the tradition of what we do.

COOPER: There's so many people around the world listening to her music and sadly now who weren't listening to it last week, and -- but I hope you know that there are -- and I hope the family knows that there are just countless people around the world who are sending them their prayers.

And I wish you the best. And it's going to be a difficult weekend for you.

WINANS: It will be difficult, but God answers prayer, and prayer changes things, people and circumstances.

COOPER: Pastor Winans, I really appreciate you being on tonight. Thank you, sir.

WINANS: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to take a look at politics coming up next. We want you to be part of the conversation, ask some questions to our panel on our digital dashboard, on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus.

Still ahead, "Keeping Them Honest." What's really happening inside Syria? CNN's Arwa Damon has gotten inside Homs tonight. She's there. She's seen the slaughter of civilians firsthand. She joins me ahead.


COOPER: Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" on the campaign trail. Talking to reporters last night, Rick Santorum was asked about Washington state's recent vote to legalize same-sex marriage. Here's what he said.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just said I think this is a national issue, that we can't have two marriage laws. We have to have consistency in what marriage is. And I think we need to have a national discussion about it and develop a national policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: It's certainly not the first time Santorum has called for a national policy on a social issue important to Christian conservatives. Abortion is another example.

What's interesting is that Santorum's call for a national policy does seem completely at odds with what he says is his strong support for state's rights.

On other issues that resonate with social conservatives, like banning birth control, he's argued for states having the right to make their own laws. Here he is talking about why the Supreme Court was wrong to overturn a Connecticut law banning birth control.


SANTORUM: The state has a right to do that. I never questioned whether the state has a right to do that. It's not a constitutional right. The state has the law -- has a right to pass whatever -- whatever statutes they have.


COOPER: He says the states have the right, unless it's same-sex marriage.

Tonight, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Santorum with a seven-point lead over Romney in Ohio, a key race on Super Tuesday. There's also this: a new CNN/ORC International poll shows Republican enthusiasm about the election is faltering.

Meantime, President Obama's approval rating has climbed to 50 percent for the first time in eight months.

Let's talk about it now with Ari Fleischer, CNN political contributor, and former White House press secretary for George W. Bush. Also Bill Burton, a former deputy White House press secretary for President Obama and senior strategist at Priorities USA Action.

So Ari, the Romney super PAC came out last night with ads attacking Santorum in three states. We saw what happened when Gingrich was the focus of these ads. Do you think when that -- do you think Santorum is any different? Do you think this is now really going to chip away at Santorum?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, yes. And if you do the advertising properly, advertising done well picks up on what people actually, on their own, are inclined to believe about a candidate, for better -- for better or for worse. And there are some vulnerabilities with Rick Santorum. And I think that's what Mitt Romney is going to seek to expose. That is part of running for office. And Rick Santorum needs to show he can take a shot, give a shot, and return the volley.

COOPER: Bill, it's interesting. Listening to the -- listening to the alleged political experts over the last couple months, on paper, there's no way Santorum should be in this position. His campaign doesn't have an advance team; it doesn't have a pollster. Not even a campaign headquarters, really. But a lot of very passionate followers.

Doesn't the fact that he is in this position, does that tell you that maybe that Republicans really are enthusiastic about this election after, whatever some of these polls show enthusiasm faltering?

BILL BURTON, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I don't know if they're enthusiastic about the election. If you look state by state, the turnout has actually been lower than 2008 when the primary was really competitive.

And this time around, you know, Santorum benefits from the fact that Republicans are having a tough time coalescing around Mitt Romney. For one reason or for another, I think that conservatives just don't trust him, because his record just doesn't match up with what he's been saying on the campaign trail this time around.

But I will say on the spending, you know, Romney and Romney super PACs have a lot up on the air. And one thing that has been determinative in this race is when Romney and the super PAC and his allies spend a lot of money, Romney does well. When they don't, he doesn't.

His problem is that this time Santorum's super PAC is matching them dollar for dollar in Michigan. So we'll see what kind of impact that has on the race there.

COOPER: Do you, Bill -- Ari, do you buy there's a lack of enthusiasm?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's a lack of conservative enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. A lot of the Rick Santorum vote is an anti-Romney vote. And people are kind of hoping that Rick Santorum is who they want.

There's still a lot of questions about everything with Rick Santorum's record that people don't know yet. He's largely unknown quantity in Republican circles. He's filling in the blanks. He's in a rush to fill in those blanks before Mitt Romney does it for him.

As for the overall enthusiasm issue, I think there has been a decline in Republican enthusiasm since last fall. And I think that's, in part, the frustration of how Republicans are going after each other. I anticipate that that's going to build back up once Republicans have a nominee. And that's going to be very exciting once they do.

But as for turnout, you know, it's hard to measure. Because you have Florida is a big quirk because of a 2008 ballot initiative which brought out hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise don't vote presidential.

And you also have Missouri, four years ago, had it been a real primary with real delegates that count, that this year was a beauty contest. So if you compare those two states, there's a huge drop off.

Without that, you have record Republican turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. So it's inconclusive, Anderson. That's how I would put it so far.

COOPER: I want to ask this digital dashboard question we got from one of our viewers, BethAnn. She asks via Facebook, "If Santorum wins Michigan, will he take on the beloved front-runner status or will it remain with Romney?" Ari.

FLEISCHER: I think it still remains with Mitt Romney, in large part because he still has -- talking about organization, so what does that mean? He's getting on the ballot everywhere. And the fact that nobody is contesting Mitt Romney seriously in Arizona is a huge issue.

The press is going to focus on Michigan, because it's where a fight takes place. But if you're Mitt Romney, you're saying, "Hey, I'm also chalking up delegates here, because people aren't taking me on in Arizona, which has a primary the same night as Michigan."

COOPER: But Bill, if Mitt Romney cannot win in Michigan where his father has a long history, where he was born, I mean, it -- that could be crippling for him, no?

BURTON: I think it's going to be a big problem for Mitt Romney. I don't think -- I don't think the issue is going to be whether or not he wins the nomination. I think that, as Ari pointed out, he's the only candidate in this race who actually has the infrastructure and the wherewithal to bring this all the way to the end.

But if he loses Michigan, which is not looking great for him right now, a big problem could be that his fundraising dries up a little bit, and he's not able to have the kind of impacting campaign that -- that he needs to have throughout the primary.

In 2008, President Obama and Hillary Clinton went through this long, drawn-out primary. But through that process, the president built support in almost every single state. That's not what's happening with Mitt Romney. If his money dries up, he's really not going to be able to do that.

COOPER: Bill, Ari, appreciate it tonight. Thank you guys.

Just ahead, Iran stages a public showing of what it calls advances in its nuclear program. We'll see how the Obama administration reacted.

And expensive Rolex watch vanishes in a Florida airport security check. Sheriffs are looking for a suspect. They have a good idea what he looks like.

Also, the latest from Syria, ahead.


COOPER: Tonight, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is calling for a national vote on a new draft constitution that she says contains major reforms. Critics frankly just say it's window dressing.

Activists say at least 32 more people were killed today. This little boy -- take a look at this video -- running from sniper fire in Dar where all of this began. You can hear the shots being fired. A man runs after him, carries the boy to safety.

Video from a Damascus suburb apparently shows civilians being forced to stand and lie down next to an army tank. Activists say it's to serve as human shields.

We can't verify these reports firsthand because the Assad regime won't let us in. We weren't there.

Today, CNN's Arwa Damon, however, is there in Homs. Here's what she said.


COOPER: I know you saw a patient who had a brain injury. Pieces of this man's brain had come out of his head. And they basically just sewed back his head up just to keep it inside and had some sort of a tube in there. But he desperately needed to get out and will die if he doesn't.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He will. And he's not the only one in there that's in that kind of dire condition. There was another young volunteer at the clinic, actually, who had been injured in one of the strikes on the clinic itself. And he was in an incredibly difficult situation.

We actually later on heard that he had -- he didn't make it. And that is quite simply because he wasn't able to receive the medical care that he so desperately needed.

And the nurse that was tending to him, she was 27 years old. She was also a volunteer, and she was crying out, wanting to know how it was that the international community could watch human beings continuously die and do nothing. And she pointed to this young man pressing his head and was saying, "This is a human being. This is not something that is made of stone. Life has value. How is it in the 21st century that the world can watch and let this type of massacre take place?"

COOPER: Arwa, you've covered a lot of places where violence is happening and suffering is happening. How does this compare?

DAMON: It doesn't, Anderson. It really doesn't. I mean, on the one hand, yes, we are covering all of these conflicts you come across. Death, you come across. Sorrow, you come across. Atrocities.

But what we witnessed happening inside Syria does not compare to anything that has taken place in any other country, whether you compare it to the other revolutions we saw happening across the Middle East or the other types of violence and various other conflict zones.

What's happening here, it's very difficult to put it into words, Anderson. The level of despair. What's happening. How one-sided this war -- and it is now a war -- really is. What you sense is that you have a massive entity, this power that is the Syrian government, using every single tool at its disposal to crush this opposition that really, as they put it, has just been crying out for freedom.

And we hear all these stories of children being mercilessly massacred at the hands of the regime and no one being spared. And you really just can't compare it to anything else.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, stay safe. Thank you.


COOPER: Arwa Damon, inside Homs, Syria.

Susan Hendricks joins us now with "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Iran showed off what it calls advances in its nuclear program today. Iran's president, as you see, donning a lab coat to view what his country claims is a new generation of centrifuges to be used at a nuclear research center. The State Department dismisses this as just a lot of hype.

House Speaker John Boehner today defended a payroll tax extension deal that will cost the treasury $100 billion. President Obama said he will sign the bill if it passes Congress.

And the sheriff's office in Broward County, Florida, would like to speak to a man who they say took an expensive Rolex watch that did not belong to him. He was going through security at the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport last month when he spotted the watch in one of those bins, and he took it.

Police say it was left in a bin accidentally by another passenger. The man who took it boarded his plane before security could talk to him -- Anderson.

HENDRICKS: Susan, thanks. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We ran out of time for "The RidicuList," because our conversation with Dr. Drew and Sanjay about prescription drugs ran long. I thought it was an important conservation to have, though. Obviously, we'll have "The RidicuList" again tomorrow night.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett starts now.