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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Whitney Houston; Her Life, Her Music
Aired February 16, 2014 - 19:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: An unforgettable voice.
Silenced after a troubled life.
Two years after her tragic death, a look at Whitney Houston: her life, her music.
That legendary ballad, that blinding beauty, that breathtaking voice.
Whitney Houston, the shy Jersey girl who belted her way to superstardom. Six Grammys, and a record seven consecutive number one singles. For a time, she was pop's greatest love of all.
KELLY PRICE, SINGER: To hear her voice was a miracle because for anybody to be able to do with a voice what she did with hers speaks to a divine order.
LEMON: Whitney Houston, the icon, unimaginably talented. But also fatally flawed.
ALEXIS CHIU, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, IN-TOUCH WEEKLY: There were many sides to Whitney. There was a performer, the consummate professional. There was the addict and you never knew which way you were going to get.
LEMON: If Houston was blessed by the heavens, she was most certainly cursed with her own demons. A contradiction right up to her final days.
PRICE: This was not a woman who was depressed, upset, high, drunk.
GERRICK KENNEDY, REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: It was immediate. You could smell the stench of cigarettes and of liquor, and I am like, oh, my God, she is a mess right now.
LEMON: Whitney Houston died here at the Beverly Hilton on February 11th, the voice of a generation silenced forever. A tragic ending to a life filled with promise that was almost preordained. With the gospel legend for a mother, and a cousin named Dionne Warwick, Houston was born to sing.
CLARENCE WALDRON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, JET MAGAZINE: When we first saw Whitney, when you first heard Whitney, you knew there was something special happening here.
LEMON: Legendary music producer Clive Davis certainly knew. He discovered Houston and changed her life forever. He packaged and polished the 19-year-old sensation into a pure pop princess, at least on the surface.
Alexis Chiu, now executive editor in "In-Touch Weekly" reported on Whitney's death for "People" magazine.
CHIU: One source who worked with Whitney told us that she definitely was not a goody two-shoes in any sense of the word.
LEMON: Houston's bad girl side may have ultimately drawn her to R&B bad boy Bobby Brown.
CHIU: She was a girl from the streets of Newark and she fell in love with a bad boy with a good voice. So, you know, her fan, yes, very shocked. Those who knew her best really weren't surprised.
LEMON: Houston and Brown traded rings in 1992, a personal high matched only by a professional one that very same year. "The bodyguard" grossed more than $400 million and launched the top selling soundtrack of all time.
But even as the crossover superstar commanded millions for movies like "the preacher's wife," she increasingly struggled with her fame.
Did she ever talk to you about the stress of fame?
GARY CATONA, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S VOCAL COACH: She said to me, you don't know what it is like being me. I am stressed out all the time.
LEMON: That stress was only compounded by Houston's rocky marriage.
CHIU: They were very happy at first but pretty soon the relationship turned pretty volatile, and when she was under pressure, she tended to turn to drugs and alcohol.
LEMON: When Houston began a string of missed appearances and cancelations, many pointed their finger at Bobby Brown for his wife's mounting troubles with drugs.
JENNIFER HOLIDAY, SINGER: I hate to say that she had started before she had met Bobby Brown.
LEMON: Houston's increasingly erratic behavior even played out before the cameras in the short-lived reality show "being BOBBY Brown." But when Brown spoke to CNN in 2005, he insisted he and his famous wife were finally sober.
BOBBY BROWN, SINGER: I am working on a year and a half of sobriety. And my wife, she is working on her year, so we're really doing good, and I am proud of her.
LEMON: Yet her attempts at recovery only ended in relapse for Houston and the years of drug abuse had taken their toll.
CATONA: I was shocked at her condition. Her vocal condition.
LEMON: What happened to Whitney Houston's voice?
CATONA: I think that the psychological impact of being who she was drove her into lifestyle habits that ultimately were destructive.
LEMON: By May 2011 Whitney Houston was divorced. Her attempt at a comeback a year earlier was in shambles. With all of these crushing personal setbacks, she entered into a voluntary outpatient program for drug and alcohol treatment. Friends say she just needed a break.
KIM BURRELL, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S FRIEND: I know that she was pacing herself because she was preparing for the movie. I don't know exactly what she went through to do that.
LEMON: That movie was "Sparkle," and by the time Whitney Houston began doing press for the film, she did seem like a different woman. "Access Hollywood's" Shaun Robinson did the last one on one interview with her.
SHAUN ROBINSON, ANCHOR, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD: When I looked Whitney Houston in her eyes, I thought that this woman is coming back.
LEMON: But looks can be deceiving, especially when you are talking about Whitney Houston.
Her final days when we return.
LEMON: With a new movie and a new sparkle of her home, a seemingly healthy Whitney Houston started the new year poised to perhaps make that long awaited comeback. But behind the scenes some now all too familiar and alarming behavior.
Alexis Chiu, now with "In Touch Weekly" reported on Whitney's death for People Magazine.
CHIU: Her friends told us that even though she had successfully gone to rehab and had this great experience filming "Sparkle," there are always temptations and you know, unfortunately, she started partying again and spending time with perhaps the wrong people and just fell right back into that sad spiral.
LEMON: Three days before the annual Grammy awards show, Whitney Houston was staying here at the Beverly Hilton. It is here where over several days sources say the pop superstar was seen consuming considerable amounts of alcohol and acting erratically.
Gerrick Kennedy of "the L.A. Times" was covering a pre-Grammy press event at the Beverly Hilton when the singer raised eyebrows at the hotel pool.
KENNEDY: One of the conversations I had with a Grammy staffer was that security were getting calls from guests that she was doing handstands by the pool. It was like, oh, that's pretty bizarre.
LEMON: And then there was this. Kennedy says Houston smelled of cigarettes and alcohol when she burst in on her mentor Clive Davis.
WHITNEY HOUSTON, SINGER: Come say hi to your godfather.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
HOUSTON: Come say hi to your God-dad.
So, I am just like, oh, my god, you are a mess right now and you are embarrassing yourself. I am embarrassed for you.
LEMON: But the pop star appeared anything but disheveled or disoriented later that night.
Whitney Houston attended a pre-Grammy party at this Hollywood night club. And as she walked the red carpet, witnesses say she had it together and was on her best behavior.
Adam Ambrose is a publicist for "True Hollywood."
ADAM AMBROISE, PUBLICIST, TRUE HOLLYWOOD: She walked along here with -- holding hands, in fact, with Bobbi Kristina and they both looked radiant when they arrived. They were, you know, looking fantastic.
LEMON: Houston was even up for a little impromptu entertaining. She surprised everyone when she joined her friend, R&B Grammy nominee Kelly Price on stage.
AMBROISE: The place erupted. I mean, it was very sweet. It was actually really touching when she went up.
LEMON: Fun times, but too much of a good time? Not so says Kelly Price. While she says that Houston had champagne at the party, she denies reports that things got out of hand with her friend.
PRICE: This was not a woman who was depressed, upset, high, drunk. She was clearly in her right mind. She was not acting erratic.
LEMON: But "Access Hollywood's" Shaun Robinson says the pictures taken that Thursday night tell a whole different story.
ROBINSON: I said who is that? What the hell happened? What happened in three months that took her from this person who seemed to really have it all together to this person who looked very disheveled and just kind of not there?
LEMON: In a sad reality, Houston hadn't been herself in years, at least not the one fans had come to love at the height of her superstardom. Her struggles with addiction, the loss of her once incomparable voice, the pressures of fame had all but destroyed Houston's once magnificent facade. And by Saturday, February 11th, any hope of a comeback would be over.
Hours away from attending Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy celebration, Whitney Houston was in her fourth floor suite here at the Beverly Hilton when a music executive staying on the floor above hers was jolted awake by a loud thud. CHIU: A number of her entourage went in and discovered her unconscious in the bathtub partially submerged. The member of the entourage called 911 immediately.
LEMON: Within minutes paramedics arrived making desperate attempts to revive her.
CHIU: Her brother Gary was in the room and his wife Pat, obviously praying for a miracle.
LEMON: Houston's close friend Kim Burrell received a troubled call and raced over to the hotel.
BURRELL: You could feel that something was terribly wrong, and by then I saw the yellow police tape down the hall. So I rushed to the room, and I said what's going on here? And Pat told me she's gone.
LEMON: Whitney Houston was dead on the eve of music's biggest night, one of its biggest icons was gone. She was only 48.
CHIU: Bobbi Kristina broke down in the hotel lobby and just was screaming over and over again what's wrong with her? What's wrong with her? So, if we can only imagine what was going through this girl's mind, but her mother was her world.
BURRELL: I wanted everything to just stop. Wait a minute. Because what I felt was happening, I didn't want to be happening.
LEMON: But there was no stopping it. A victim of her own addiction, toxicology tests revealed Houston had cocaine, xanax and marijuana in her body, as well as a muscle relaxant and the allergy medicine Benadryl. The Los Angeles County Colonel determined the cause of death was accidental drowning with the effects of heart disease and cocaine use as contributing factors .
A life built on triumph ended in tragedy. But for those who knew her, the megastar known as the voice will always sing on.
WALDRON: When someone like that dies, the music takes on a new meaning. The music takes on a meaning now that Whitney is not here, and the song that makes me very emotional, it was that song "all at once," and the lyrics are so strong. And then it hit me you're not coming back "all at once."
LEMON: Coming up, questions about whether some close to Whitney helped her addiction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got enablers. That person is the cash cow. So what are they going to say?
LEMON: A year has gone by since the death of mega star Whitney Houston here at the Beverly Hilton hotel. Her mother, gospel singer, Sissy Houston, has a revealing new book that shares the story of Whitney's life and death. The pain is still raw for family and love one especially for the man Whitney called Uncle Sam. He is one half of the 60 singing superstar's Sam and Day (ph).
Now, the man who beat the odds and overcame addiction is haunted by his inability to save Whitney Houston.
It was February 12, 2011, a year before Whitney Houston died, a pre- Grammy party. Whitney was back. Back from years of erratic behavior and drug use.
SAM MOORE, ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAMER: Where's the voice?
LEMON: You're saying she couldn't sing?
LEMON: Rock 'n roll hall-of-famer Sam Moore was in the audience and all of the Houston's family and friend, he and his wife Joyce knew the girl everyone called nippy growing up was in trouble.
MOORE: She came in and she looked over and she saw me and I said nippy! Hey, baby. And she said no, no, don't get on your knees. And she goes like this. And she's sweating. She's starting to sweat. And I say joy, she said hi. And I said hi.
LEMON: High on drugs. Far from the girl he first met decades earlier.
MOORE: I thought she was the cutest little thing.
LEMON: Whitney came to call him uncle Sam, and as quickly as Moore watched the girl he called nippy rise, he watched her fall. It was the early '90s.
MOORE: When I first realized that she was using, I saw her on TV. She always was perspiring.
LEMON: At that moment, he knew she was an addict. He knew because Sam Moore was an addict himself. He was on his way to rock bottom when his wife convinced him to get help. Thirty years later, performing at the Apollo, he's reminded of Nippy. The theatre was a site of a memorial after her death, a death Sam knows all too well. It was tough to prevent.
MOORE: If they want it, they're going to get it. You've got enablers. You' even got parents. They know that their child is doing it. That person is the cash cow. So what are they going to say?
LEMON: Sam's wife Joyce believes Whitney's own family helped fuel her habit.
JOYCE MOORE, SAM MOORE'S WIFE: Members in Whitney's family, immediate and extended that had their problems with drugs.
LEMON: The family declined to comment, and did not respond to our questions about these claims. Whitney's mother, gospel singer, Sissy Houston talks about her daughter's drug use in her new book, "remembering Whitney." Whitney's brother, Michael talked about it recently with Oprah Winfrey when he and his father, both gave their first interview since Whitney Houston's death.
MICHAEL HOUSTON, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S BROTHER: We played together, you know. We did everything together growing up and when you get into drugs, you do that together, too and it just got out of hand. You know, just drugs is rough.
LEMON: Something Sam Moore knows all too well. Which is why he tried to intervene that fateful night two years ago. But her entourage pulled her away too quickly. Then he says he talked to Whitney's cousin Dionne Warwick.
MOORE: I said Dionne, she's struggling, man. This isn't cool. You know what she said to me? Malicious gossip, Sam. What are you doing? I'm just telling you, she's getting high. Sam, stop. Stop. You're starting rumors. There's nothing wrong with her.
LEMON: Warwick's spokesperson says Dionne didn't feel it was her place to discuss Houston's personal matters.
Sam stepped away. Moments later, Whitney's daughter approached him.
MOORE: Here comes Bobbi Kristina. Uncle Sam. I said hi, baby. Uncle Sam, I said yes? Help my mommy. And before I could say anything this guy, literally pulling her away from me.
LEMON: A moment that haunts Moore to this day.
MOORE: She was one of the greatest voices.
And you knew what she was doing. Why didn't you help her save that voice. She could have had a legacy. But where is it? It died with these people. That's the legacy.