Whitney Houston's death rocks the music industry on the eve of its biggest night
Her death, at age 48, was the final chapter of the storied career that began in the 1980s
Houston's career stalled as her drug use and marriage to Bobby Brown made for tabloid fodder
She was working to turn her career around with a star turn in the upcoming film, "Sparkle"
The news broke on the eve of Grammy Awards, the music industry’s biggest night: The woman with the pitch-perfect voice who once reigned as the queen of pop at the awards show had died.
Whitney Houston was found dead Saturday by her bodyguard on the fourth floor of an upscale Beverly Hills hotel where only hours later she was to attend a pre-Grammy bash hosted by her longtime mentor, Clive Davis.
Her death, at age 48, was the final chapter of a storied career that began with the nurturing by superstar cousin Dionne Warwick, soared in the 1980s and 1990s with one record-setting achievement after another, stalled as her drug use and marriage to Bobby Brown made for tabloid fodder and was on the rebound with a highly anticipated star turn.
“You’re going to remember where you were when you heard the news. It’s that significant. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest superstars of all time,” music producer Simon Cowell said.
“One of the greatest voices in our lifetime we’re likely ever to hear. And to hear this news, it really, really, really upset me.”
Houston’s voice, once described by The New York Times as “peerless,” influenced and inspired a new generation of singers, from Mariah Carey to Christina Aguilera, and garnered a legion of fans.
“Her notes soared to places most singers dream of reaching,” Aguilera said.
Houston seemed destined for stardom almost from the very beginning.
Born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, to gospel great Cissy Houston, cousin to both Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick and goddaughter to Aretha Franklin, Houston’s upbringing was the embodiment of musical greatness.
She honed her vocal skills from a young age, singing in the church choir and taking the stage occasionally with her mother. As a teenager, she sang backup for Chaka Khan on “I’m Every Woman,” a song Houston would re-record in 1992 and that would go on to become one of her biggest hits.
As the story goes, Clive Davis spotted Houston in 1983 in a New York nightclub performing and signed her on the spot.
Houston released her debut album, “Whitney Houston,” in February 1985 to wide acclaim. Rolling Stone magazine called her “one of the most exciting new voices in years.”
With the release of the album, her commanding voice combined with a natural beauty and a clean-cut image made her an instant star.
A generation danced their way through the 1980s to a string of her hits, including the poppy “How Will I Know,” “Saving All My Love For You,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “The Greatest Love Of All.”
But it was in the 1990s that she shot into the superstar stratosphere with two songs that showcased her stunning octave range and her maturity.
On January 27, 1991, while the United States was at war in the Persian Gulf, Houston performed “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV to a record 79 million viewers.
During a time when the country seemed divided by the war, her searing, heartfelt performance seemed to unite a nation at least for a few minutes. Her rendition – the gold standard by which all performances of the national anthem are judged – was released as a single and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. Hot 100 Billboard.
Houston’s version was re-released in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and proceeds from the sales were donated to charity.
That was followed up by her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” recorded for the movie “The Bodyguard,” in which she also made her acting debut.
While the movie received mostly poor reviews, the song went onto to sell 10 million singles, winning Grammy’s record of the year and best female pop vocal. The soundtrack was named album of the year.
“I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, ‘Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed,’” Parton said.
But by the time the movie opened, Houston’s clean-cut pop image had begun to tarnish with her marriage to R&B bad boy Bobby Brown. The two met in 1989 and married three years later.