Whitney Houston (1963-2012)
The stellar career and troubled life of Whitney Houston came to end on the afternoon of February 11 in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. She was 48.
Houston vaulted to immediate superstardom with the 1985 release of her self-titled debut album. The way was paved by well-placed family connections in the music industry, her mother being Cissy Houston, her godmother Aretha Franklin, and her cousin Dionne Warwick. This cleared a path that put her enormous talent (a vocal range of three octaves) on a fast track to international success.
Houston’s first album, heralding the emergence of a phenomenon, yielded the chart-topping singles “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All.” It also contained the popular duet with Jermaine Jackson, “Take Good Care of My Heart.” Her influence was so great that Mariah Carey, before marking her own signature, frequently was mistaken by radio listeners for Houston.
Houston briefly crossed over into film acting for starring roles in Waiting to Exhale with Angela Bassett, The Bodyguard opposite Kevin Costner, and The Preacher’s Wife opposite Denzel Washington.
Among Houston’s career highlights: her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” from the soundtrack for The Bodyguard and her 1991 rendering of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV, a hit recording that became the gold standard against which performers of the national anthem have been compared ever since.
Despite her denials, word leaked via tabloids in the 1990s that Whitney Houston and then-husband Bobby Brown had grown into the habit of smoking crack cocaine and were binge drinkers. As with more than a few artists before her, including Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron and Amy Winehouse, Houston waged arduous battles with chemical dependency.
A rarity, Houston, while she saw her personal life gravely deteriorate, never foundered in her commercial success despite, in 2009, having a rocky world tour and an appearance on Good Morning America that betrayed a lapse in her trademark excellence as a powerhouse among pop singers. In May 2011, a spokesperson for Houston issued word that she was returning to drug treatment.
Officials investigating Whitney Houston’s death have yet to ascertain whether or not she drowned in her hotel room’s bathtub, but they have ruled out foul play. It happened hours before she was scheduled to attend a gala pre-Grammy Awards party. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office stated that it will take several weeks to reach a conclusion as to the cause of death.
At the pre-Grammy event as well as at the 54th Grammy Awards ceremony, tribute was paid to the historic vocalist by a host of celebrities, including LL Cool J, who began the awards show by entreating the audience to pray with him for Whitney Houston’s soul; famed music producer Jimmy Jam; and industry titan Clive Davis, Arista Records founder, credited as being, at one point, Houston’s mentor in pop music.
Ultimately, Whitney Houston left a singular impact on music around the world. In 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female act in history. Among the 415 career awards in her lifetime are two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards.
She also is an international best-seller, having sold more than 170 million albums, singles and videos around the globe. Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive number-one hits on the Billboard pop chart: “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
Whitney Elizabeth Houston, singer, actor, model, film producer, record producer, songwriter and pianist, is survived by her 18-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, her mother Cissy, her two brothers, her cousin Dionne Warwick, and other relatives and friends.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.