Whitney Houston, whose soaring voice lifted her to the top of the pop music world but whose personal decline was fueled by decades of drug use, died on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel room. She was 48.
Her death came on the eve of the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles and at the same hotel where her mentor, record mogul Clive Davis, was holding an annual pre-event party at which she was scheduled to perform.
A dramatic scene unfolded at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as music celebrities arriving for the party expressed shock at her death, while reporters swarmed the hotel and fans gathered to pay their respects.
A Beverly Hills police officer told reporters they were called to the Beverly Hilton at around 3:20 p.m. PST and that emergency personnel found Houston's body in a fourth-floor room, and she was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. The cause of death is under investigation.
"She has been positively identified by friends and family (who) were with her at the hotel, and next of kin have already been notified," Lieutenant Mark Rosen told reporters. Police said there were no obvious signs of criminal intent.
Tributes poured in from around the world for a singer whose remarkable vocal range produced some of the most memorable music of her generation, including her signature hit, "I Will Always Love You."
"Whitney Houston was not only an amazing artist but also a beautiful person. She was so smart and her knowledge and appreciation for the musical art form was remarkable," Motown founder and RiB legend Berry Gordy said in a statement.
Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys, said event producers were working on ways to honor the singer in front of her many friends in the audience.
Standing on the red carpet outside the hotel, Portnow told Reuters they would "try to celebrate her life," and called Houston a "one of a kind singer" whose body of work was "staggering."
Throughout her decades in music, Houston won six Grammys, 30 Billboard awards and 22 American Music Awards. She released seven studio albums, sold some 170 million CDs, singles and videos that included smash hits "Saving All my Love for You."
She also appeared in the movies "Bodyguard" (1992), "Waiting to Exhale" (1995) and "The Preacher's Wife" (1996).
Houston was inspired to sing as a child by soul singers in her New Jersey family, including mother Cissy Houston and cousins Dionne Warwick and the late Dee Dee Warwick. Her godmother was Aretha Franklin.
"I just can't talk about it now," Franklin said in a statement. "It's so stunning and unbelievable. I couldn't believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen. My heart goes out to Cissy, her daughter Bobbi Kris, her family and Bobby (Brown)."
By the early 1990s, Houston reigned as the queen of pop, but her critical and commercial success on stage was accompanied by an increasingly troubled personal life. 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 pair also starred in a reality TV series, "Being Bobby Brown," which painted an often unflattering portrait of the couple.
The last 10 years of Houston's life were dominated by drug use, rumors of relapses and trips to rehab.
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.
Despite her personal troubles she commanded great affection among her music industry colleagues, and emotional tributes flooded the media in the hours after news broke of her death.
"I am absolutely heartbroken at the news of Whitney's passing," legendary music producer Quincy Jones said in a statement. "... I always regretted not having had the opportunity to work with her. She was a true original and a talent beyond compare. I will miss her terribly."
Pop star Rihanna posted on Twitter "No words, just tears," and rapper Nicki Minaj tweeted "Jesus Christ, not Whitney Houston. Greatest of all time."
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