With her incredible vocal range and purity, runway good looks and girl-next-door charm, Whitney Houston was an out-of-the-box superstar when she arrived on the music scene in 1985. Her meteoric rise included record-setting hits, groundbreaking videos and a promising film career.
But by the mid-1990s, rumors of marital woes and drug abuse began to tarnish her image, and she took a downward spiral that saw her name emblazoned in sordid tabloids.
Word of the 48-year-old singer's death Feb. 11 broke as the industry gathered in Los Angeles for the Pre-Grammy Gala hosted by her mentor Clive Davis, chief creative officer of Sony Music Worldwide. The L.A. County coroner's office said cause of death was drowning and effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.
In recent years, Houston had struggled to regain her past glory. In 2009, she released I Look to You, her first studio album in seven years and first since going through rehab and divorcing Bobby Brown, her husband of 14 years, in 2006. Though the album did debut at No. 1 and sold more than 1 million copies, it failed to produce any hit singles.
It was a sad end for the once-incandescent star who paved the way to pop success for other black singers such as Janet Jackson, Anita Baker, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige. The gospel-trained Houston was the daughter of singer Cissy Houston, goddaughter of Aretha Franklin and cousin of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick.
Houston was already an up-and-coming magazine model (she was one of the first women of color to grace the cover of Seventeen) when Davis signed her to his Arista Records label in 1983.
Her first hit, Hold Me, a duet with Teddy Pendergrass, went to No. 5 on the R&B chart. It was a precursor to Whitney Houston, which arrived in 1985 to rave reviews. Its first single, You Give Good Love, was a top 5 pop hit, and its follow-up, Saving All My Love for You, went to No. 1, as did How Will I Know (the video became one of the first by a black woman to get heavy rotation on MTV). The Greatest Love of All also spent three weeks at the top of the charts, and Whitney Houston wound up selling 13 million copies domestically.
Her superstardom was solidified in 1987 with Whitney, which sold 9 million copies in the USA and spawned four No. 1 singles: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn't We Almost Have It All, So Emotional and Where Do Broken Hearts Go.
Her third album, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, took her in a more urban direction, but its acceptance was less spectacular. The album peaked at No. 3 and sold 4 million copies.
Still, big things were on the horizon for Houston, whose 1991 Super Bowl performance of The Star-Spangled Banner remains the yardstick by which other singers are judged. In 1992, she made a move into acting and making soundtracks with The Bodyguard, and after a three-year courtship, she married R&B singer Bobby Brown.
In The Bodyguard, she starred as a singer who was being protected by Kevin Costner's title character from a stalker fan. The film grossed more than $121 million at the box office, and the soundtrack had an even bigger impact for Houston. Her cover of Dolly Parton's 1974 hit I Will Always Love You, distinguished by Houston's a cappella intro, stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a then-record 14 consecutive weeks. The album sold 17 million copies in the USA and won three Grammys, including album and record of the year, plus a slew of other awards.
As the '90s closed, Houston's popularity started to wane as rumors about drug use with Brown swirled and reports surfaced about erratic behavior.
In 2001, she signed a $100million, six-album deal with Arista/BMG, but after appearing on the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special, her thin frame fueled more rumors of drug abuse. Those rumors were confirmed a year later when she did an interview with Diane Sawyer to promote her album Just Whitney. She admitted using drugs, and the interview included this infamous declaration: "Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight. OK? We don't do crack. We don't do that. Crack is wack."
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