The world was stunned on February 11, 2012, when news broke that singer and icon Whitney Houston had died at age 48. Her passing, mere hours before she was scheduled to appear at a pre-Grammy party, consumed the internet and media as celebrities expressed their grief.
What Happened on February 11, 2012?
On February 11, 2012, Houston was preparing to attend the annual pre-Grammy party hosted by Clive Davis, her longtime friend, and mentor. Throughout the day, Houston seemed to be her usual self; she spoke to her cousin Dionne Warwick and her mother on the phone, who reported that everything seemed normal. However, a mere half an hour after her phone call with her mother, the singer was found unresponsive in a bathtub.
Houston’s assistant, Mary Jones, had been with her throughout the day. Jones reported that she left the hotel room for roughly 20 minutes to pick up the singer’s dress for the party that evening. When she returned, she found Houston face-down in the bathtub. Blood was coming out of her nose, and she seemed to be unconscious.
Jones immediately called for assistance; police were already on the premises in preparation for the day’s events and were able to respond within two minutes. Paramedics arrived shortly afterward and attempted to resuscitate the singer for 30 minutes. However, their attempts were unsuccessful, and Houston was officially declared dead at 3:55 p.m.
The Days Before Death
Houston’s friends and family reported being stunned by the news that Houston was using drugs when she died. Though she had struggled with addiction throughout the 1990s and 2000s during her marriage to Bobby Brown, she had received treatment and been sober since at least 2007. Houston checked herself into a rehab facility for a short time in 2011; her PR team reported that she was taking part in an outpatient program as part of her recovery process.
Nevertheless, in the last week before her death, friends noticed that Houston’s behavior was unusual. She seemed flustered and out of sorts; after her final performance alongside Kelly Price on February 9, the media noticed that she was sweaty and distressed and had cuts on her hand and leg. There were reports of an altercation at the club (where Houston had been attending a pre-Grammy party). Still, Price vehemently defended the singer, saying they had a perfectly normal evening together and that everyone in attendance looked disheveled after dancing in the hot club.
In the following days, Houston attended several parties alongside other celebrities and seemed in high spirits. However, she perplexed reporters at a press junket the day before her death; she appeared to be sweating heavily, and her behavior was almost wild. Throughout the press junket, Houston danced off-camera, skipped around the room, and at times seemed lost as she wandered the lobby. It was reported that security also found her doing handstands beside the hotel pool.
On the day of her death, Houston was set to attend the annual pre-Grammy party of Clive Davis. Davis had been responsible for getting Houston her first record deal; they had remained friends ever since.
Investigation Into Houston’s Death
After the singer’s death, extensive investigations were carried out to determine how exactly the 48-year-old had died—and whether foul play had been involved.
Official reports released from the coroner’s office said that Houston had been found face-down in a full bathtub. However, abrasions on her face suggested that she may not have actually been taking a bath, but had fallen into the tub.
Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, expressed his opinion that Houston was already dying when she fell and was unable to get out of the bathtub on her own. He noted that the water in the tub was fairly hot at 93.5 degrees, which suggests that she had just filled the basin but was not yet in the tub. Wecht pointed out that water of that temperature would have been hot enough to burn the singer’s skin.
However, Wecht said that being submerged in the water may have played a role in her death.
Reports of the scene also indicate that crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia were found in the bathroom. This included a rolled-up piece of paper, usually used for inhaling.
There were also several prescription pill bottles around Houston’s hotel room. However, toxicology reports indicated that none of these played a significant role in her death. Though the signer had a variety of substances in her system—including cannabis, Benadryl, Xanax, and Flexeril—the only one in significant amounts was cocaine. Open alcohol containers were also found around her hotel room.
The amount of cocaine in Houston’s body showed that she had used the substance within hours of her death. Investigators believed that she was significantly intoxicated at the time of her death; the official cause of death was given as a combination of cocaine use and coronary artery disease.
Investigations into Houston’s death ruled that there was no evidence of foul play and that it was an accidental tragedy. However, her assistant, Mary Jones, believed that Houston had been murdered. Jones said she found it unbelievable that Houston would go from normal to dead in the bathtub within less than an hour.
Jones also found it suspicious that Houston’s personal effects had been moved around the room; most notably, her driver’s license was not in her wallet. Though she pushed for further investigations to continue, police have never found any evidence that Houston’s death involved foul play.
Houston’s friends and family were stunned at her sudden passing, particularly with mere hours to go until the pre-Grammy party. Davis decided to go ahead with the party anyway, opening the event with a tribute to Houston. This decision was cricitized by some celebrities, who found it distasteful to proceed with the celebration just a few hotel floors away from where Houston had died mere hours before.
Several other attendees gave tributes to Houston at the party, including Tony Bennett before he began his performance for the evening. Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, was scheduled for a live performance in Mississippi that afternoon, where he paid tribute to her before his show. Other celebrities made public statements, including Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and Dolly Parton.
In addition to tributes from celebrities, Houston was honored by TV stations across the country, with many news channels suspending their scheduled programming to remember her legacy. Saturday Night Live and MTV ran special programming in her honor; meanwhile, Twitter exploded with retweets about the singer’s death, with estimates of about one thousand tweets per minute throughout the first hour after her passing was announced.
Houston was buried in a private ceremony on February 18, 2012. The funeral lasted four hours, though it was scheduled only for two. This was perhaps in part to the number of people, many of them celebrities, who wished to pay tribute to the singer.
Many of Houston’s friends and family spoke at the ceremony, including her cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, Clive Davis, actor Kevin Costner, and longtime security guard Ray Watson. Her ex-husband Bobby Brown attempted the funeral but left before it ended. There were also performances from a Gospel choir and remarks from a pastor.
Houston was buried the following day in Newark in a plot beside her father, John Russell Houston.
Houston remains one of the most talented and acclaimed singers in the history of modern pop music. Her astounding vocal range was second to none, with some people saying it bested other singers such as Mariah Carey and Barbra Streisand.
Sales of Houston’s music exploded after her death, and her 1992 hit I Will Always Love You skyrocketed back to No. 3 on the charts. Even after her passing, Houston was breaking records with the number of hits she had on the Hot 100.
She has been called a pioneer of black female artistry in the recording industry, paving the way for other singers such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker. After her death, she won two NAACP awards for her posthumous album I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston.
In addition to being a much-accoladed singer, Houston has been called a pop icon alongside singers such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. Houston, however, always relied more on her musical talents than showmanship, which some critics have said made her even more worthy of the title than some other musicians.
Though her life was cut tragically short, Houston’s music continues to influence modern R&B, pop, and other genres. She remains one of the most iconic musicians in contemporary pop, remembered for her stunning vocal range, powerful voice, and influence on the music industry as a whole.
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