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Whitney Houston 1963-2012: Obituary

By
Whitney Houston

© Rex Features

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born on August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest child of John Russell Houston, Jr and gospel singer Cissy Houston. She followed her mother, along with aunts Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick and godmother Aretha Franklin, into performing in a gospel choir at the age of 11, where she also learned how to play the piano.

After performing alongside Cissy in nightclubs as a teenager, Houston cut her recording teeth as a back-up singer on the Michael Zager Band's single 'Life's a Party', then sang backing vocals on Chaka Khan's 1978 hit 'I'm Every Woman'. Her budding singing career was put on pause as Houston was scouted to become a model, after a photographer saw her singing with her mother at New York's Carnegie Hall, and she became one of the first women of colour to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Houston also featured in fashion spreads for Glamour and Cosmopolitan as well as in a TV commercial for soft drink Canada Dry.

Houston's big break as a recording artist came when she was spotted performing alongside her mother in a New York nightclub by an A&R representative from Arista Records. After watching her sing live, Arista chief Clive Davis - who was later to become Houston's mentor and friend - signed up the 19-year-old to the label.

Her debut album, simply titled Whitney Houston, was released in February 1985 to both critical acclaim and commercial success internationally, with the record spawning Billboard Hot 100 number one singles 'Saving All My Love for You', 'How Will I Know' and 'Greatest Love of All', and going on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide. It also earned her a Grammy nomination for 'Album of the Year' at the 1986 Awards, one of three nominations that year - she would win her first Grammy in the 'Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female' category for 'Saving All My Love For You'.

Follow-up albums Whitney in 1987 and 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight continued Houston's successful streak, featuring million-selling singles such as 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)' and 'Where Do Broken Hearts Go'. During this time, she also embarked on a lucrative world tour, culminating in an appearance at a concert at London's Wembley Stadium to celebrate the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday, and founded The Whitney Houston Foundation For Children, a non-profit organisation that raised funds for the needs of children around the world. She also sang US national anthem 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at the Super Bowl in 1991.

In 1989, Houston would meet the man who would later become her husband while at the Soul Train Music Awards - after dating up-and-coming R&B star Bobby Brown for just over a year, the two wed on July 18, 1992. The couple's only daughter together, Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, was born the following year.

1992 also saw the release of The Bodyguard, which saw Houston, in her first film role, starring alongside Kevin Costner. The movie was a huge box-office success, and its theme, a cover version of Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You', would go on to become Houston's signature song. She would later take on roles in films including Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher's Wife.

Having concentrated on her acting career for most of the 1990s, Houston released her first studio album in eight years, My Love Is Your Love, in 1998. The record saw Houston show off a more modern, R&B-influenced edge, and saw her again top charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Her first greatest-hits collection was also released in 2000.

Rumours of drug use began to surround Houston in the late 1990s as she began to miss performances and turn up late to interviews, as well as appearing visibly to have lost weight. Speculation grew in early 2000 as marijuana was found in Houston and Brown's suitcases at an Hawaii airport, although charges were eventually dropped against the couple. The star went on to speak out about allegations of crack cocaine use in a now-infamous interview with US journalist Diane Sawyer, denying ever having taken the drug.

Fifth studio album Just Whitney..., released in 2002, received mixed reviews, although still sold well worldwide. Her marriage to Brown was also rumoured to be on the rocks, with the couple eventually separating in 2006. Their divorce was granted in 2007, with Houston receiving full custody of daughter Bobbi.

Sixth and most recent LP I Look to You was released in 2009, spawning hit singles 'I Look To You' and 'Million Dollar Bill'. Houston gave her first interview for seven years to Oprah Winfrey to promote the album, and admitted that she and Brown had used drugs including crack cocaine in the past. She also embarked on her first world tour in ten years, although a string of sub-par performances marred what was intended to be a triumphant comeback.

In May 2011, Houston checked into a rehabilitation centre as an outpatient for drug and alcohol problems. However, in recent months, the star's career seemed to be back on track, as it was announced that Houston would produce and star in a remake of the 1976 film Sparkle. It was also suggested that she could take on a judging position on the US version of singing competition The X Factor.

Whitney Houston was found dead in her room at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel on Saturday afternoon (February 11), aged 48. No cause of death has yet been determined.

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