Anyone who has followed Whitney Houston’s life and career over the past two decades knows there were two sides to the singer: the glamorous pop icon and the troubled diva. She wasn’t her best self when she popped into the gift shop of the Beverly Hilton hotel on the morning of Feb. 8. “She was out of it,” says a source in the store. “Even her speech was slurred.” Houston, however, sprang to life when she spotted herself on the cover of a tabloid featuring a story that she’d collapsed. “She was cursing,” recalls the store source, “and said, ‘What is wrong with these people? When did I collapse?'”
Sadly, just three days later, Houston would make headlines again. On the afternoon of Feb. 11, a member of the singer’s entourage discovered her unconscious in a bathtub in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel. Hotel security called 911. “When the paramedics got there, it was clear that she had been gone for a while,” says a source. As Houston’s brother Gary and sister-in-law Pat waited helplessly in the room, the paramedics spent about 10 minutes trying to resuscitate the star, who showed no visible signs of trauma. At 3:55 p.m., the 48-year-old was pronounced dead. “Prescription medication was recovered from the scene, but it was not a large amount,” says L.A. Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter. “There were a few bottles but nothing alarming.” Results of toxicology tests will take six to eight weeks.
It was a tragic ending for a woman who once had it all. With staggering success in the music and movie worlds, Houston, a six-time Grammy winner, “opened doors and provided a blueprint for all of us,” Beyoncé said in a statement. “She is our queen.” But a longtime drug addiction-Houston had admitted to using marijuana and rock cocaine and checked into rehab last spring-took its toll on the singer. Her 2009 comeback album failed to make a splash, her voice screeched on her 2010 tour (some audience members demanded refunds), and she was becoming more famous for her erratic behavior than for her music. “Whitney has been so troubled and so addicted for so long that we never knew which girl we would see,” a music source tells PEOPLE.
Still, the news of her death shocked those close to her. Houston’s mother, Cissy, 78, “feels so lost and is in disbelief,” says a Whitney pal. And the loss shattered her only child, Bobbi Kristina, 18, who was spotted screaming in the hotel lobby, “What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with her?” while the paramedics were upstairs. Later that night, even before Houston’s body was removed from the room, Bobbi Kristina (known as Krissy; her father is Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown, 43) was rushed to nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was sedated and kept overnight. “She was treated for stress,” says a family source. “She is obviously devastated.” On Feb. 12 she sought medical attention again. “Her mother was her world,” says a Houston pal. “No one can console her.”
On the evening of Houston’s death, as detectives investigated in room 434, a surreal scene formed in and around the hotel: Outside, fans gathered and began to sing Houston’s hits. Inside the hotel’s ballroom, celebrities began arriving for the Recording Academy and Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy gala, which Houston had been set to attend. Davis had been guiding Houston’s career since 1983, and, “she was really excited for all of the Grammy festivities and for Clive’s event,” says the pal. “That’s always her chance to shine and be the regal queen that she is.” In the ballroom some glammed-up partygoers-who had been expecting a night filled with dinner and performances that paid homage to Diana Ross-laughed and smiled, while others exchanged hugs, engaged in hushed conversation and wondered if the evening’s festivities would-or should-go on as planned. Meanwhile, music legend Dionne Warwick, Houston’s cousin, sat quietly among a table of 10 people at the hotel’s restaurant, away from the party.
Davis arrived at his own party more than an hour after many guests and took his place behind the podium. After standing in silence for several seconds, he told the crowd, “I do have a very heavy heart.” He spoke of how Houston always loved the annual party (though she had performed there in the past, she was not scheduled to do so that night) and said, “Whitney would have wanted the music to go on, and her family asked that we carry on.” After a moment of silence, stars including Diddy, Tony Bennett and Alicia Keys took the stage and honored the late singer. “Hearing her sing was like listening to magic,” said the rapper. (PEOPLE’s annual photo shoot of the event was canceled.)
Many of those who knew her seemed shocked that Houston would lose the battle with her demons now. “She seemed to be working hard and was her usual effervescent self and bubbly personality, and there was no indication it would end this way,” says the close family friend. “I’ve seen her in darker times, in much more serious times, and had more cause to be concerned then.”
Filming the movie Sparkle last fall in Detroit, Houston was on her best behavior. “She was healthy and beautiful while she was making it,” says Debra Martin Chase, a producer of Sparkle and longtime friend. “That is why this is such a weird time for this to happen.”
Aside from an incident on a flight from Atlanta to Detroit in October (the singer wouldn’t fasten her seatbelt; a source told PEOPLE, “She wasn’t drunk, drinking or on drugs; she was just exhausted”) there were no signs that Houston was struggling while on-set. She was “very punctual and very professional” and brought her acting A-game, says Kevin O’Neil, the film’s second assistant director. “Every scene we shot with her, she’d come in and knock it out. It was very impressive.” Houston, who plays the mother of an aspiring pop star in the film, wowed the crowd when she sang the traditional gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” during a scene filmed at the Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran Church. “She was in good voice,” says Brandon “B” Williams, a Grammy-nominated producer. “I know she had some really tough years, but I really felt like she was back.”
But behind the scenes, the singer was still in trouble. “Someone may look good on the outside-strong and sturdy-but on the inside you have someone who has insecurities, struggles, family issues and emotional and personal issues,” says a friend. “People tend to forget that because her name and face were everywhere.”
After a stint in rehab last year, Houston had seemed to fall back into her partying ways. “The thing about Whitney is that she tried [to kick her addictions],” says the friend. “She was trying, and she was trying to surround herself with people who were supportive of that effort, but as any addict will tell you, it was a daily struggle.”
A source says Houston was on another downward spiral in October, leading management and members of her entourage to launch a renewed push to get her back into rehab. She didn’t go. “She handled her sobriety in her own way,” says the close friend. “She was being stubborn Whitney, and that may not have been the best thing.”
Her moods could be erratic. “When she was up, everyone would see the glimmer of the old fun-loving, happy, superbly talented Whitney,” says a longtime family friend. “But when she was down, she could be moody, mean, angry, irritable.”
In recent weeks Houston had even been asking acquaintances to lend her small sums of money. “She told people she didn’t have access to cash,” says a source, who heard that Davis has been paying her bills but not giving her pocket money. “She is surrounded by enablers, and she’s been paying for everything for her entire family,” says a close music source.
The day after Houston’s death, the singer was honored during packed services at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where she sang as a child. “As we mourn her passing, we dare not be so sad to forget her glory,” Pastor Joe Carter told the congregants. On Feb. 13, her body was flown to New Jersey and taken by gold hearse to a Newark funeral home. Friends and family are planning to hold a funeral at New Hope on Feb. 18. They’ll remember her as a “giving, generous and warm person,” says the longtime family friend, but are left to wonder what else she could have accomplished had her addictions not gotten in the way. “Whitney said she regretted having to lose so much time and energy running behind something that was not productive for her,” says another close family friend. “Just last week she wanted to record some new music. She was hopeful.”