Whitney Houston’s last days were spent surrounded by family, catching up with old friends and doing a bit of what she was best known for: singing.
Her death Saturday afternoon in a Beverly Hills hotel room came hours before she was scheduled to appear at an annual pre-Grammy party that introduced her to the industry decades ago and was expected to honor the six-time Grammy winner.
The 48-year-old singer had been making the rounds in the days before the event, appearing at rehearsals and offering advice to singers Monica and Brandy. On Thursday, she appeared with fellow singer Kelly Price on stage at a Hollywood club, where she sang the hymn “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” to loud cheers.
WHITNEY HOUSTON DIES: EW.com’s full coverage
With Houston’s daughter Bobbi in the audience, the women shared a long hug and talked about their lives and families throughout the night, Price recalled Saturday. Houston spent hours standing on the side of the stage at the event honoring R&B music then joined partygoers on the dance floor, she said. “Whitney on Thursday night was one of the girls.”
“She was happy,” Price said. “She was the Whitney I always knew.”
Soul singer Kenny Lattimore, who co-hosted the R&B event, said Houston seemed to be having a good time, making her sudden death “such a shock for me.” He said Houston didn’t appear to be having any issues.
Houston struggled for years with addiction to cocaine, marijuana, and pills and the years of hard-living took a toll on her once-pristine voice. During rehearsal for a pre-Grammy event Thursday, Houston appeared disheveled, sweated profusely and her breath smelled of liquor and cigarettes, said a source who was present but not authorized to speak publicly.
Despite more than a decade of problems, including her divorce from Bobby Brown and numerous instances of erratic behavior, Houston was working toward a potential comeback. She had just completed work on a remake of the film Sparkle, a project she’d worked to develop for years.
Yet some speculated that she was under the influence after the Thursday club appearance, when paparazzi snapped photos of Houston leaving and looking disheveled. Price called the rumors “totally untrue.”
There was a family feel to the gathering, she said: “Our kids were there.”
Price said she and Houston were planning another reunion, and that she was set to appear at the pre-Grammy gala thrown by her longtime mentor, Clive Davis, on Saturday night. Davis had expected that Houston would sing at the party, which went on as planned, he explained, because the diva would have wanted it that way. It took place in another part of the hotel from where her body was being examined by coroner’s officials.
“I am personally devastated by the loss of someone who has meant so much to me,” Davis said. “She was full of life, looking forward for tonight. She loved music and she loved this night that celebrated music.”
Officials have released few details about how Houston was found or what killed her. A member of her entourage found the singer and alerted hotel security and paramedics already on site for Davis’ gala. They failed to revive the singer.
In the hours after Houston’s death, fans chose to remember the singer in better times, when her soaring voice introduced a new generation to the Dolly Parton song “I Will Love You” and propelled the film The Bodyguard into blockbuster status.
Her songs and albums quickly became top-sellers on iTunes, and fans and celebrities alike shared remembrances and accounts of impromptu memorials on the social networking site Twitter. Her death on the eve of the Grammy awards has already prompted changes to the broadcast Sunday, with Jennifer Hudson scheduled to perform a tribute during the show.
Price said her friend would want to be remembered as God-fearing and a good mother, rather than simply a singer. She said she and Houston often discussed parenting and issues unrelated to their musical careers.
She recalled her last night with Houston, the words they shared before Houston delivered what would be her final performance.
“I never ever imagined I’d be talking about her because she’s not here,” Price said.
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