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msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/12/2012 11:27:06 PM ET 2012-02-13T04:27:06

Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop music's queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, died Saturday. She was 48.

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The 48-year-old singer died Saturday on the eve of the Grammy Awards. She had been expected to attend a pre-Grammy gala but was found dead hours before the event. Paramedics attempted to revive Houston, but were unsuccessful.

Beverly Hills police Lt. Mark Rosen told reporters outside the Beverly Hilton that Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel. A coroner's van left the hotel with Houston's body in the early hours of Sunday, NBC News reported.

"There were no obvious signs of any criminal intent," Rosen said.

Bobby Brown sobs for Whitney onstage

An examination had not been scheduled and that investigators are awaiting reports before an autopsy could be conducted, Capt. Brian Elias of the Los Angeles County coroner's office told The Associated Press.

Houston's publicist, Kristen Foster, said the cause of death was unknown.

Rosen said police received a 911 call from hotel security about Houston at 3:43 p.m. Saturday. Paramedics who were already at the hotel because of a Grammy party unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the singer, he said.

TMZ.com reported that Houston's body was found in the hotel room's bathtub, but by the time emergency services arrived she had been removed so it would take an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

What was Whitney Houston's best song?

TMZ also reported that there was no evidence that Houston had been drinking alcohol in the room, although various bottles of pills had been discovered.

Her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, and cousin, Dionne Warwick, had spoken to her earlier in the day, perhaps just a half-hour before she was discovered dead, TMZ reported earlier.

Houston's end came on the eve of music's biggest night — the Grammy Awards. It's a showcase where she once reigned, and her death was sure to cast a heavy pall on Sunday's ceremony.

A Grammys tribute to her was quickly planned, with Jennifer Hudson leading the show, Access Hollywood reported.

Hudson to lead Houston tribute at Grammys

Houston had been at rehearsals for Clive Davis' pre-Grammy gala and concert Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica, according to a person who was at the event but was not authorized to speak publicly about it. The person said Houston looked disheveled, was sweating profusely and liquor and cigarettes could be smelled on her breath.

Two days ago, she performed at a pre-Grammy party with singer Kelly Price.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he would call for a national prayer Sunday morning during a service at Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

"The morning of the Grammys, the world should pause and pray for the memory of a gifted songbird," Sharpton said in a written statement.

Story: Stars react to Whitney Houston's death

At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world's best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were rooted in the black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.

Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like "The Bodyguard" and "Waiting to Exhale."

Video: Whitney Houston reportedly dies of unknown cause (on this page)

She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.

She influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey, who when she first came out sounded so much like Houston that many thought it was Houston.

But by the end of her career, Houston became a stunning cautionary tale of the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public appearances. She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her once pristine voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes as she had during her prime.

"The biggest devil is me. I'm either my best friend or my worst enemy," Houston told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.

It was a tragic fall for a superstar who was one of the top-selling artists in pop music history, with more than 55 million records sold in the United States alone.

Slideshow: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012 (on this page)

As the daughter of a gospel singer, cousin of 1960s pop diva Warwick and goddaughter of Aretha Franklin, she seemed to be born into musical greatness.

Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. It was around that time when music mogul Clive Davis first heard Houston perform.

"The time that I first saw her singing in her mother's act in a club ... it was such a stunning impact," Davis told "Good Morning America."

"To hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really sent the proverbial tingles up my spine," he added.

Before long, the rest of the country would feel it, too. Houston made her album debut in 1985 with "Whitney Houston," which sold millions and spawned hit after hit. "Saving All My Love for You" brought her her first Grammy, for best female pop vocal. "How Will I Know," "You Give Good Love" and "The Greatest Love of All" also became hit singles.

Another multiplatinum album, "Whitney," came out in 1987 and included hits like "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

The New York Times wrote that Houston "possesses one of her generation's most powerful gospel-trained voices, but she eschews many of the churchier mannerisms of her forerunners. She uses ornamental gospel phrasing only sparingly, and instead of projecting an earthy, tearful vulnerability, communicates cool self-assurance and strength, building pop ballads to majestic, sustained peaks of intensity."

Video: Whitney Houston dies at age 48 (on this page)

Her decision not to follow the more soulful inflections of singers like Franklin drew criticism by some who saw her as playing down her black roots to go pop and reach white audiences. The criticism would become a constant refrain through much of her career. She was even booed during the "Soul Train Awards" in 1989.

"Sometimes it gets down to that, you know?" she told Katie Couric in 1996. "You're not black enough for them. I don't know. You're not R&B enough. You're very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them."

Some saw her 1992 marriage to former New Edition member and soul crooner Bobby Brown as an attempt to refute those critics. It seemed to be an odd union; she was seen as pop's pure princess while he had a bad-boy image, and already had children of his own. (The couple had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in 1993.) Over the years, he would be arrested several times, on charges ranging from DUI to failure to pay child support.

But Houston said their true personalities were not as far apart as people may have believed.

Video: Sharpton mourns loss of 'talented' Houston (on this page)

"When you love, you love. I mean, do you stop loving somebody because you have different images? You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same place," she told Rolling Stone in 1993. "You see somebody, and you deal with their image, that's their image. It's part of them, it's not the whole picture. I am not always in a sequined gown. I am nobody's angel. I can get down and dirty. I can get raunchy."

It would take several years, however, for the public to see that side of Houston. Her moving 1991 rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl, amid the first Gulf War, set a new standard and once again reaffirmed her as America's sweetheart.

In 1992, she became a star in the acting world with "The Bodyguard." Despite mixed reviews, the story of a singer (Houston) guarded by a former Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner) was an international success.

Video: Police: Houston was found 'unresponsive' at scene (on this page)

It also gave her perhaps her most memorable hit: a searing, stunning rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," which sat atop the charts for weeks. It was Grammy's record of the year and best female pop vocal, and the "Bodyguard" soundtrack was named album of the year.

She returned to the big screen in 1995-96 with "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife." Both spawned soundtrack albums, and another hit studio album, "My Love Is Your Love," in 1998, brought her a Grammy for best female R&B vocal for the cut "It's Not Right But It's Okay."

Slideshow: Whitney Houston, 1963 - 2012 (on this page)

But during these career and personal highs, Houston was using drugs. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, she said by the time "The Preacher's Wife" was released, "(doing drugs) was an everyday thing. ... I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two, it was every day. ... I wasn't happy by that point in time. I was losing myself."

In the interview, Houston blamed her rocky marriage to Brown, which included a charge of domestic abuse against Brown in 1993. They divorced in 2007.

Houston would go to rehab twice before she would declare herself drug-free to Winfrey in 2010. But in the interim, there were missed concert dates, a stop at an airport due to drugs, and public meltdowns.

Cowell: I was considering Houston for 'X Factor'

She was so startlingly thin during a 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert that rumors spread she had died the next day. Her crude behavior and jittery appearance on Brown's reality show, "Being Bobby Brown," was an example of her sad decline. Her Sawyer interview, where she declared "crack is whack," was often parodied. She dropped out of the spotlight for a few years.

Houston staged what seemed to be a successful comeback with the 2009 album "I Look To You." The album debuted on the top of the charts, and would eventually go platinum.

Things soon fell apart. A concert to promote the album on "Good Morning America" went awry as Houston's voice sounded ragged and off-key. She blamed an interview with Winfrey for straining her voice.

A world tour launched overseas, however, only confirmed suspicions that Houston had lost her treasured gift, as she failed to hit notes and left many fans unimpressed; some walked out. Canceled concert dates raised speculation that she may have been abusing drugs, but she denied those claims and said she was in great shape, blaming illness for cancellations.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Houston leaves behind highly decorated career

Photos: Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

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  1. A life in the spotlight

    Whitney Houston, seen here at the 2009 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, has died at age 48 after an acclaimed career and a life that kept her in tabloid headlines. Stardom was in Houston's family -- mom Cissy Houston is a Grammy-winning singer, Dionne Warwick is her cousin, and Aretha Franklin was her godmother. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Grammy gold

    Producer Clive Davis and Houston appear onstage at the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala and Salute To Industry Icons Honoring David Geffen at the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 12, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Nearly one year later almost to the day, Houston would be found dead at the same hotel. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. London calling

    Houston performs at the O2 Arena in London on April 25, 2010. (Samir Hussein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. We are family

    Houston, cousin Dionne Warwick and Houston's teenage daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, arrive at the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala in 2011. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images For The Recording A) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. On stage

    Houston speaks during the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2009. Six Grammys were among her lifetime total of more than 400 musical honors. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ladies of music

    Dionne Warwick, Houston and Natalie Cole perform together during a tour in Germany in 2009, the first time the three had ever sung together. (Joerg Koch / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. In Israel

    Husband Bobby Brown and Houston toured Israel in 2003. Here, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomes them to his residence. (Quique Kierszenbaum / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Dynamic duo

    Brown and Houston perform during the "VH1 Divas" duets show in Las Vegas in 2003. They wed in 1992, and she gave birth to daughter Bobbi Kristina a year later. The couple divorced in 2007. (Joe Cavaretta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Divas forever

    Houston and Mary J. Blige perform on the "VH1 Divas Las Vegas" concert in 2002. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Pretty in pink

    Houston holds her Grammy award for Best Female Rythm and Blues Vocal Performance for "It's Not Right But It's Okay" at the 2000 Grammy Awards. (Vince Bucci / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. In court

    Houston and Brown are seen in a Georgia court in 2002. He had been arrested on an outstanding bench warrant for a 1996 DUI. (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. And baby makes three

    Houston and Brown are seen with daughter Bobbi Kristina, then 6, in 1998. (Lucy Nicholson / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. With Mariah

    Houston and Mariah Carey recorded "When You Believe" as a duet in 1998. When Carey first became popular, she sounded so similar to Houston that many thought Carey's songs were actually Houston singing. (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moving on to movies

    Houston also starred in numerous movies, including 1996's "The Preacher's Wife." (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Love is in the air

    Houston was honored at the 1994 Grammys, winning record of the year for "I Will Always Love You" and album of the year for the soundtrack from her movie "The Bodyguard." She is shown with producer David Foster, who shared the honors with her. (Pool / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'The Bodyguard'

    In the 1992 film "The Bodyguard," Kevin Costner plays a bodyguard hired to protect Houston's character, a singer, from an unknown stalker. (ZUMA Press/Newscom) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Stunning anthem

    Houston's performance of the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl is thought by some to be one of the best versions of the song ever sung. It was released as a single and reached the Top 20. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Houston performing in 1988. (Dave Hogan / Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Early days

    Houston belts out a song in 1986. Even before she became known as a singer, Houston gained fame as a model, and perennial Seventeen Magazine cover girl. She was one of the first women of color to make the teen magazine's cover. (Elise Amendola / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Whitney Houston
    Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file
    Above: Slideshow (19) Whitney Houston, 1963-2012
  2. Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen, Politicalcartoons.com
    Slideshow (7) Whitney Houston, 1963 - 2012

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