As the soulful funeral of Whitney Houston played out across the continent, it was largely business as usual at the glamorous place where the singer died one week earlier. Yet from the fourth floor to the sidewalk out front, a sense of loss prevailed Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Houston died Feb. 11 in the bathtub of her fourth-floor room, just a few hours before she was set to appear at record executive Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy party in the ballroom downstairs.
Tourists milled about the Beverly Hilton's vast lobby Saturday morning while Houston's celebrity-studded funeral aired live from New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. It was in stark contrast to last weekend's chaotic scene of photographers, police, paramedics and fans.
Lined with black and white photos of Hollywood stars, the hallway on the fourth floor where Houston died was empty and silent, and without security. Only housekeeping staff could be seen going room to room. Houston's suite will remain vacant indefinitely, according to the hotel.
Downstairs, at the Circa 55 Restaurant, a bar area with the restaurant's only televisions remained mostly empty for the three-and-a-half-hour memorial service. Instead, guests seemed to favor a sunny poolside dining area nearby. With the Oscars just a week away, life goes on in Hollywood.
But even if most folks chose to avoid publicly watching the funeral, some grieved in their own personal way.
Hotel guest Matthew Ingram, 57, of San Francisco, stopped to watch part of the funeral on his way from breakfast and became overwhelmed with emotion when recalling his love and appreciation for Houston.
"You feel the connection, being here. That's half the reason my wife and I chose to stay here for four days was because of her, Whitney, and also to see my sister," he said. "We have all of Whitney's records. Everybody's connected to her through her music, her charm, her beauty."
The ultimate homage to Houston, said Ingram, was going up to the room where she died.
"We went to the fourth floor yesterday. You close your eyes, standing there," he said, starting to cry.
Just outside the hotel, a growing make-shift memorial to Houston was spread out on the sidewalk.
Shiny red "Happy Valentine's Day" balloons waved back and forth in the breeze. Colorful flowers, furry teddy bears and pictures of a smiling Houston sat next to lit votive candles and dozens of condolence notes. A small but steady stream of fans took photos as they passed by on foot and in cars and tour buses.
One note scrawled in black marker, accented by a drawing of a teddy bear holding a heart, read, "To the most beautiful voice in the world. We love you Whitney." Yet another longer letter began, "I'm sorry you had to go through everything you went through. You were too young to go."