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Anyone who'd followed reports of Whitney Houston's bizarre behavior in the days leading up to the Grammys had to have been "shocked, but not surprised" at reports of her demise, as the saying goes. Thursday in particular had been an obviously rough day in public for the troubled singer, whose appearance and behavior raised eyebrows among reporters, photographers, and regular folks who witnessed her erratic rounds.
First she first visited Brandy, Monica, and Clive Davis at rehearsals for the mogul's pre-Grammys party, where a Los Angeles Times reporter described her as reeking of alcohol, "visibly bloated," and "disheveled in mismatched clothes and hair that was dripping wet with either sweat or water." According to the Times, when Houston wasn't mugging and gesticulating wildly for Brandy and Monica — who were doing a media junket, as well as preparing a duet — she was alternately skipping around the lobby or "wandering aimlessly" around the Beverly Hills Hotel grounds. Reportedly, guests had even called security to report the singer doing handstands by the hotel pool.
Houston's Thursday was about to get worse… way worse. That evening, she attended a party headlined by Kelly Price at the Tru nightclub in Hollywood. As she exited, seeming intoxicated, photographers took close-ups of her legs, which appeared to be spotted with blood streaks, along with scratches on her wrists.
Wherever the blood and scratches came from, it wasn't from any publicly visible scuffle — although that had reportedly narrowly been avoided. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Houston got into a loud argument at the party with "X Factor" finalist Stacy Francis in the club's VIP section, shortly after they appeared on stage together. A source told THR that Houston got "belligerent" and that Houston's boyfriend, Ray J, actually stepped in to defend Francis' intentions. "Hands were raised" in anger, it was claimed.
Houston's final public performance happened at the club that night. It lasted just under a minute, as she sang "Jesus Loves Me" with Price in an impromptu, ramshackle duet captured by any number of videographers in the crowd. Perhaps needless to say, she wasn't in her very best voice for what turned out to be her swansong appearance.
Houston had a much quieter Friday and early Saturday, at least publicly, even as photos of a not-so-hot mess circulated around the web. Whether the singer knew she was the butt of jokes and dire speculation or was oblivious to it in her final hours is unknown.
Just two months ago, "Saturday Night Live" had spoofed the star as out-of-touch and out-of-it in a sketch where alumnus Maya Rudolph reprised her famous Houston impression. In the skit, a hyperactive Rudolph/Houston was brought in to give Miley Cyrus some drug counseling, bragging, "I've been clean and sober since 2013."
Coming to be regarded as a lush or addict in her last months had to be a harsh rebuke for someone who'd claimed to have cleaned up while attempting a comeback a few years earlier. But the events of the past year made it clear that, in contrast to celebrated redemption stories like Robert Downey Jr.'s, rehab hadn't really taken for Houston.
Her sobriety had been a matter of public concern since the late '90s. A common public misassumption had been that if she ever got out from under the sway of husband Bobby Brown, she would be all right. "He was my drug," she told Oprah in 2009, two years after their divorce, after apparently cleaning up. "I didn't do anything without him. I wasn't getting high by myself."
But more recently, it'd started to look like her ex-husband was no longer the sole driving force of her substance abuse, if ever he had been. Last May, a Houston rep acknowledged that the singer was involve in outpatient rehab for ongoing drug and alcohol problems.
That was right around the time Houston and her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, made the news for getting a little too boisterous in the front row at a series of Prince concerts in L.A. Although Prince's reps later denied there was any dispute, it was reported at the time that Prince was so fed up with Houston's behavior and requests to get up on stage that he supposedly banned her from coming to the rest of his run.
All that was just a couple of months after the March 2011 edition of the National Enquirer that featured a double-page photo spread of Bobbi Kristina allegedly snorting lines of cocaine at a party (albeit with her mom nowhere in sight).
The tabloids also reported last year that Houston's fortune had run out. With no new albums on the horizon, her best hope for career renewal was the movie Sparkle, in which she played a supporting role as Jordin Sparks' mom. The film — her first since The Preacher's Wife in 1996 — was shot late last year and will come out in August, accompanied by a soundtrack that includes two new Houston tunes.
Otherwise, Houston didn't have much of a career going at the time of her death. Her should've-been comeback album, 2009's I Look to You, sold about a million copies in the U.S. — far from a shameful number, but also far from the 13 million copies for which her 1985 debut had been certified. The most embarrassing factor was that none of the singles from the album rose above No. 70 on the Hot 100. (Houston's only top 10 single of the 2000s was a re-release of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the patriotic days following 9/11.)
Houston's only major tours in the last decade were overseas, far away from the critical eyes of the American media. In September 2009, she did a short comeback concert for "Good Morning America" in Central Park. The blurring of the line between entertainment and news on morning shows became apparent as hosts Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts lauded Houston's performance on their show, even as every other media outlet was reporting on how the voice of a generation could no longer handle the demands of even an abridged show, clean or not.
The reports of ongoing trouble for Houston never served her image the way they might have, say, Amy Winehouse's. America never wanted to think of her as a bad girl, just a perhaps more grown-up version of the Girl Next Door who'd seemed so wholesome wanting to dance with somebody who loved her. But with the chops as well as the image failing her, there wasn't much left to make a thriving recording or certainly touring career out of.
In recent days, one solution for returning Houston to the limelight without subjecting her singing voice to harsh scrutiny had seemingly been arrived at. Rumors had been floated — and published by the Hollywood Reporter — that she was up for contention as a judge on "The X Factor." Simon Cowell told Piers Morgan that Houston had not actually been approached, but that in response to the news reports (which he implied might have been instigated by Houston's camp), his team had planned to have a meeting about considering her on Monday.
But getting in that public scuffle Thursday night with Stacy Francis, an admirer who was one of the Season 1 "X Factor" finalists, might not have done Houston any favors, had she lived to come up for contention with Cowell and his producers this week.
Even in as high-profile a period as Grammy week, Houston couldn't seem to shy away from small acts of self-sabotage. Her fans can only hope it's the years when pride predominated that ultimately define her legacy.