The world reeled in surprise when the news was announced Saturday afternoon that Whitney Houston, only 48 years old, had died. It is always a shock when a legendary talent passes unexpectedly at a young age. However, as fans--and just about everyone else--knows, Houston's short life was punctuated with an extraordinary amount of struggle.
Maintaining sobriety was a prime focus of her roller-coaster ups and downs, with the media zooming in on her history of erratic behavior, periods of extreme weight loss, and complicated marriage to fellow artist Bobby Brown; whom she wed in 1992.
Houston's alliance with Brown was cited by many as the start of her issues--she was raised in a middle-class home by gospel singer Cissy Houston, while Brown had a considerably grittier upbringing in a rough area of Boston. "The princess marries the bad boy," she would note wryly in a 2009 interview. The couple would welcome their only child, daughter Bobbi Kristina, in 1993.
Trouble began brewing as early as 1994, when Houston--at this point a bona fide megastar in both the music and film worlds--began to attract attention for concert cancellations and less-than-professional stage banter. By the late '90s, she had earned a reputation for schedule issues ranging from late arrivals to outright no-shows. Rumors circulated that she was abusing drugs with Brown.
In 2000, Houston's unpredictable behavior came to a head. When the man who had directed her career to worldwide prominence--Arista Records head Clive Davis--was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, Houston, who was scheduled to perform, did not appear. Her most famous no-show occurred when she also failed to perform on the Academy Awards shortly after. Her reps cited "throat problems" as the issue; however, Houston later admitted she had been fired. Sources claimed her behavior was too unpredictable for the program. Her slot was filled by country star Faith Hill instead.
By 2001, after appearing shockingly thin performing at a Michael Jackson tribute concert, Houston's publicist was forced to issue a statement denying reports that the singer had died. The statement explained that Houston had been under "family stress" and when stressed, "she doesn't eat."
In 2002, after being arrested for marijuana possession, Houston appeared on Primetime Live and spoke frankly to host Diane Sawyer, saying "I am not sick, Diane," and declaring "I make too much money to ever smoke crack...Crack is wack."
When presented with a headline claiming she'd spent $730,000 on drugs one year, Houston told Sawyer, "Come on...I wish. I wish I were making that kind of money off me."
Houston also clarified to Sawyer that substance abuse was not always the cause of her frequent cancellations and unpredictable schedules. "It wasn't always about the drug," she explained. "I would stay in my room for days, for days at times, just trying to get it together, to know what my next phase was going to be."
Brown joined Houston for the interview and denied use of any drugs except occasional marijuana use. The pair both denied that Brown had ever hit Houston. (Houston would, a year later, call 911 accusing her husband of beating her. She didn't press charges, and he was not convicted.)
"It's hard, because we're rock 'n' rollers, man," Houston noted of the couple's public image.
Houston's eccentric behavior came to the forefront yet again when she and Brown signed up for the 2005 Bravo reality show Being Bobby Brown--a series referred to by many as a "trainwreck." The show bore Brown's name, but producers refused to greenlight it until Houston agreed to participate as well. "I was trying to be Mrs. Bobby Brown," she would explain later, noting that Brown was jealous of her fame.
Being Bobby Brown became a huge hit for the network, but more so for its shock value than anything (for example: Houston, famously, discussed her personal bathroom habits freely). A 2006 Salon critique noted that the show appealed to fans so they could "Laugh at these strung-out has-beens who can't help but degrade what's left of their image by talking about their bowel movements on camera."
Also in 2006, a tabloid photo spread emerged of what was reportedly Houston's bathroom at home in Atlanta--a cringe-inducing mess peppered with drug paraphernalia and beer cans. The photos were sold by Houston's sister-in-law, who also provided a report about Houston's drugged-out hallucinations and seclusions.
In 2007, Houston's marriage to Brown ended. Houston entered rehab--but by her own admission, returned to drug use after completing the program. Her mother finally intervened, showing up with a police sheriff and demanding her daughter retire.
Two years later, Houston released her comeback album, I Look To You--her first in 7 years--and sat down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
"I just wanted to be normal," she confessed to the talk-show host. She further clarified that her drug use became heavy after the birth of Bobbi Kristina, with cocaine and marijuana being her choices at the time.
By the time the Brown-Houston marriage began to slide into decline, Houston confessed to Winfrey that the pair were freebasing cocaine. "We were buying kilos and ounces and ounces. We would have our stash."
"When it gets to the point where you're sitting in your home and you're just trying to cover what you don't want people to know. It's painful," she said. "And then you want more, just so that you don't let anybody see you cry."
Houston revealed that, "amazingly," during this period, she continued to read the Bible. "I knew God was there. I knew the light was there and I was just trying to get back to it."
She also told Winfrey that her ex-husband "was my drug...that's what my high was. Him."
Houston's final days were, sadly, marked by speculation that she'd fallen back into bad habits. Her career was stalled (I Look To You, although selling a respectable million copies, made a lackluster showing on the charts). Reports surfaced of her partying with daughter Bobbi Kristina. In May of 2011, a rep for the singer confirmed she was in outpatient rehab. Later in the year, Saturday Night Live jumped on the subject, lampooning her loopy behavior in a skit.
Things sadly did not improve, and her final days will be marked by speculation about her sobriety.
At a pre-show junket for the Grammys on Thursday, reports circulated that she appeared disheveled and bloated, was behaving erratically, and reeked of alcohol and cigarettes.
Later that evening, she delivered an unsteady rendition of "Jesus Loves Me" at a Hollywood nightclub party.
It was to be her last performance. Houston was found dead at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday afternoon.