NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — To the rest of the world, Whitney Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame.
But to her family and friends, she was just "Nippy." They gather for a private funeral Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston, as a girl, first wowed audiences with her powerful voice.
Although Houston was one of the most famous people in the world, she never felt comfortable in the spotlight.
Houston often spoke about feeling uneasy in her role as a superstar. Even as she prepared to stage a comeback nearly three years ago, she yearned to shed the celebrity-centered, tabloid glare that came with her fame.
"I am not geared for it. It goes along with the territory," she told The Associated Press in a 2009 interview. "I just want to be recognized for my music and for what it does and how it inspires people and how it makes people feel as opposed to talking about Whitney all the time kind of thing. That's all done. It's passed, and I would just like to be recognized for my music."
Houston will be recognized for that, and for much more, on Saturday, when her funeral is held at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church. While she died last weekend in tony Beverly Hills, California, amid a media and celebrity crush ahead of her mentor Clive Davis' pre-Grammy Awards party, her funeral will be a chance to reclaim Whitney Houston the person, instead of the icon.
The church, which seats about 300 people, will be filled with friends, family members and some of her famous connections. Kevin Costner, her co-star in the movie blockbuster "The Bodyguard," is scheduled to speak, as is Davis, the music mogul responsible for launching and guiding her career. Her cousin and fellow singer, Dionne Warwick, will be on the program, as will friends including Alicia Keys, Tyler Perry and gospel stars Donnie McClurklin, Kim Burrell and Cece Winans.
Ray J, who spent time with Houston in her last days, also will be in attendance. In a statement released Friday, he expressed his devastation over her loss and referred to her by her nickname, Nippy.
"Nippy, I miss you so much!" he said.
Aretha Franklin also remembered Houston as Nippy and recalled how Houston used to refer to her as Aunt Ree.
"Hard to believe," Franklin wrote in an email on Thursday, as she prepared to sing at the funeral for the girl she watched growing up.
Houston became near equals with Franklin in terms of fame: Houston is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, and her fame stretched beyond music, into movies as well. But she never embraced her celebrity and turned to drugs as a way to escape. Her career stalled as her addiction grew more serious, tarnishing her image as America's graceful pop queen.
In another 2009 interview, this time with Oprah Winfrey, Houston talked about how bad her addiction had gotten. She said her mother, Cissy Houston, arrived with a court order, prepared to force her into getting help.
"She said, 'I'm not losing you to this world. I'm not losing you to Satan!'" Whitney Houston recalled. "'I want my daughter back.'"
It's unclear if drugs caused her death. Houston was found in a bathtub, underwater, by a member of her staff at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It will take weeks before toxicology results determine what medications and quantities, if any, were in Houston's system at the time of her death.
But despite her mother's efforts, Houston indeed was lost, at the age of 48. She had appeared to be set for another comeback: She had a new movie, "Sparkle," due out this summer and was working on other projects, including a sequel to "Waiting to Exhale."
After the funeral, Houston is scheduled to be buried beside her father, John Russell Houston, at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, near where she grew up.