Whitney Houston’s inimitable singing voice launched her to global superstardom in the 1980s, but it was a career destined to be cut tragically short. Now, eight years after her sudden passing rocked the music industry, her final words have been revealed. And for her legions of devoted fans, they’re enough to make the singer’s turbulent story even more heartbreaking.
It probably seemed inevitable that Houston would end up becoming a singer. After all, her mother Cissy was a renowned figure on the American gospel scene, and often invited her daughter on stage with her. When she was just 19 years old, the younger Houston signed to Arista Records, and the rest is history. However, while she would go on to enjoy a hugely successful career, it was one that ultimately ended prematurely.
Houston passed away on February 11, 2012, aged only 48 years old. Her death came at the end of a troubled final few months, during which the singer had once more enrolled herself in rehab. She’d spent much of her career battling with drug and alcohol abuse, after first being exposed to the substances during her teens.
Even at the height of her career, Houston’s problems with drugs were a serious issue. On the day of her 1992 wedding to Bobby Brown, her husband-to-be spotted her “hunched over a bureau snorting a line of coke,” according to his 2016 memoir. Houston also reportedly overdosed in front of her then-bodyguard David Roberts during her 1999 tour. And the following year, she was busted at an airport in Hawaii for possession of marijuana.
As a teenager, while working at a community center, Houston became close with Robyn Crawford – a woman who would later go on to become her assistant. And for years, the two allegedly engaged in an intimate and sexual relationship. However, Houston reportedly kept her affair a secret; partly to protect her image, and partly because her mother would not approve.
It was when Crawford resigned her post as Houston’s assistant in 2000 that the singer’s world began to unravel. Her marriage to Brown was on the rocks, her friends started to drift out of her life, and her father’s management company sued her for $100 million. As a result, losing her long-time companion was enough to send Houston straight back into the arms of drug dependency.
Ultimately, Houston ended up retreating from the public eye for nearly a decade. And when she did return to the limelight in 2009 for a worldwide tour, her performances left fans disappointed. Indeed, she reportedly sounded hoarse, forgot the names of her band members, and took a lengthy pause during a rendition of “I Will Always Love You” to drink water – leaving many concert-goers demanding refunds.
Then, in 2011, Houston’s long-gestating remake of the 1976 movie Sparkle suddenly grew wings. She’d acquired the rights to remake the musical drama, which was a childhood favorite, in 2001. However, production stalled after Aaliyah, an R&B singer tapped to play the lead role, died in a plane crash that same year.
Eventually, Jordin Sparks – then the youngest American Idol winner in the show’s history – was cast in the title role. Houston starred as Sparks’ mother, and the Sparkle remake filmed over two months at the end of 2011. Alas, Houston would never see the release of her silver screen comeback, which marked her first role in 16 years.
In the final days before her death, Houston appeared “erratic” and “disheveled,” according to the L.A. Times. On February 9, 2012 she attended a party at Grammy nominee Kelly Price’s Hollywood home with her then-19-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. After Houston performed a duet with Price, however, things began to get heated.
It transpired that Houston had bumped into Stacy Francis, a former finalist on talent show The X Factor. The two women first met in 1999 at one of Houston’s concerts, and were getting along fine on the night – until Houston’s ex-boyfriend Ray J rocked up. According to witnesses, the situation became tense, and a “belligerent” Houston eventually had to be escorted out of the venue.
However, Houston’s friends claimed nothing untoward happened at the party. And Price herself claimed, “There was nothing wrong. She was singing, she was dancing, she was laughing, she was playing. I’m going to remember her just like that because that’s the Whitney I always had the pleasure of being around.”
Houston then spent the following night with friends at the Beverly Hilton hotel’s bar. According to staff, the singer and her entourage were a boisterous bunch, drinking and chatting loudly for hours. Houston was staying at the historic Hollywood hotel so that she could attend a pre-Grammy party on Saturday, February 11.
The bash was being held at the hotel by Clive Davis, the record label executive who’d first discovered Houston decades earlier. In fact, it was at that very event some 30 years prior that Davis had first introduced Houston to the industry. On that fateful day in 2012, Houston spoke to both her cousin and mother on the phone, but neither noticed anything amiss with the singer.
At some point during the day, Mary Jones – Houston’s assistant – picked out a dress for the star to wear to the evening’s festivities. She then headed to a nearby department store to fetch an alternative ensemble. But when she returned at 3:35 p.m., she found Houston lying face-down in the bath, seemingly lifeless.
Jones quickly hailed Houston’s bodyguard, and together they administered CPR on Houston. But they were too late: by 4:00 p.m. the singer was pronounced dead. The hallway leading up to her room turned into a crime scene, cordoned off by police tape. And as the coroner arrived, Houston’s friends and family began demanding answers.
Among the items left in Houston’s room, police found an open champagne bottle, a bottle of beer and plates of food. Additionally, according to the coroner’s report, a “white, crystal-like substance” was discovered on the bathroom counter, along with a spoon. Nevertheless, the true cause of Houston’s death wasn’t immediately apparent.
For weeks Houston’s friends, family and fans had nothing to go on. Eventually, the initial coroner’s report attributed the 48-year-old’s death to accidental drowning. However, it also clarified that there were additional contributing factors to her demise, including the “effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.” Finally, the report stated that there were no signs of foul play or trauma.
Apparently, Houston had taken cocaine just moments before her death. Moreover, her condition suggested that she’d been abusing the substance for some time. The coroner’s toxicology report also discovered other drugs in Houston’s body, including a muscle relaxant, allergy medicine, an anti-anxiety drug and marijuana. However, none of these were said to have contributed to the singer’s death.
The pre-Grammy party arranged downstairs went ahead as planned, only now staged as a tribute to the late singer. “I am personally devastated by the loss of someone who has meant so much to me for so many years,” Davis said on the night. “Whitney was so full of life. She was so looking forward to tonight even though she wasn’t scheduled to perform… Simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family asked that we carry on.”
Even with the apparent blessing of her family, though, some celebrities still disagreed with the decision to hold the party. For instance, Chaka Khan told CNN two days later, “I thought that was complete insanity. And knowing Whitney I don’t believe that she would have said ‘the show must go on.’ She’s the kind of woman that would’ve said ‘Stop everything! Un-unh. I’m not going to be there.’”
As news of Houston’s death spread, tributes quickly poured in from other titans of the music industry. Dolly Parton – who originally wrote Houston’s hit song “I Will Always Love You” – wrote on her website, “Mine is only one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston. I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song, and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, ‘Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.’”
Houston’s ex-husband Brown was reportedly “in and out of crying fits” at the news of her death. And when he performed on stage just hours afterwards, he was seen blowing kisses into the sky for his ex-wife. Their daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, meanwhile, was admitted to hospital after she became overwhelmed by stress and emotion. Tragically, she would later lose her life in similar circumstances, aged just 22.
A week after Houston’s death, a memorial service was held at New Jersey’s New Hope Baptist Church. The singer’s mother and daughter both attended the private service, along with music industry veterans including Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder. While the funeral was only scheduled to last for two hours, it ended up running twice that length, and featured musical tributes from Wonder, Keys and R. Kelly.
Several prominent figures in Houston’s life also eulogized the singer at her funeral, including her producer, director, cousin and security guard. Her ex-husband Brown was invited, but he left soon after the service commenced. Houston was then buried next to her father at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey, in another private service the following day.
Houston’s story is already heartbreaking, but knowing her final words may lend even more tragedy to her death. It’s clear that religion played a huge role in Houston’s life. And just days before she passed away, she was apparently having earnest conversations with her family about Christianity and the afterlife. These conversations then led to the star’s supposedly final words on the morning of her death, “You know, he’s so cool. I really want to see that Jesus.”
In fact, Houston had apparently been proselytizing about her religion for some time. In May 2012 the singer’s hairdresser, Tiffanie Dixon, recalled to Vanity Fair, “The last thing I remember her saying was ‘I just want to love and be loved. I want to love like Jesus did. Unconditionally.’” The duo were out at a nightclub, accompanied by American rapper Ray J, who was rumored to be dating Houston at the time.
However, when the paparazzi spotted Houston at the nightclub, the singer made a hasty exit – with her two companions in tow. Together, they headed back to Houston’s hotel room, where they proceeded to read the Bible. “Her glasses were broken, but she read by holding the little single lens,” Dixon remembered. “She had marked pages – Exodus, Mark, and Matthew.”
Given how much Houston had been talking about religion in the days leading up to her death, it’s perhaps not surprising that her last words were seemingly so weighty. She isn’t the only musician to have departed this life on a profound thought, though. Kurt Cobain’s famous last words before committing suicide, for instance, ring equally reflective. “I don’t have the passion any more, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” the Nirvana frontman wrote in his final letter. “Peace, love, empathy.”
Much like Cobain, who committed suicide at just 27 years old, Houston’s life was cut short. But the pair had something else in common, too: their impact on the wider music industry. Indeed, both musicians’ legacies are hugely influential to this day. Houston’s impressive mezzo-soprano voice, extraordinary live performances and memorable songs have cemented her as one of the all-time greats.
It wasn’t just after her death that Houston’s legacy became apparent, though. In fact, her influence on music culture could be felt in the earliest stages of her career. Back in the 1980s, MTV faced criticism for largely ignoring black artists. And while Michael Jackson helped pave the way for black male performers, it was Houston who led the charge for their female counterparts.
That’s because Houston’s video for “How Will I Know” became the first by a black female artist to receive regular playtime on MTV. And in doing so, it charted a course for others, including Janet Jackson, to break on to the scene. Singer-songwriter Anita Baker also credited her success to Houston, telling the L.A. Times in 1987, “For radio stations, black woman singers aren’t taboo anymore.”
In addition to rewriting social norms, Houston’s enviable vocal chords have had an enormous influence on the sound of modern music. Writing for The Independent in 2012, music critic Andy Gill enthused, “Whitney, more than any other single artist – Michael Jackson included – effectively mapped out the course of modern R&B, setting the bar for standards of soul vocalese, and creating the original template for what we now routinely refer to as the ‘soul diva.’”
Even at the height of her career, critics seemed cognizant of Houston’s influential star power. In 1994 New York Times journalist Jon Pareles described her voice as “a technical marvel, from its velvety depths to its ballistic middle register to its ringing and airy heights.” And in 2008 Rolling Stone magazine ranked Houston among its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time, describing her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” as a “tour de force.”
Houston has also been recognized for her use of the melismatic vocal technique, which involves drawing a single syllable out across multiple notes. Indeed, the BBC’s Lauren Everitt cited Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” as single-handedly popularizing melisma. “Other artists may have used it before Houston, but it was her rendition of Dolly Parton’s love song that pushed the technique into the mainstream in the ‘90s,” she wrote in 2012.
In the years since that record-breaking single hit the charts, multiple artists have followed Houston’s template. Yes, the likes of Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé all boast melisma in their stable of vocal techniques. But they’re not the only famous names Houston has inspired over the years. In fact, the celebrated singer has been credited by a huge number of world-famous superstars.
For instance, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Celine Dion and Britney Spears have all acknowledged Houston’s remarkable career as influencing their own work. And in 2005 Mariah Carey told USA TODAY, “We’ve all been influenced by other people. None of us would sound the same if Aretha Franklin hadn’t ever put out a record, or Whitney Houston hadn’t.”
As well as influencing generations of female singers, Houston was widely celebrated in her own life. Indeed, Guinness World Records at one point labeled her the most awarded female artist of all time. That’s perhaps not too surprising, though, given Houston won more than 400 awards over the course of her career. Among her gongs were six Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards and 30 Billboard Music Awards.
Houston also broke records at several individual awards ceremonies in the 1990s, including the Billboard Music Awards and the World Music Awards. Her 22 American Music Awards, meanwhile, were the most given to any female solo artist until Taylor Swift. And in January 2020 Houston was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Nobody could deny that Whitney Houston achieved incredible success during her career, and she left behind an absolutely iconic legacy after her passing. Her death, then, was a tragic loss for both the music industry and her millions of fans. But her final words offer a bleak insight into the singer’s mental state just hours before her death. And in doing so, they paint an even more heartbreaking picture of a woman nearing the end of her short life.