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How Did Whitney Houston Die?

Whitney Houston was one of the greatest female singers of all time. She is talked about in the same revered breath as Aretha Franklin, and the comparison is more than warranted. Her talent was incredible, and the likes of Whitney Houston we are unlikely to see for some time to come.

So, how did Whitney Houston die?

To fully answer this, we have to understand her life, and circumstances leading up to her untimely death at just 48 years old. Let’s get started.

How Did Whitney Houston Die?

Early Life

Whitney Houston was born on August 9th, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey. She was born into a musical family. Her mother, Emily ‘Cissy,’ was a Grammy-winning Gospel singer. And her cousin was none other than Dionne Warwick. No surprise then that she took to singing at an early age. Not only that, she excelled at it.

From just five years old, she began singing in church. At around the same time, she learned to play the piano. This is also where she gained her singing experience. Although, it wasn’t until almost ten years later, at the age of 14, that she got her first opportunity to sing outside of the church.

In 1978, she sang at the Manhattan Town Hall and received a standing ovation for her rendition of the Broadway classic “Tomorrow.” She followed it up by performing as a backup singer on her mother’s album, which included the title track, “Think It Over.” It made it to #5 on the US Billboard Disco chart. 

In the late-70s and early-80s…

Whitney became a regular performer both on her own and with her mother. It was one of her performances with her mother that she was spotted by a photographer and persuaded to become a model.

With the girl-next-door’s charms and looks, she quickly became successful and became one of the only models of color at the time. Whitney became the first African American girl to appear on the front cover of Seventeen magazine. She also went on to appear in Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines. 

Whitney was getting noticed as both a phenomenal singer and a very attractive and personable girl. It was an irresistible package. Consequently, record companies started to knock on her door and offer recording contracts. In 1983, she eventually signed for Arista Records.


Even though she signed to Arista, she did not put out a record. Other than a duet with Teddy Pendergrass called “Hold Me” in 1985. That was because the record company was so convinced of their success. So, they wanted to pick the right songs and producers for Whitney Houston’s debut album to ensure success.

It is a gambit that played off handsomely… 

Her debut album, the self-titled Whitney Houston, was finally released in February of 1985. It went to #1 in the US, Australia, Canada, and Sweden. Also, it only just missed the top spot in the UK, where it got to #2. The album went 14 times platinum in the US and to #1 on the US Billboard charts. 

Additionally, it went four times platinum in the UK and reached #2 in the charts. It also went multi-platinum in most major markets and sold more than 22 million copies worldwide, making it the fourth most successful debut album of all time. 

Her second album, released in 1987, Whitney was not far behind in terms of her debut album. Whitney sold 20 million copies globally and earned her #1 in the US and the UK. 

From these two albums… 

We got a series of Whitney Houston hit songs. These included “How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “So Emotional.” They were all #1 hits in the US, and all earned her one or more platinum discs.

In all, she sold over 200 million records worldwide and became one of the most successful female singers in recording history. The number of hits and awards was frankly staggering. Her reputation in the music world for her vocal ability was almost unsurpassed. She was not called “The Voice” for nothing.

Despite all her achievements…

Whitney will probably most be remembered for her stunning version of “I Will Always Love You.” This was a cover of the original, which was written and released by Dolly Parton in 1982.

Dolly’s original song was written as part of the soundtrack for the movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Parton sang and also acted in the movie starring opposite Burt Reynolds. I am sure that Dolly would have been happy having sold more than a million copies of her song. But I bet she was delighted that Whitney Houston’s cover sold an incredible 20 million copies. 

Her contribution to The Bodyguard soundtrack album, which included the single, and her acting in the movie alongside Kevin Costner, in no small way, contributed to the massive box office success of the movie and album.

The soundtrack album sold almost 45 million copies… 

That made it the third best-selling album of all time. It was only beaten by Michael Jackson’s Thriller and AC/DC’s, Back in Black. Whichever way you look at it, Whitney Houston had the world at her feet. So, what went wrong?

Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and Alcohol

It is unclear when Whitney Houston first started drinking excessively and taking drugs. However, what is known is that she found it hard to deal with being in the spotlight. As a result, drinking and drugs gave her relief from the anxieties associated with fame.

Working in the music industry, she was always surrounded by the temptations of drink and drugs. By the time she was in her mid to late 20s, she was already in the early stages of addiction. Sadly, this would only accelerate following her marriage to Booby Brown.

She married Bobby Brown in 1992, and this guy was trouble. When they got together, he was already into hard living, drug taking, and womanizing. Sadly, despite getting married, nothing changed, and Whitney quickly got sucked into the madness.

Their relationship was violent, chaotic, and unpredictable… 

Whitney’s drug-taking consequently spiraled out of control, presumably, as an escape from the reality of being married to an unfaithful and unstable husband.

Amongst all this turmoil, Whitney got pregnant. She gave birth to Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, her only child, on March 4th, 1993. To any sane person, the birth of a child is about as good a reason as you will ever get to clean up your act. Sadly, Whitney never got the memo and continued to self-destruct.

Family Woes

During her marriage, her family felt helpless to assist. That’s because Whitney was so deeply in the clutch of Bobby Brown and addiction. On the rare occasions they visited her house, the place was a complete mess. It looked like a junkie’s den, which is exactly what it was.

Whitney, by the early 2000s, was frequently unable to help herself. Shamefully, she had to rely on her daughter, not even a teenager, to help her with even the most basic tasks. It is utterly and completely disgraceful that a young girl had to go through this. No doubt, the trauma Bobbi suffered as a youngster contributed to her tragic death, in 2015, at the age of 22 at the hands of a drug overdose.

Whitney finally divorced her husband in 2007. But, her troubles were far from over. She was hooked on alcohol and drugs. And, despite her many efforts, she couldn’t get clean. Whitney entered rehab on several occasions. And, although she managed to get clean, she would quickly relapse.

The Losing Battle

Whitney increasingly struggled to hold her life together. As a result, her public performances also began to suffer. When she appeared on TV, she looked ill. And, when she sang live, she was starting to lose her range and power.  

She had already revealed her drug struggles to the world when she appeared in a heartfelt interview with Oprah in 2009. However, even without the interview, it was clear to even the most unobservant of viewers that she was losing her battle with addiction.

She entered rehab for the last time in May of 2011. Her PR team spun it as part of her ongoing treatment program. But, frankly, they could have saved themselves the bother of trying to convince anyone that this was a fact.

The Final Days

Two days before Whitney Houston’s death, she made her final TV performance with Kelly Price and sang, “Jesus Love Me.” Despite Kelly Price’s insistence that her behavior was perfectly normal, many who saw her in her final days said otherwise.

She acted more erratically than normal when she attended a pre-Grammy award ceremony. Whitney seemed lost, was seen wandering around aimlessly, and was sweating profusely throughout. At one point, she went to the outside pool and was seen to be doing handstands. 

It was also reported that she was argumentative. Plus, there was a clear sign of cuts on her arms and legs which were most likely the result of self-harming. Overall, this was not the look of someone with their life together.

February 11th 2011

February 11th 2011

This was the day that Whitney Houston passed away. In the afternoon, she had a phone conversation with her mother and Dionne Warwick as she prepared for another pre-Grammy party. She was in a hotel room and was preparing to have a bath. 

Once she finished the call, her assistant, Mary Jones, left the room to pick up her dress. Twenty minutes when she returned, she found Whitney face down in the bath. She was unresponsive and had blood coming from her ears.

Jones immediately called 911…

Fortunately, paramedics were already on the premises in preparation for the party. They tried to resuscitate her for 30 minutes but in vain. At 3.55 pm, she was declared dead at the scene. One of the greatest female singers in history was no more.

It was no surprise that the autopsy revealed a cocktail of alcohol, prescription drugs, and cocaine in her system. However, cocaine was the drug found in the greatest quantities. Although cocaine was not the direct cause of Whitney Houston’s death, the coroner attributed the drug to playing a major part in it.

So, what was the official cause of death?

Drowning was the prime cause of death. Although, this is only part of the story. To fully answer the question, “How did Whitney Houston die?” all the events leading up to her drowning have to be considered. 

Whitney died, in part, as a result of being thrust into the limelight at an early age and being unable to deal with it. She died as a result of her poor choice of partners. 

Likewise, she died as a result of the easy availability of drugs throughout her adult life. And she died because there was no one there to catch her and help her when she most needed it. A sad end to a remarkable woman with a remarkable talent.

Interested In How Other Musicians Died?

If so, check out our thoughts on How Did Bob Marley DieHow Did Aaliyah DieHow Did Prince DieHow Did Eazy-E Die, and How Did Mac Miller Die for more information about the deaths of famous musicians.

How Did Whitney Houston Die? – Final Thoughts

It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who continually lived under the gaze of the public and paparazzi. It is easy to say we would handle ourselves differently. But until you are in that crazy world, you never truly know.

Regardless, when considering how Whitney Houston died, her death feels pointless and avoidable. It was a sad end to her life. And, as a fan, I will miss her and her music.

Until next time, enjoy the music.

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