A legendary life cut short. Whitney Houston‘s vocals were so powerful that producer Clive Davis famously called her “The Voice” — and her fellow singers agreed she more than deserved the title.
“Whitney wasn’t just a singer with a beautiful voice. She was a true musician,” Faith Evans — who collaborated with Houston on the 1998 track “Heartbreak Hotel” — told Vibe in January 2015. “Her voice was an instrument and she knew how to use it. Whitney mastered the use of her voice. From every run to every crescendo she was in tune with what she could do with her voice, and it’s not something simple for a singer — even a very talented one — to achieve.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, the “How Will I Know” songstress began singing in her church choir when she was just 5 years old. Her mother, Cissy Houston, helped her with vocal training, and by the time she was a teenager, Whitney was singing backup for Cissy — a successful gospel artist — and other musicians.
The Bodyguard actress grew up surrounded by music thanks to her mother, cousin Dionne Warwick, godmother Darlene Love and close family friend Aretha Franklin. At age 19, Whitney signed her first record contract after blowing Davis away with her performance. She went on to become one of the bestselling artists of all time, releasing seven studio albums over the course of her career. The 1992 soundtrack for The Bodyguard, featuring six songs performed by Whitney, remains the bestselling soundtrack album of all time.
As the Grammy winner racked up accolades in her professional life, however, her personal life was often marked by periods of turmoil. Her tumultuous marriage to fellow singer Bobby Brown made headlines over the years, as did her struggles with drug abuse.
During a 2009 comeback, Whitney said her romance with the New Edition member was one of the reasons for her addiction battles. “He was my drug,” she said in a tell-all interview. “I didn’t do anything without him. I wasn’t getting high by myself. It was me and him together, and we were partners, and that’s what my high was —him. He and I being together, and whatever we did, we did it together. No matter what, we did it together.”
The couple, who shared daughter Bobbi Kristina, split in 2006. Before Whitney’s 2012 death, she seemed to be in the midst of another comeback, producing and starring in the film Sparkle alongside Jordin Sparks and Mike Epps.
Six months before the movie was released, though, Whitney died at age 48 after reuniting with Davis at rehearsals for his famous pre-Grammy Awards party. One day later, Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to the late singer with a performance of “I Will Always Love You.”
Eight years later, Alicia Keys inducted Whitney into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Cissy accepting the honor on her daughter’s behalf. “Whitney Houston is one of one,” the “No One” singer told the crowd. “There is no one like her and there never will be.”
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Keep scrolling for a look back at Houston’s biggest ups and downs over the years: