- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal image was tarnished by erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, died on the eve of the Grammy Awards she once reigned over. She was 48.

Miss. Houston was pronounced dead Saturday afternoon in her room on the fourth floor of the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills police Lt. Mark Rosen said. “There were no obvious signs of any criminal intent,” he said.

The cause of death was unknown, said Miss Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster.

Miss Houston’s death came on the night before music’s biggest showcase, the Grammys. She was to be remembered Sunday in a tribute by Jennifer Hudson, organizers said. Miss Houston had been at rehearsals for the show Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica, according to a person who was at the event but was not authorized to speak publicly about it. The person said Miss Houston looked disheveled, was sweating profusely, and liquor and cigarettes could be smelled on her breath.

At her peak, Miss Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful and peerless vocals rooted in the black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.

Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.”

She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.

She influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey.

But by the end of her career, Miss Houston became a stunning cautionary tale of the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public appearances. She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her once pristine voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes as she had during her prime.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Miss Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.

During her career and personal highs, Miss Houston was using drugs. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, blamed her rocky marriage to Mr. Brown, which included a charge of domestic abuse against Mr. Brown in 1993. They divorced in 2007.

Miss Houston would go to rehab twice before she would declare herself drug-free to Miss Winfrey in 2009. But in the interim, there were missed concert dates, a stop at an airport due to drugs, and public meltdowns.

It was a tragic fall for a superstar who was one of the top-selling artists in pop music history, with more than 55 million records sold in the United States alone.

Her longtime mentor, Clive Davis, went ahead with his annual concert Saturday at the same hotel where her body was found. He dedicated the evening to her and asked for a moment of silence. Miss Houston was supposed to appear at the gala.

Aretha Franklin, her godmother, said she was stunned.

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