NEW: Paul Shaffer: "Here is music's happiest night combined with such a sad note"
Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy party takes place at the same hotel Houston was found
Houston was scheduled to attend the party
A tribute is expected at Sunday night's Grammy Awards
Share your thoughts about the passing of musical superstar Whitney Houston.
Two loud booms jolted awake the music industry executive in her fifth-floor room of the Beverly Hilton hotel.
The time was 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The thuds seemed to be coming from the room below. The voice of a man, loud and urgent, followed.
It was only later that she learned the news: Whitney Houston, a guest in the room below hers, had died.
Cause of death: Unclear.
Time pronounced: 3:55 p.m., February 11, 2012.
Age: A mere 48.
The shock and grief from fans worldwide was immediate: Houston’s pipes and presence, her grit and glamour had made her an icon.
For a decade and a half, she ruled the charts: 170 million albums sold, including seven back-to-back multi-platinum ones.
Numerous No. 1 hits, including the biggest-selling U.S. single of all time, “I Will Always Love You.”
Emmys, Grammys, Billboard Music awards. Dozens of them.
While her luster dimmed in recent years as she battled drug addiction, Houston was in the midst of a comeback. A few shows here and there, mostly abroad, and a movie in the works.
She had appeared healthy and beautiful in recent days, said the music executive – who did not want to be identified because she didn’t want reporters hounding her.
Just days before, the exec had seen Houston swimming in the hotel pool with daughter Bobbi Kristina. They looked happy, she said.
What exactly happened Saturday afternoon now awaits a coroner’s examination.
Police and fire officials were called to Houston’s room at 3:43 p.m., after Houston’s bodyguard found her unconscious body.
Medics tried reviving her, but failed.
There were “no obvious signs of criminal intent,” said Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen.
Medics removed her body from the hotel room early Sunday morning and an autopsy has been scheduled.
But the county coroner’s office could not say when.
“I just can’t talk about it now. It’s so stunning and unbelievable,” said singer Aretha Franklin on hearing the news. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen.”
Saturday night, fans mourned Houston’s death in different ways inside and outside the Beverly Hilton.
Outside, grieving fans laid roses and flickering candles on the front and back entrances of the sprawling complex.
Some sang songs. Others played her music videos on their smartphone.
“Everyone has their own demons, and some overcome them and some never do,” said Tya Conerly, referring to Houston’s history of drug abuse. “Sometimes life gets the best of us.”
Inside the hotel, music industry’s biggest names gathered in elegant attire for an annual pre-Grammy party that had been long planned by Houston’s mentor, Clive Davis.
“I do have a heavy heart, and I am personally devastated by someone so close to me for so many years,” Davis told the gathering of artists and entertainers, that included Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight and Britney Spears.
“My heart goes out to her daughter Bobbi Kristina and her mother, Cissy.”
He then asked for a moment of silence.
“We dedicate this evening to her,” he said.
Houston had been scheduled to attend the festivities. She had performed as late as Thursday night at a pre-Grammy event in the area, a raspy rendition “Jesus Loves Me” with singer Kelly Price.
The organizers of Sunday’s Grammy Awards said they have retooled the show to pay respect to Houston, with the help of singer Jennifer Hudson.