Clive Davis discovered a young Whitney Houston back in the early ’80s, when the songbird was singing alongside her mother, Cissy Houston, at a New York nightclub.
In 1985, Whitney Houston released her debut self-titled album on Clive Davis’s Arista Records. The effort went on to become the best-selling debut album by a female artist.
Industry tastemakers agreed with fans that Whitney was the new voice of a generation, rewarding her with the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance for “Saving All My Love for You” in 1986.
Whitney always credited her mother, Cissy Houston, center, with being a big part of her success. Music icon Dionne Warwick is a cousin of the Houstons. Here, the three singing legends enjoy good times at an event in 1987.
After the groundbreaking success of her debut album, Houston returned to the charts in 1987 with Whitney. The album shot to No. 1, as did its first single, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” along with other hits
“Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
Following the release of her third chart-topping album, I’m Your Baby Tonight, in November 1990, Houston wowed millions of viewers with a soaring performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991, in Tampa, Florida.
Mouths dropped when squeaky-clean pop princess Whitney began dating R&B bad boy Bobby Brown. After a three-year courtship, the two married in July 1992. A year later, in March 1993, daughter Bobbi Kristina was born.
Houston took her talents to the big screen with 1992’s The Bodyguard. Starring as pop singer Rachel Marron opposite Kevin Costner, who is called to protect her character from a crazed stalker, Houston gave a promising acting debut. Her iconic single from the soundtrack, “I Will Always Love You,” became one of the biggest-selling records of all time.
Houston’s selection as lead character Savannah in the 1995 box-office hit Waiting to Exhale alongside Loretta Devine, Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon, garnered huge buzz. Houston held her own among these top-notch Hollywood actresses.
Landing the lead again in a role that most actresses would kill to have on their résumé, Houston starred opposite Denzel Washington in the holiday comedy The Preacher’s Wife in 1996.
Brandy’s dream of working with her mentor came true in 1997 when she starred as Cinderella alongside Houston, who played the role of the Fairy Godmother in ABC’s Cinderella.
Though they each achieved incredible success as pop divas, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey always shared the love, leaving rival drama out of the picture. Here, the singers perform at the Academy Awards in March 1999.
The rumor mill went into overdrive when Whitney appeared onstage with Usher looking rail-thin at Michael Jackson’s 30th anniversary concert in 2001. But Houston countered the gossip: “I’ve always been thin,” she said.
In a 2002 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer for Primetime Live that made headlines everywhere, Houston touched on her drug use but famously denied ever using crack.
Whitney and Bobby’s trek to Jerusalem was the topic of conversation at water coolers across the nation in 2003. The bizarre outing included Whitney breaking down in tears, being baptized in holy water and meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, in an awkward exchange.
In what was clearly a low moment for Houston, she agreed to let cameras follow her for the 2005 Bravo reality show Being Bobby Brown. Though it was Brown’s vehicle, Houston’s erratic behavior was front and center every week.
In the early ’00s, Brown was in and out of jail and court, yet Whitney remained by his side. But after years of turmoil, she finally had enough: Whitney separated from Bobby in 2006, and in April 2007 their divorce was finalized.
In 2009, the world sat down to watch Whitney Houston give the interview of her life to Oprah Winfrey in a special two-part event kicking off the talk-show host’s 24th season.
Though they maintained they were “just friends,” Whitney and Ray J seemed like more than pals as they were frequently spotted out and about together following her divorce from Brown.
Whitney Houston released her comeback album, I Look to You, on August 31, 2009. It debuted at No. 1, selling 304,000 copies — the biggest first-week sales of her career.
Back on stage with Bobbi Kristina by her side, Houston performed for thousands of adoring fans in New York’s Central Park in a concert for Good Morning America in August 2009. “We love you, Whitney,” fans yelled in between songs.
Clive Davis and Whitney Houston shared the love onstage at the 2011 Pre-GRAMMY Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Houston passed away exactly one year later, just hours before she was set to perform at the same event.
Whitney Houston played Jordin Sparks’ mother in Sparkle, the remake of a 1976 movie that originally starred Lonette McKee and Irene Cara. "Whitney’s very motherly, very nurturing, very sweet. It’s been so much fun being around her,” Sparks told ESSENCE. Remaking Sparkle (scheduled for release in August) was a dream for Houston. Now it may be our last chance to celebrate the late great.
Sparkle would be Houston’s first return to the big screen since her 1996 movie, The Preacher’s Wife. There was also talk that she would do the sequel to Waiting to Exhale.
February 9 marked Whitney Houston’s last official public appearance at The Love of R&B Grammy Party at Tru. Hours later she was spotted at an L.A. club not looking well.