How Did Whitney Houston Die? She Was Found With ‘Water in Her Lungs’ Hours Before She Was Set to Perform

Since her death more than a decade ago, fans have had one question: How did Whitney Houston die? Her cause of death has been reported as a drowning, but how and why she drowned is still unknown to officials.

Houston, whose full name was Whitney Elizabeth Houston, was born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey. Nicknamed “The Voice,” Houston signed to her first record label at 19 years old with Arista Records chairman Clive Davis, who would later become her mentor and close friend. Her first two albums, 1985’s Whitney Houston and 1987’s Whitney, both reached number one on the Billboard 200 and are among the best-selling albums of all time. After her debut, Houston went on to become one of the best-selling music artists of all times, with more than 200 million records sold worldwide. She holds the record as the only music artist in history to have seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, from 1985’s “Saving All My Love For You” to 1988’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” She has two Emmys, six Grammys and 28 Guinness World Records.

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‘Remembering Whitney’ by Cissy Houston

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Houston made her major blockbuster debut in the 1992 movie, The Bodyguard, which led Houston to a Grammy for Record of the Year for the song “I Will Always Love You” from the movie’s soundtrack. The song holds the record for the best-selling physical single by a woman in music history. Houston also went on to produce movies like 1997’s Cinderella, in which she played the Fairy Godmother. After almost 40 years in the music industry, Houston died on February 11, 2012. She was 48 years old.

So how did Whitney Houston die and what was her cause of death? Read on for what we know about how Whitney Houston died and what caused her death and lead Hollywood to lose a legend.

How did Whitney Houston die?

How did Whitney Houston die? Houston died on February 11, 2012, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. She was 48 years old. Her publicist, Kristin Foster, confirmed her death, which occurred hours before she was due to perform at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “I can confirm that Whitney Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. We received a call at 3:43 p.m. from hotel security and Beverly Hills fire and police responded minutes later,” Beverly Hills Police Lieutenant Mark Rosen said in a statement to People at the time. “Someone in her entourage found her unresponsive in her room … It’s unclear who notified hotel staff because she has quite an entourage here at the hotel. We attempted to resuscitate her, to no avail.” When asked if there was any evidence of drugs or foul play, Rosen told People at the time, “At this time, there’s no obvious evidence of foul play or cause of death.”

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In an interview with My9 after her daughter’s death, Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, opened up about what it was like to lose her child. “I know I did the best I could. … I don’t blame myself,” Cissy “I know I did the best I could for everything.” “I’m very proud of my daughter.” She continued, “She accomplished a whole lot in the short time that she had here … she was a very wonderful person.” When asked at the time about how she was dealing with the grief of her daughter’s death, Cissy told My9, “I have my moments … I’m not there yet … I don’t think I’m any more courageous than anyone else.” Cissy also denied a rumor at the time that Whitney had no money at the time of her death. “Whitney did not die broke … she’s not broke. None of that crap,” she said.

What was Whitney Houston’s cause of death?

What was Whitney Houston’s cause of death? Houston’s cause of death was an accidental drowning, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed on March 22, 2012. The coroner’s office also reported that Houston had cocaine, marijuana, Xanax, Benadryl and other medications in her system at the time of her death. The investigation found that heart disease and cocaine use were contributing factors for her death.

“There was water found in her lungs that indicated to us that she was alive when she was submerged underwater,” coroner chief Craig Harvey told People at the time. “According to our tests, the level of cocaine was not necessarily a lethal level of cocaine. But her death was complicated by chronic cocaine use and heart disease.” Coroner assistant chief Ed Winter also told People that Houston’s death came down to two scenarios. “She could’ve passed out first due to the intoxication from the cocaine, or she could’ve had a heart attack and then drowned,” he said. “It’s probably one of those two scenarios.” Coroner officials also confirmed that prescription pill bottles were found in Houston’s room, but the number of pills were “not in alarming amounts.”

A source told People at the time that Houston seemed “out of it” three days before her death at the Beverly Hilton. “She seemed like she was on something,” the insider said. The Los Angeles Times also reported that Houston “appeared disheveled in mismatched clothes,” with wet and sweaty hair, the next day for rehearsals for Clive Davis’ pre-Grammys party. “The singer smelled of alcohol and cigarettes,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, adding Houston “displayed erratic behavior” by “flailing her hands” while speaking to singers Brandy and Monica before “wandering aimlessly” around the lobby.

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A source also told People that Houston was “twitching her nose constantly” and ranting to Monica about what she was supposed to wear to Davis’ party. “I don’t wear no blue,” she said, according to People’s source. “I don’t want no goddamn blue.” The magazine also reported that, another pre-Grammys event at TRU Hollywood, Houston’s vocals sounded shaky as she sang a duet with Kelly Price. The Hollywood Reporter also reported at the time that Houston “got belligerent” with singer Stacy Francis after not recognizing her.

Before her death, Houston had been open about her struggles with drug abuse. In her 2019 memoir, A Song For You: My Life with Whitney Houston, Houston’s best friend, Robyn Crawford, revealed that Houston told her that the first time she had cocaine was when she was 14 years old. “Whitney told me she was 14 when she first tried it,” Crawford wrote. “Whitney would often say ‘Cocaine can’t go where we’re going.’ [But] we weren’t ready to give it up quite yet.” She continued, “I’d say, ‘Nip we’re here already. And it’s [cocaine] still here. It shouldn’t be.’ And she’d say ‘I know, I’m going to stop.’” Crawford added, “She admired that I could stop. She said, ‘I’m going to stop but I’m just not ready yet.’”

In her 2013 biography, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped, Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, opened up about when she learned of her daughter’s drug abuse struggles. “She started partying and she didn’t really know how to stop,” Cissy wrote. “I used to wonder what she was doing at night, where she was.” She continued, “Whitney hid from me.” Cissy recalled her shock at seeing how thin Houston was at a Michael Jackson tribute concert in 2001, though she didn’t express her concern to her daughter at the time. “What was the point?” she wrote. “I didn’t want her to run completely away from me.” Cissy also didn’t blame Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, for her daughter’s drug abuse struggles. “I blame him for the way he treated her,” she wrote. “But I don’t blame him for her drug problems.” Still, she added, “He was no help to her at all.”

Where was Whitney Houston buried?

Where was Whitney Houston buried? Houston was buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey, on February 19, 2012. She was buried alongside her father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003. People reported at the time that fans lined the streets around the entrance of Fairview Cemetery and threw rose petals while screaming “We love you, Whitney!” as a gold hearse carrying Houston’s body arrived to her final resting place. The hearse was escorted by police motorcycles, three gold limos, a large black SUV, three black limos and five cars. Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, who died on July 26, 2015, was buried next to her mother at the same cemetery a month on August 3, 2015. Bobbi, who was 22 years old at the time of her death, was Houston’s daughter and only child from her marriage to ex-husband, Bobby Brown, whom she divorced in 2007.

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Houston was buried a day after her funeral at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where she performed as a child in the choir. Houston’s funeral was attended by celebrities like director Tyler Perry, her cousin Dionne Warwick, her Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner, singers Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder, and music mogul and Houston’s longtime mentor, Clive Davis. “A lot of leading men could have played my part, a lot of guys could have filled that role, but you Whitney, I truly believe are the only one who could have played Rachel Marron,” Costner said at Houston’s funeral. “You weren’t just pretty, you were as beautiful as a woman could be. People didn’t just like you, they loved you.”

Pastor Marvin Winans, Houston’s family friend delivered her eulogy, bringing up members of their family to the altar for a performance of their gospel song “Tomorrow.” “ The four-hour service concluded with a recording of Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as her casket was carried out of the church.

Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped by Cissy Houston

‘Remembering Whitney’ by Cissy Houston

Price: $15

Buy On Amazon

For more about Whitney Houston, read her mother Cissy Houston’s biography, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped. The New York Times bestseller—which includes a foreword by her collaborator and cousin Dionne Warwick—takes readers through Whitney’s “astonishing life, ground-breaking career and tragic death” told from the “only one who truly knows” her story: her mother. The book, which includes never-before-seen photographs of Whitney throughout her life, also sees Cissy open up for the first time about her daughter’s death, as well as Whitney’s darkest moments, from her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown to her misunderstood struggles with drug abuse. “Cissy goes behind the tabloid headlines to show fans around the world the true, human side of a strong, successful—yet flawed—musical icon who died much too young,” the publisher’s description reads.

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