From church-choir soloist to teen model to international superstar — EW revisits the highs and lows of an incredible, indelible life


Cover Girl (1981)
In her teens, Houston appeared in a ginger ale commercial and found consistent work as a print model, appearing in such magazines as Cosmopolitan and Glamour. In November 1981, she became one of the first African-Americans to grace the cover of Seventeen.

All in the Family (1982)
Born in Newark to John and Cissy (née Emily) Houston, Whitney was already following in her gospel-singer mother’s footsteps by age 11, bringing the house down with her solos at New Hope Baptist Church. That talent was in the genes: Cissy sang backup for the likes of Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin (who became Whitney’s godmother), as well as her cousin Dionne Warwick.

Hanging With Clive
After hearing her sing at a nightclub, legendary record executive Clive Davis signed Houston to her first recording deal in 1983, when she was 19 years old. She often referred to Davis as her ”industry father,” and the two remained close both personally and professionally until her death.

First Prize (1986)
Houston took home an award for best female pop vocal performance for ”Saving All My Love for You,” which she performed that night at the ceremony. Throughout her career, Houston was nominated for a total of 26 Grammys and won six.

A Pop Star Is Born (1987)
Her eponymous 1985 debut kicked off an unprecedented run of seven consecutive No. 1 singles that carried through to its smash 1987 follow-up, Whitney.

Super Bowl XXV (1991)
Houston’s powerful rendition of ”The Star-Spangled Banner” at the annual sports event led to her hosting the widely watched HBO special Welcome Home Heroes With Whitney Houston — the pay-cable network agreed to unscramble its signal for the duration of the broadcast — in honor of troops returning home from the Gulf War.

Marriage to Bobby Brown (1992)
The squeaky-clean songstress met the New Edition member-turned-bawdy solo star at the Soul Train Awards in 1989, and the pair married on July 18, 1992. ”Everybody says, ‘How can this be a real relationship?”’ Houston told EW the following year. ”’He’s the bad boy of the business, and she’s the good girl.’ First of all, I would not marry anybody that pleased me just a little bit, or that satisfied just one need.”

The Bodyguard (1992)
Houston’s first film — she starred as a celebrity who falls in love with her hired protector (Kevin Costner) — grossed over $400 million worldwide and spawned a 17-times-platinum soundtrack.

Bobbi Kristina (1993)
Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown was born on March 4, 1993, just as ”I Will Always Love You” was ending its 14-week extended reign at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Whitney’s only child tasted the limelight early: Houston brought her daughter on stage during her Bodyguard world tour when she was just a few months old.

With Nelson Mandela (1994)
Among other social causes, Houston was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. She performed for Nelson Mandela’s 70th-birthday concert in London in 1988 while he was still a political prisoner, and embraced him in Johannesburg in 1994.

Her Final Grammy (2000)
Whitney won the last of her six career Grammy awards for ”It’s Not Right but It’s Okay.” That night also saw Houston’s final Grammy performance, which featured that song plus the Diane Warren-penned ballad ”I Learned From the Best.”

Trouble on Stage (2001)
Photos of a startlingly thin Houston at a New York City concert honoring Michael Jackson shocked many who saw them; she blamed ”stress.”

Diane Sawyer Interview (2002)
With an album to promote (2002’s Just Whitney) and rumors of personal troubles regularly sneaking into the tabloids, Houston sat down with Diane Sawyer to clear the air. In a notorious moment, the singer refuted the idea that she smoked crack cocaine with the infamous dismissal ”Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. Okay? We don’t do crack…. Crack is wack.”

Being the Browns (2004)
The troubled star made a discomfiting shift from revered pop icon to catchphrase-spouting foil on her husband’s Bravo reality series, Being Bobby Brown, which aired in 2005. It presented an erratic Houston who seemed unwell and unhappy. Mercifully, the show lasted only one season.

I Look to You (2009)
Longtime mentor Clive Davis heralded Houston’s return to pop music at a lavish listening party. I Look to You didn’t have quite the same radio clout as her previous releases, but it still sold more than 300,000 copies its first week out — a solid No. 1.

Whitney Visits Oprah (2009)
To celebrate and promote what would be her final album, Houston had an in-depth conversation with Oprah Winfrey about her music, her volatile marriage to Bobby Brown (whom she divorced in 2007), and her struggles with narcotics — including rock cocaine.

Her Last Days (2012)
At the time of her passing, Houston — pictured here with daughter Bobbi Kristina two days before her death — was preparing for yet another career resurgence: She had recently wrapped a costarring role in the big-screen remake of Sparkle.