Authorities: Houston was underwater in tub

Feb 14, 2012, 2:43 AM

AP Entertainment Writer

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) – Whitney Houston was underwater and apparently unconscious when she was pulled from a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub, and she had prescription drugs in her room, authorities said Monday.

Two days after her death, Houston’s body was taken to a small, Los Angeles-area airport to be flown to New Jersey, where her family was making arrangements for a funeral at the end of the week.

An autopsy was done Sunday, and authorities said there were no indications of foul play and no obvious signs of trauma on Houston’s body. It could be weeks, however, before the coroner’s office completes toxicology tests to establish her cause of death.

The 48-year-old singer had struggled for years with cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her behavior had become erratic.

Houston was found Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel by a member of her staff about 3:30 p.m., just hours before she was supposed to appear at a pre-Grammy Awards gala, police Lt. Mark Rosen said.

She was pulled from the tub by members of her staff, and hotel security was promptly notified, Rosen said. She was pronounced dead about a half-hour later.

“As of right now, it’s not a criminal investigation,” Rosen said, refusing to release further details. “We have concluded our portion of the investigation at the hotel.”

Los Angeles County coroner’s assistant chief Ed Winter said there were bottles of prescription medicine in the room. He would not give details except to say: “There weren’t a lot of prescription bottles. You probably have just as many prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet.”

The coroner’s office released the body to the family Monday morning. Later, a police convoy accompanied two vehicles into a Van Nuys Airport hangar, and a private, twin-engine jet rolled out of the hangar and took off shortly after 3 p.m. PST.

Two people who spoke with Houston’s family said the singer would be taken to New Jersey.

The two, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak for the family, said Houston’s relatives raised the possibility of a wake Thursday and a funeral Friday at Newark’s Prudential Center, an arena that can seat about 18,000 people.

Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange. She began singing as a child at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program for many years.

The White House said President Barack Obama’s thoughts and prayers were with Houston’s family, especially her daughter. Press secretary Jay Carney paid tribute to the singer’s “immense talent” and called it a tragedy to lose somebody so gifted at such a young age.

Houston’s death is a sad rewind of what befell Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. It took three months for a London coroner to rule that Winehouse drank herself to death last July. A powerful anesthetic was quickly linked to Jackson’s June 2009 death. Three months ago, Jackson’s doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Houston’s death tinged the Grammy ceremonies with sadness. It also probably boosted viewership, which was 50 percent higher than last year, with nearly 40 million viewers tuning in to the program on CBS.

A sensation from her first album, Houston was one of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, turning out such hits as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “How Will I Know,” “The Greatest Love of All” and “I Will Always Love You.” But as she struggled with drugs, her majestic voice became raspy, and she couldn’t hit the high notes.

Mourners left flowers, balloons and candles at the wrought-iron fence around the tall brick Newark church where she got her start. It sits near an abandoned housing project and the train line leading to New York City.

“She was an inspiration to everybody,” said Gregory Hanks, an actor who grew up in the neighborhood and who dropped off a bouquet. He saw Houston perform in New Jersey years ago.

“I grew up listening to her as a little boy, and to hear her sing, you knew she was special,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Chris Hawley in New York and Beth DeFalco and Dave Porter in Newark, N.J., contributed to this story.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Authorities: Houston was underwater in tub