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Singer Whitney Houston dies aged 48

Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop music's queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal image was ruined by erratic behaviour and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died. She was 48.

Beverly Hills police Lieutenant Mark Rosen told reporters outside the Beverly Hilton that Houston was pronounced dead at 3.55pm Los Angeles time in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel.

Her body remained there and Beverly Hills detectives were investigating. "There were no obvious signs of any criminal intent," Mr Rosen said.

Mr Rosen said police received an emergency call from hotel security about Houston at 3.43pm local time. Paramedics who were already at the hotel because of a Grammy party unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the singer, he said.

Houston's end came on the eve of music's biggest night - the Grammy Awards. It is a showcase where she once reigned, and her death was sure to cast a heavy pall on the ceremony which gets under way in the early hours of Monday UK time.

Her long-time mentor Clive Davis was to hold his annual concert and dinner at the hotel where her body was found, and a representative of the show said it would proceed. Producer Jimmy Jam, who had worked with Houston, said he anticipated the evening would become a tribute to her, and he expected there to be one at the Grammys as well.

Houston was supposed to appear at the gala, and Davis had said she might perform: "It's her favourite night of the year ... (so) who knows by the end of the evening," he said.

Houston had been at rehearsals for the show on Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica. Houston reportedly looked dishevelled, was sweating profusely and there was an odour of alcohol and cigarettes. Two days ago, she performed at a pre-Grammy party with singer Kelly Price.

Aretha Franklin, her godmother, also said she was stunned. "I just can't talk about it now," Franklin said in a short statement. "It's so stunning and unbelievable. I couldn't believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen."

At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world's best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were rooted in the church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen. Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale.

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