Singer Whitney Houston, right, sings with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown
Singer Whitney Houston, right, sings with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown
Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston

Los Angeles - Pop legend Whitney Houston, who died Saturday, inspired a generation of music fans with her soaring voice, before substance abuse plunged her into a downward spiral.

The 48-year-old Grammy-winner was a huge star in the 1980s and 90s, selling over 170 million albums with worldwide hits including I Will Always Love You,” before her career and personal life went off the rails.

In recent years she has battled to revive her career, after a stormy and much-publicised 15-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown dogged by claims of spousal abuse and drug usage.

“She was a legend. These people don't come around often,” British television host and producer Simon Cowell told CNN television. “No one could sell a song like Whitney.”

She was a trailblazer who proved that a female artist could dominate the pop market, Cowell said.

With a ferociously powerful voice and a dazzling range, Houston achieved stardom as a pop-soul singer known as “the Voice” and the “Queen of Pop” in the 1980s and 1990s.

Her fantastic success - and that of fellow pop icon Michael Jackson - was propelled by a brand new device at the time: the pop music video.

Houston's trove of six Grammy awards included one for record of the year - for a soaring cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, and another for album of the year for The Bodyguard.

She later parlayed her stardom to acting success appearing in hit movies like Waiting to Exhale and The Bodyguard, co-starring Kevin Costner.

Born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, to a musical family that included mother Cissy Houston, a gospel star, and Dionne Warwick, her cousin, she started out as a teen model and then made a dazzling segue to music.

She was “discovered” by veteran producer Clive Davis, who oversaw each of her hit records - she was due to attend his traditional pre-Grammys party on Saturday, when Houston was found dead in her hotel room.

Houston had 11 Billboard number one singles between 1985 and 1995. Her hits included How Will I Know, Saving all My Love for You, and I Will Always Love You, a Dolly Parton cover that Houston made her own megahit.

She famously gave a spectacularly powerful rendition of the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl. Her nicknames included “Nippy” and “The Prom Queen of Soul”.

As a performer, Houston earned a reputation as a regal diva, but not without merit. “She had that voice that could just turn a story, a melody into magical notes,” added Lionel Richie, a contemporary of Houston.

She also was a trailblazing African-American beauty, a teen model who became the first black cover girl on Seventeen magazine.

Houston sold more than 170 million records worldwide but suffered a major career setback after admitting drug use during an abusive relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown.

The couple divorced in 2007, with Houston getting custody of their daughter, Bobbi Kristina.

Her albums include: Whitney Houston (1985), Whitney (1987), I'm Your Baby Tonight (1990), My Love is Your Love (1998), Just Whitney (2002), and One Wish: The Holiday Album (2003).

After several years out of the spotlight, she returned to the recording studio to make her last album, I Look to You, released in 2009.

“I just took a break, which sometimes you have to,” said Houston. “You have to know when to slow that train down and kind of just sit back and relax for a minute.” - Sapa-AFP