Whitney Houston death: 'too early' to confirm drug link
Los Angeles County coroner's officials said Monday they have not established a link between prescription drugs and the death of Whitney Houston, adding such a determination could only come after toxicology tests are completed.
"The investigation is ongoing," said coroner's spokesman Ed Winter at a news conference. "It's too early to tell."
The results of an autopsy performed Sunday were inconclusive, according to Winter, who denied reports that the coroner's office had told Houston's family that it had determined a cause of death.
"We don't know yet," he said.
Houston was found in the bathtub of her suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and officials said they are trying to determine whether she drowned.
A member of Houston's entourage found her unresponsive Saturday afternoon and called authorities. Beverly Hills Fire Department paramedics performed CPR for about 20 minutes before declaring her dead, officials said.
People who were briefed on the probe Sunday said drowning was one of several scenarios that investigators are exploring. The sources stressed that investigators still have many unanswered questions, particularly about what Houston was doing in the hours before her death. Investigators are also interviewing family members and friends to determine whether Houston had any underlying medical conditions, said the sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information about the case.
One person with knowledge of the case said that although Houston was found in the bathtub, officials were still unsure whether she died of natural causes or was in some other way stricken.
Winter said Sunday that officials hope the toxicology tests will yield more clues. Beverly Hills police put a security hold on the case, so no more details were revealed.
"We won't make that final determination until all the tests are in." Winter said.
Houston struggled with drug and alcohol problems for years, and last May her spokeswoman said the singer was going back into rehab.
She was in Beverly Hills for music industry titan Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton. During the preceding days, she made several public appearances. At times, she was said to have been acting strangely, skipping around a ballroom and doing handstands near the hotel pool. Houston reportedly greeted people with a warm smile but at times appeared disheveled in mismatched clothes and with her hair dripping wet.
On Thursday, she dropped by the rehearsals for the pre-Grammys party. A Grammy staffer said that as reporters interviewed Davis and singers Brandy and Monica, Houston was dancing just off camera to make them laugh. Grammy personnel expressed concern that she'd be caught on camera and that reporters would write about her behavior.
On Sunday morning, a bleary-eyed Ray J was briefly inside the lobby of the Beverly Hilton with three companions. The music star, who reportedly had been dating Houston off and on, had his hood up and was being consoled.
"Whitney dead," he repeated multiple times, as one friend grabbed him by the shoulders. "Whitney dead. We all gotta live with that."
A little later, he left the hotel in the passenger seat of a red Ferrari.
The hotel has been besieged by fans who assembled a makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and notes for Houston.
"Bittersweet memories that is all we will take with us," read one note. "We will always LOVE you."
One woman who drove by, turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard from Wilshire Boulevard, asked a reporter on the street corner to add a bouquet to the mix. Another woman snapped a photo with her iPhone on the way to a bus stop.
Worshipers at the First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles held a special moment of silence in honor of Houston at their 10 a.m. service on Sunday. Their pastor, John J. Hunter, described Houston as "one of the most dynamic voices of our time," according to an announcement on the church website. "We are all deeply saddened by her passing, and our hearts go out to her family," he said.
Houston’s teenage daughter was taken by paramedics from the Beverly Hilton to a nearby hospital Sunday morning. She has since been released.
-- Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi in Beverly Hills and Ari Bloomekatz in Los Angeles
Photo: Whitney Houston arriving at last year's pre-Grammys gala put on by Clive Davis. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times