Whitney Houston death investigation expected to take weeks
Toxicology tests that could help show how Whitney Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills are expected to take weeks to complete.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office performed an autopsy Sunday, but no official cause of death has been determined. Houston was found in the bathtub of her suite at the Beverly Hilton hotel, and officials are trying to determine whether she drowned.
A member of Houston's entourage found her unresponsive Saturday afternoon in her suite at the hotel and called authorities. Beverly Hills Fire Department paramedics performed CPR for about 20 minutes before declaring her dead.
Sources who were briefed on the probe Sunday said drowning is one of several scenarios 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 the case was ongoing.
One source with knowledge of the case said that although Houston was found in the bathtub, officials are still unsure if she died of natural causes or was in some other way stricken.
[Updated at 5 p.m.: At a press conference, a coroner's spokesman said the autopsy was complete but a cause of death was still pending. The Beverly Hills police put a security hold on the case, so no more details were revealed.]
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. Over the previous few days, she had made several public appearances. At times, she was said to have been acting strangely, skipping around a ballroom and reportedly doing handstands near the hotel pool. Houston 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 event, where the news media -- including a Times reporter -- were in attendance. 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.
Beverly Hills police, who are investigating the case in conjunction with the coroner's office, said Saturday night it was far too early to determine whether drugs or alcohol played any role in Houston's death.
Beverly Hills police Lt. Mark Rosen said Houston was at the hotel with a large entourage of family, friends and co-workers, some of whom helped identify her body after she was declared dead.
On Sunday morning, a bleary-eyed music star Ray J was briefly inside the lobby of the Beverly Hilton with three companions.
Ray J, 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 drove by, turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard from Wilshire Boulevard, asking 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 the bus stop.
“Oh, there's my bus, I'm always late,” she said, running to the stop. “Just hope I'm not late to heaven.”
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. 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.
Meanwhile, Whitney Houston’s teenage daughter was taken by paramedics from the Beverly Hilton to a nearby hospital Sunday morning. She was reportedly released in the afternoon.
--Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi in Beverly Hills
Photo: Recording artist Whitney Houston performs at the 2004 World Music Awards in Las Vegas. Credit: Eric Jamison / Associated Press