Whitney Houston

Craig Sjodin/ABC

"I'm back home," Whitney Houston said. "I'm back home where I belong."

For the superstar entertainer, home was the spotlight. 

It's where she tamed the national anthem, reeled off more consecutive No. 1 songs than the Beatles, conquered Hollywood—and died.

Born Aug. 9, 1963, the daughter of Elvis Presley backup singer Cissy Houston, and niece of pop great Dionne Warwick was a model musical prodigy, who literally worked as a model before being signed to a label at age 19 by mogul Clive Davis.

Davis famously didn't rush Houston. He spent time and money on her self-titled debut album.

Whitney Houston, released in 1985, was a mega-million-selling success. Though sometimes pooh-poohed by critics as too slick, or by R&B fans, as Houston would put it,  as "not black enough," the young singer connected with audiences of all backgrounds, an accomplishment of its own in the still mostly segregated music world of the 1980s.

Houston's biggest fans seemed to hail from the ranks of aspiring singers, including the future stars Brandy, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson.

Beginning with "Saving All My Love for You," her first No. 1 hit, Houston made the ballad her own with a sound that was over-the-top without ever being out of control She blew off the roof, and opened the door for Mariah Carey, Céline Dion and more to do the same.

Houston's next six singles, "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love of All," from Whitney Houston, and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," from 1987's Whitney, all went No. 1, too. Put together, the string of seven top-selling singles was a new and still-unmatched record that topped a mark shared by the Beatles .

The spotlight only got wider and brighter. Her 1988 Summer Olympics anthem, "One Moment in Time," was as big as the games themselves. Her 1991 Super Bowl rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" was every bit the match of the F-16 fighter jets that roared over the stadium. The big screen itself inevitably followed.

Her debut in The Bodyguard, opposite Kevin Costner, was a box-office success; its soundtrack was a smash that spawned "I Will Always Love You." Dolly Parton wrote it; Houston sang the hell out of it. 

As 1992 could have told you, the song was the biggest, loudest hit of Houston's career. As 1992 couldn't have known, it was the second-to-last No. 1 song of Houston's career.   

After The Bodyguard, Houston made three more movies: Waiting to Exhale, another hit, The Preacher's Wife, a misfire with Denzel Washington, and then nothing for another 15 years, until she went before the cameras last year for the as-yet-unreleased remake of Sparkle, with American Idol alum Sparks.

What happened after 1996, when The Preacher's Wife was released, was well-documented: The career, not the spotlight, went on the blink.

Once where she was accused of being a diva, Houston, from the late 1990s on, was accused of being something else.

MORE: Bobby Brown: "I Will Always Love You, Whitney"

"No, I'm not a drug addict," Houston said in 1998, "and neither is my husband."

Houston married singer Bobby Brown in 1992, at the height of her career, and, as it turned out, the beginning of the end of his own hit-making career.

"I think I was bored," Brown said last year. "I had just gotten married and things weren't right. Unfortunately, I turned to alcohol and drugs."

Together, the couple, who would divorce in 2007, had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, a reality-TV show, 2005's regrettable Being Bobby Brown, and a whole lot of trouble, mostly involving his arrests, but also her behavior: the 2000 Academy Awards performance she begged off due to a sore throat, the 2001 appearance at a Michael Jackson anniversary concert that sparked rumors of her death by overdose; and on and on and on.

The repeated comebacks and numerous false starts that mark so many too-short music lives from Elvis to Judy Garland to Amy Winehouse became Houston's pattern, too.

But if no one had a bigger voice than Houston, than no one made a bigger exit, either.

On the eve of music's biggest night, on the eve of the Grammys, with seemingly every singer she ever inspired, including Hudson, who will perform a tribute to her idol at Sunday's show, on hand, Houston died. Offstage, perhaps, but in the spotlight. As always.

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