Private funeral planned for Whitney Houston

NEWARK, New Jersey Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:27pm GMT

1 of 24. Thirteen-year-old William James Collier of San Antonio, Texas tosses a lemon as he lies on the ground behind a makeshift memorial to singer Whitney Houston on a corner of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California February 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

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NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A private funeral for pop superstar Whitney Houston will be held on Saturday in her birthplace in Newark, New Jersey, at the same New Jersey church where the R&B vocalist honed her singing skills as a child.

The invitation-only service will be held at the New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston once sang growing up, a family spokeswoman said on Tuesday. The spokeswoman did not rule out the possibility of a separate public memorial service later.

The Houston family thanked fans and friends for their prayers but wished for a private service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham told reporters outside the Whigham Funeral Home where Houston's body was resting on Tuesday. She said there would be "nothing for the public," and added that no wake would be held, only the private funeral service.

"It was the family's decision," Whigham told reporters. "They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell to their daughter, mother."

The body of the beloved singer, one of the biggest stars of her generation, was flown to New Jersey late on Monday from Los Angeles.

Fans lit candles and gathered outside the funeral home to greet a golden hearse carrying Houston that arrived just before midnight on Monday night under tight security.

Her death on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel stunned the music world, her fans and her family. She had been found underwater in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel, according to police. They have declined to speculate on the cause of her death at age 48.

An autopsy was completed on Sunday, and a final death report is pending completion of an official investigation and toxicology reports that may take weeks.

Houston hails from gospel and soul music royalty and many stars are likely to attend the funeral service. She is the cousin of Dionne Warwick and the daughter of Cissy Houston, who backed up Aretha Franklin. The 69-year-old Franklin is her godmother.

The singer rose to fame on early hits such as "Saving All My Love For You" and "How Will I Know." Her powerful, soaring voice was later marred by battles with cocaine and alcohol.

STRONG-WILLED

Houston died on the eve of the music industry's Grammy Awards. Because of her admitted drug and alcohol abuse including a stint in rehab as recently as May 2011, speculation arose that she might have died of a drug overdose.

"Ms. Houston was apparently discovered in the bathtub by a member of her personal staff," who called hotel security, Beverly Hills Police Lieutenant Mark Rosen said on Monday. She was pulled from the bathtub, but when paramedics arrived "she was unconscious and unresponsive," he said.

Rosen declined comment on whether prescription drugs were in the room or the condition of Houston's body. Detectives have sealed their inquiry, he said.

Meanwhile, the singer's brother-in-law, Billy Watson, has dismissed talk the singer may have committed suicide, saying "She wouldn't have done that to her daughter."

Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, was in Los Angeles when her mother died.

The singer was photographed partying in Los Angeles leading up to her death and had planned to attend an annual pre-award party hosted by record producer and mentor Clive Davis on the night she died.

Her personal troubles, including a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, contradicted the innocent, fun-loving image that propelled her to stardom in the mid-1980s with early hits such as "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)."

Her friend and singer Chaka Khan told CNN late on Monday that Houston was aware of her addictions: "She was a strong-minded girl and I can't say it was anybody's fault ... If you want to get high, you get high." Houston once worked for Khan as a studio backup singer among other performers as a teenager in the 1970s and 1980s.

She won six Grammys and more than 400 other awards in a 25-year career that also saw her star in such blockbuster films as "The Bodyguard". Her 1992 hit cover single of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" from "The Bodyguard" soundtrack capped a career highlight between 1985 and 1992.

The decision to hold a private funeral is contrary to a public memorial service that was held for pop superstar Michael Jackson after his 2009 death that was broadcast live around the world.

But similar to Jackson, Internet sales of Houston's songs have surged after her death. "I Will Always Love You," was the No. 1 download on iTunes on Tuesday, just ahead of Grammy winner Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

Her albums, "Whitney Houston -- The Greatest Hits", "The Bodyguard" and "Whitney Houston" were also all among the top 20 selling albums on iTunes.

(Additional reporting by Eduardo Munoz, Jonathan Allen and Angela Moore, Editing by Jackie Frank)

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