The day after Whitney Houston died, I drove down to Beverly Hills to speak with fans and mourners. After listening to some media accounts (especially the gossip rags) speculate and pry into her private life, I needed to be around people who were really touched by the loss. At the site in front of the Beverly Hilton, I met actress Donzaleigh Abernathy, whose father Ralph worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights Movement. She was really nice and I enjoyed speaking with her. From my story (Daily News, Feb. 12, 2012):
BEVERLY HILLS — For years to come, music fans and tourists to Los Angeles will pass by the Beverly Hilton, look up toward the fourth floor of the hotel and reflect on how a voice of a generation went silent so suddenly.
But on Sunday morning, a day after Whitney Houston’s death was announced, the news was still so new and so shocking to many fans who came out to Beverly Hills. Many stood across from the Hilton where her body had been found on the fourth floor Saturday and just stared at the luxurious hotel.
Houston was 48.
“Whitney, I love you,” read one note left at a makeshift altar at the front of the hotel on Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. Pink and red roses and pillar candles had been set down on the sidewalk for the singer and actress. “You are my idol and an icon. R.I.P.”
Fond memories of Houston came flooding back to actress and author Donzaleigh Abernathy who lives nearby. Abernathy, who grew up in Atlanta, said she and Houston went to the same physician in Georgia. Abernathy’s sister, an opera singer, remembers hearing Houston sing at the New Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey as a youth.
“I was stunned,” Abernathy said of the news. “I had to come here right away. We all grew up with Whitney. We love her.”
Abernathy said it was only a year ago when she gave Bobby Brown, Houston’s ex-husband, a copy of a book she had written about the civil rights movement called “Partners to History.” The book is about Martin Luther King Jr. and Abernathy’s father, Ralph David Abernathy.
“I kept telling him how great Whitney was,” she said. “But with great talent comes great trials.”
Houston had been staying at the hotel for a pre-Grammy concert and dinner Saturday night held by her mentor Clive Davis. But hours before that dinner, the Beverly Hills police received a 911 call at 3:43 p.m. Paramedics who found Houston were unable to resuscitate her.