Whitney Houston's pure majestic voice was honed in the choir of her Newark, N.J., Baptist church, but, as America's pop princess, she would seemingly stray far from her gospel roots into a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown and down a dark path into drug addiction.
Many saw her marriage to Brown, a former New Edition member, in 1992 as the tipping point toward her decline.
"Bobby Brown you took our diva and turned her into an addict," one fan fumed on Facebook.
Despite the stark contrast between Houston's golden girl image and Brown's bad-boy reputation, Us Weekly's senior editor, Ian Drew, said the two were more similar than many believed.
"People like to blame Bobby Brown, but she was this way before Bobby," Drew said. "She drank and had all these problems before Bobby. He didn't take this pristine doll and turn her into the bride of Chuckie. She talked like she did on his reality show, 'Being Bobby Brown.'"
Brown released a statement Sunday to People magazine, saying, "I am deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife, Whitney Houston. At this time, we ask for privacy, especially for my daughter, Bobbi Kristina. I appreciate all of the condolences that have been directed towards my family and I at this most difficult time."
Brown was getting ready to perform at a New Edition reunion tour in Southaven, Miss., as news spread about Houston's death Saturday evening. The 48-year-old singer was found lifeless inside her Los Angeles hotel room bathtub, and paramedics tried but were unable to revive her.
Brown went ahead with the performance, while acknowledging that it was difficult.
"First of all, I want to tell you that I love you all," he told the sold-out crowd. "Second, I would like to say, I love you Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage."
By Sunday afternoon, TMZ reported that Brown was skipping his concert in Nashville to fly to Los Angeles to be with Bobbi Kristina, his 18-year-old daughter with Houston, who had to be rushed to a local hospital where she was treated for "stress and anxiety" and released.
Drew said Houston's squeaky clean image was manufactured by an "elaborate PR machine," something she, herself, did not dispute.
"When you love, you love. I mean, do you stop loving somebody because you have different images? You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same place," the singer told Rolling Stone in 1993. "You see somebody, and you deal with their image, that's their image. It's part of them, it's not the whole picture. I am not always in a sequined gown. I am nobody's angel. I can get down and dirty. I can get raunchy."
"I don't think any of us can claim to know who the real Whitney Houston was -- if she was the tough round-the-way girl from New Jersey or the pure pop princess," said Billboard magazine editor Danyel Smith, adding that there was a lot of pressure on pop stars in the '80s to project a positive image. "Probably like most of us, she is a mixture of the two."
A former associate of Houston's said Brown is not to blame for Houston's downfall.
"There is a misconception about what happened between them," the source told ABCNews.com. "People want to blame Bobby. But people don't know that while Bobby was a stone cold alcoholic, he didn't ruin Whitney. She had her problems before he entered the picture."
It would be years before the public saw that other side of Houston. As the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, the cousin of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston seemed born to greatness.
"She was very beautiful, but very quiet," said Dr. Maria Pane, her high school classmate at Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell, N.J., and now a Baltimore neonatologist.
Pane said she had no idea she was "amongst greatness" until Houston started modeling and became one of the first African American to grace the cover of Seventeen magazine.
"She was so unpretentious yet she had that aura that she would be great," Pane said. "Whitney had the biggest smile. I never saw her sad, mad or angry. She had a dear, sweet face. She was just a very fun-loving teenage girl."