In this file picture taken on May 24, 2008 US singer Whitney Houston performs in Rabat during the closing concert in the Mawazine 7th festival held in Rabat. Pop legend and actress Whitney Houston has died at the age of 48, a publicist for the singer said on February 12, 2012. AFP PHOTO /FILES/ABDELHAK SENNA
LOS ANGELES, February 12, 2012 (AFP) - Pop legend Whitney Houston, who was found dead Saturday, was the vocal star of a generation whose soaring voice broke records and inspired millions of fans before substance abuse sent her on a downward spiral.
"She was a legend. These people don't come around often," British television host and producer Simon Cowell, of American Idol and Britain's Got Talent fame, told CNN television. "No one could sell a song like Whitney."
She was a trailblazers who proved that a female artist could dominate the pop market, Cowell said.
With a ferociously powerful voice and a dazzling range, Houston achieved stardom as a pop-soul singer known as "the Voice" and the "Queen of Pop" in the 1980s and 1990s.
Her fantastic success -- and that of fellow pop icon Michael Jackson -- was propelled by a brand new device at the time: the pop music video.
Houston's trove of six Grammy awards included one for record of the year -- for a soaring cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," and another for album of the year for "The Bodyguard."
She later parlayed her stardom to acting success appearing in hit movies like "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Bodyguard," co-starring Kevin Costner.
From a musical family that included mother Cissy Houston, a gospel star, and Dionne Warwick, her cousin, Whitney Houston started out as a teen model and then made a dazzling segue to music.
Her hits included "How Will I Know," "Saving all My Love for You," and "I Will Always Love You," a Dolly Parton cover that Houston made her own megahit.
As a performer, Houston earned a reputation as a regal diva, but not without merit.
"She was entitled to be a diva .. when you've got that much talent," star-spotter Cowell added.
She also was a trailblazing African-American beauty, a teen model who became the first black cover girl on "Seventeen" magazine.
Houston sold more than 170 million records worldwide but suffered a major career setback after admitting drug use during an abusive relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown.
And while her fans kept waiting for more recovery and a bigger comeback, Houston broke some hearts with her passing.
"I am absolutely devastated by this news. I'm so sad for her," said Cowell, known for his normally rough edges.
"She was undoubtedly one of the greatest superstars of all time. One of the greatest voices, you know, in our lifetime we're likely to ever hear," Cowell said. "And to hear this news, it's really, really upset me."