NEW YORK — Pop diva Whitney Houston will be laid to rest on Saturday after a private funeral service at the New Jersey Baptist church where she grew up singing in a gospel choir.
Fans of Houston, who died Saturday aged just 48, will be denied the chance to say farewell in a mass outpouring as the singer’s family has apparently decided against holding a two-day public memorial in a Newark sports arena.
“The service will be held Saturday 12 noon (1700 GMT) at New Hope Baptist Church,” a spokeswoman at the Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, which was handling preparations for Houston’s burial, told AFP.
Houston was found unconscious in her bathtub on Saturday afternoon at the Beverly Hilton hotel as preparations were under way for the Grammy Awards, the highlight of the music industry calendar. Medics were unable to revive her.
Houston, who possessed one of the greatest-ever singing voices and sold more than 170 million records, fought a long and public battle with substance abuse after her career and personal life went off the rails.
Fans were awaiting autopsy results that may not be made public for up to eight weeks, as speculation rages that the singing legend may have died from a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol.
The autopsy was completed on Sunday but the results have been held back pending the completion of a toxicology probe.
Houston’s funeral service will be held at New Hope Baptist Church, where she honed her singing craft, and where her mother, the acclaimed soul and gospel singer Cissy Houston, served as music director for decades.
News reports said plans had been under consideration for a larger public service — possibly at the Prudential Center sports arena in Newark, a venue that would have allowed thousand of Houston’s fans to pay their last respects.
In the end, however, the decision was made that “everything will be private,” the Whigham funeral home spokeswoman said, adding that Saturday’s church service, by invitation only, is “the only service being held.”
In a moving tribute, Houston’s legendary godmother Aretha Franklin paid tribute to her at a private concert in North Carolina on Monday.
Television footage showed Franklin seated at a piano singing her late goddaughter’s signature hit, “I Will Always Love You,” and asking the audience to pray for Houston’s family.
The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported that the star’s body was brought to the Whigham funeral home late Monday in a 12-car procession under police escort from nearby Teterboro Airport.
Celebrity website TMZ said it learned from unnamed “family sources” that the singer died from a lethal combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.
Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter would not speculate about the cause of death, but told reporters that some pill bottles were found in Houston’s hotel room.
“There weren’t a lot of prescription bottles,” he said. “You probably have just as many prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet.”
Winter also said his office would try to get Houston’s medical records from her doctors.
“We have had no contact with DEA or see the need to do so at this time,” he added, referring to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Fox News reported that six bottles of pills were found in the room where Houston died, among them the prescription anti-anxiety medication Xanax and other pain medication.
Houston’s songs were rocketing up the pop charts on Tuesday, in some cases a quarter-century after their initial release, as fans sought to recapture the magic of her iconic voice in the wake of her death.
Amazon.com said on its website that seven of the top 10 bestselling music collections were recordings from Houston, while her “Greatest Hits” album was the top seller on iTunes.
British music tracker Official Charts said sales from Sunday through to midnight on Monday were so brisk that seven of Houston’s recordings were “heading for the Top 40.”
Topping sales was “I Will Always Love You,” her cover of a classic tune by country star Dolly Parton. Houston’s smash hit version of the ballad, featured in the film “The Bodyguard” in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner, spent 10 weeks at number one 20 years ago.