8:37pm UK, Saturday February 18, 2012
Famous friends of Whitney Houston are paying tribute to the singer as her funeral takes place at the church in New Jersey where she first performed to an audience.
Kevin Costner, her co-star in movie The Bodyguard, addressed the congregation at New Hope Baptist Church, fighting tears as he spoke.
He told how Houston was insecure about her role in the 1992 film and feared she was “not good enough”.
“I was your pretend bodyguard not so long ago and now you’re gone,” he said.
God is in heaven and with him is one of our angels, Whitney Houston.
Mayor of Newark Cory Booker
“So off you go Whitney. Off you go. Escorted by an army of angels and our heavenly father. And when you sing before him, don’t worry, you’ll be good enough.”
Stevie Wonder sang a reworking of his song Ribbon In The Sky and Love’s In Need – after admitting he used to have “a little crush” on Houston.
A visibly emotional Alicia Keys also performed a song in her honour, while R Kelly sang I Look To You.
A mass gospel choir got the ceremony under way with a series of rousing numbers, before Mayor of Newark Cory Booker spoke.
“God is in heaven and with him is one of our angels, Whitney Houston,” he said.
The star’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was seen with her arm around her grandmother and Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston, in the front row of the church.
Record mogul and Houston’s mentor, Clive Davis, also spoke to the congregation.
Bobby Brown outside the church in Newark
Looking directly at Bobbi Kristina, he told her: “She will forever be looking after you and will never let go of your hand.”
Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown was pictured outside the church and it is being widely reported he was denied entry to the service.
Her cousin Dionne Warwick and Tyler Perry spoke during the service, as did gospel singer Bebe Winans.
He told mourners: “What I’m going to miss is crazy Whitney”, before he told an anecdote about her buying various clothes for him and other members of his family.
To laughter in the church, he said that when he asked why she had bought the items, she told him: “You’re my brother and sister, right? And we love each other, right? And y’all broke right? I’m rich, right, so I can buy what I want for y’all.”
Reverend Jesse Jackson arrives at Whitney’s funeral
Pall-bearers were earlier seen carrying the superstar’s gold-handled platinum coffin into the church, where Houston sang as a child in the choir with her mother
A host of celebrities are attending the service, which is taking place almost exactly a week since the 48-year-old star died in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
Her family decided on a private, invitation-only funeral despite pressure from fans for a public memorial.
There was a heavy police and media presence outside the church and fans were warned to stay away and watch on television.
Houston’s godmother Aretha Franklin was due to sing but cancelled at the last minute due to ill health, while RnB singer Mary J Blige was among mourners at the church.
The hearse that carried Houston’s body on the short journey between the funeral home and church
All week fans have been leaving flowers, cards and balloons dedicated to the singer who became a global star with her 1985 debut album that included the hits ‘Saving All My Love For You’, ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘Greatest Love Of All’.
She was among the greatest singers of the 1980s and 1990s but her personal life and marriage to singer Bobby Brown was tumultuous.
She admitted to heavy use of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and prescription pills. Her death at age 48 shocked her family, fans and the music industry.
Houston was found under water in a hotel bath on the eve of the music industry’s Grammy Awards.
A cause of death has yet to be determined and investigators have recovered records from doctors and pharmacies as they await the results of toxicology tests.
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