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Today is Whitney Houston‘s 56th birthday. Sadly, she passed away February 11, 2012 at only 49 years old.

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At her peak, Houston was the golden girl of the music industry. From the 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless and powerful vocals that were rooted in the Black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.

Success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like “The Bodyguard,” “Waiting to Exhale,” and “The Preacher’s Wife.”

She had the he perfect voice, and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual. Her voice influenced a generation of younger singers, from Jennifer Hudson to Mariah Carey, who when she first came out sounded so much like Houston that many thought it was Houston.

She was the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, the cousin of pop diva Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin. Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. It was around that time when music mogul Clive Davis first heard Houston perform.

Houston made her album debut in 1985 with “Whitney Houston,” which sold millions and spawned hit after hit. “Saving All My Love for You” earned her a Grammy for best female pop vocal. It was her first Grammy of many more to come. “How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love of All” also became hit singles.

Another multi-platinum album, “Whitney,” dropped in 1987 and included hits like “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

By the end of her career, Houston became a stunning cautionary tale of the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered. She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.  It was a tragic fall for a superstar who was one of the top-selling artists in pop music history, with more than 55 million records sold in the United States alone.

Nonetheless, her legacy is unmatched.

In honor of Whitney, see the gorgeous photos of her below:

Iconic Throwback Photos Of Whitney Houston  was originally published on hellobeautiful.com

1. Whitney Houston In 1988

Whitney Houston In 1988 Source:Getty

Whitney Houston performs on stage at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert at Wembley, London on June 6, 1988.

(Photo by Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

2. Whitney In 1990

Whitney In 1990 Source:Getty

Whitney performing in 1990 in Denver, Colorado.

(Denver Post via Getty Images)

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