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Photos: The late, great Whitney Houston is the soundtrack of my life

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Whitney Houston in Las Vegas as photographed by Tom Donoghue.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

To quote one of the many No. 1 hits of the late, great superstar Whitney Houston, “I get so emotional, baby, every time I think of you.” I was very saddened Saturday afternoon to hear about the death of “The Voice,” Ms. Houston, at age 48, and a few hours later teared up reading a longer story about her death.

Just a few hours ago, returning home from brunch with friends, I teared up -- a lot -- hearing L.A. radio station KIIS FM’s mashup of Ms. Houston’s biggest hits, ending with Simon Cowell’s words about her death and then her indelible megahit, “I Will Always Love You,” a remake of the Dolly Parton song for “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.

I didn’t plan on writing this -- I’m an editor, not a columnist or a reporter like my writers Robin Leach, John Katsilometes and Andrea Domanick here at the Las Vegas Sun, and I don’t like to write in first person and be part of the story. But Ms. Houston’s remarkable career and her impact on my life inspired me to do so.

Whitney Houston in Las Vegas

Every one of us has music artists who are the soundtrack of our lives -- singers who we loved from childhood to adolescence and then teenage to college years, maybe even longer. For me, they are Madonna, Erasure and Whitney Houston.

I remember, as a child, how beautiful and bubbly she was in the video for “How Will I Know,” then the embodiment of elegance in her white, beaded, floor-length gown in “The Greatest Love of All.” Then her big dance hit, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” introduced me to huge wigs and hair extensions (in her video, not me personally).

In 1988, she crooned “One Moment in Time” for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea (the song would win an Emmy Award). In 1991 at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Fla., Ms. Houston knocked the Star-Spangled Banner out of the stadium. At the time, the rendition was a fundraiser for the military serving in the Persian Gulf and their families. A decade later, it was released as a benefit after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and became the first time that the national anthem charted in the Top 10.

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Robin Leach's candid photograph of Whitney Houston in Las Vegas in 2009.

I lost my, well, innocence in college when “I Will Always Love You” was everywhere. I used to entertain my friends by imitating her in the video to that song, when the camera wasthisclosetoher with her eyes closed, then she opened them and belted the money note, “And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII will always love youuuuuuu, IIIIIIIIIIII ...” (Maybe I still do that.) My first slow dance in a nightclub (there’s not enough of that, or any of that, anymore) was to her last No. 1 song, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” from the hit film “Waiting to Exhale.”

Post-college, at my first journalism job in L.A. and during my fun 20-something years in L.A. and West Hollywood, I remember dancing the night away with my friends to remixes of “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “My Love Is Your Love” and “ Love Will Save the Day.”

Ms. Houston had a comeback in 2009, with the No. 1 album, “I Look to You,” but her tour plans were derailed. Her downfall in the preceding decade with drugs is well documented, but my lasting, and fabulous, memory of Ms. Houston will be her belting out “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” from that album, at the 37th American Music Awards that year, then receiving a standing ovation and the International Artist Award from Samuel L. Jackson.

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Actor Samuel L. Jackson presents the International Artist Award to singer Whitney Houston at the 37th Annual American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, in Los Angeles.

She looked beautiful in an elegant, white, floor-length evening gown (no beads this time). Her voice and her notes were not as strong as they once were, but she sang with emotion, she was sweating as if she’d just run a marathon, and she left her heart on that stage. She was magnificent.

The Grammy Awards will surely honor Ms. Houston tonight, and deservedly so. I teared up writing this story. I get so emotional, every time I think of you -- RIP, Ms. Houston.

Don Chareunsy is editor of VegasDeLuxe.com and arts and entertainment editor of LasVegasSun.com.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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