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Cocaine found in Houston's body

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LOS ANGELES -- The hotel room where Whitney Houston died bore the hallmarks of a traveller -- suitcases and room-service food and drinks. But it also contained something tragically familiar for the singer: signs of cocaine and its paraphernalia.

The drug was found throughout Houston's body, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday that gave the most detailed account yet of how the Grammy-winning singer died just hours before she was to appear at a pre-Grammy Awards party. By the time an assistant found her face down in a bathtub on the afternoon of Feb. 11, Houston had likely been dead for at least an hour. The water was so hot it scalded part of her body.

Nearby, on the bathroom counter, investigators found a small spoon described by investigators as having a "crystal-like substance" in it and in a drawer they discovered a white powdery substance. The dozen prescription drug bottles found in Houston's suite of the Beverly Hilton Hotel led investigators to initially suspect she died of an overdose, but after further examination and toxicology results they concluded she drowned accidentally. Heart disease, which caused a 60 per cent blockage in one of her arteries, and cocaine use were listed as contributing factors.

Toxicology results also showed Houston had marijuana, Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and the allergy medication Benadryl in her system, but none are considered factors in her death.

The grim accounting of the room where Houston died and what investigators found provide a sad footnote to the singer's life, showing the impact drugs took on her. An investigator noted a hole in the singer's nose, listed under "history of substance abuse."

Houston, 48, had been preparing for the annual party of her mentor, Clive Davis, who helped launch her career two decades earlier. She had finished work on her return to acting by starring in a remake of the film Sparkle, which would also feature her rendition of the gospel classic His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

The singer had a sore throat and her assistant suggested she take a bath to get ready for the party. The assistant left to pick up some items at a department store and by the time she returned, Houston was submerged in the tub, which was overflowing and had soaked the carpet in another room.

Efforts were made to revive the Houston, including using a defibrillator, according to the report.

Coroner's officials declined to discuss details in the report, including whether toxicology results showing the level of cocaine in Houston's body could be used to determine how recently she took the drug. The office has said there were signs of recent and chronic use by the singer.

Beverly Hills police have been awaiting the report before closing the report, although the agency has said there are no signs of foul play in Houston's death.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 G2

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