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LIVE STREAM: Family and friends gather for Whitney Houston funeral

Attendance at the funeral of the 48-year-old is open only to family and friends – but the ceremony is being streamed online.

TO THE WORLD, Whitney Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame.

To her family and friends, she was just “Nippy.” A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies. To them, she was a sister, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

While the world remembers Houston from afar, those closest to her will gather Saturday at a private funeral to say goodbye. They come together at New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston wowed the congregation with her powerful voice even as a young girl.

A few fans gathered Saturday morning hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, DC, and Miami.

One fan said he was there “just to be among the rest of the fans”.

“Just to celebrate her life, not just her death,” said Bobby Brooks of Washington. “Just to sing and dance with the people that love her.”

Cause of death not yet determined

Others were more entrepreneurial, setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston’s image and her CDs. But only the invited would get close to the church; streets were closed to the public for blocks in every direction.

A couple of hours before the funeral, the blockades parted to allow in the hearse carrying Houston’s body in a silver casket, draped in black.

The service marks exactly one week after the 48-year-old Houston — one of music’s all-time biggest stars — was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called “Aunt Ree,” was expected to sing at the service, but she is no longer planning to attend, said a person close to the Houston family who was not authorised to talk about Franklin’s decision and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Stevie Wonder and gospel star CeCe Winans are expected to sing. Music mogul Clive Davis, who launched and shepherded her career throughout the decades, may speak, along with Kevin Costner, her co-star in the blockbuster film “The Bodyguard.”

Her ex-husband Bobby Brown also is expected to attend, along with the couple’s only child, Bobbi Kristina.

Fall from grace

Houston’s death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace while shocking was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like “Saving All My Love For You,” ”I Will Always Love You,” ”The Greatest Love of All” and “I’m Every Woman.” Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

But amid the fame, a turbulent marriage to Brown and her addiction to drugs tarnished her image. She became a woman falling apart in front of the world.

Her last album, “I Look To You,” debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn’t have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Still, a comeback was ahead: She was to star in the remake of the movie “Sparkle” and was working on new music. Her family, friends and hard-core fans were hopeful.

The funeral is for invited guests only. Houston is scheduled to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, New Jersey.

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Associated Press

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