Augusta native among first to learn of Whitney Houston's death

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Before the rest of the world knew that Whitney Houston had died, Augusta native and Newsweek senior writer Allison Samuels was already trying to come to terms with the news.

Samuels  SPECIAL
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Samuels

On the afternoon of Houston’s death on Feb. 11, Samuels said that she was being interviewed on the first floor of The Beverly Hilton for a Behind the Music VH1 segment on R&B singer Brandy Norwood. Houston was scheduled to be interviewed for the same segment an hour later, and her assistant came by before Samuels’ interview to make sure she would be finished in time, saying that Houston had to attend music mogul Clive Davis’ party.

“We were 30 minutes into the interview when there’s a knock on the door. We ignored it because we were taping. The producer didn’t want to stop, but the knock got louder and louder, so we had to stop,” Samuels said during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “He goes to the door, and it’s Whitney’s assistant again. She’s just sort of standing there. She looks a little dazed and confused. She just sort of says, ‘Whitney can’t make it. She’s not coming. Whitney is dead.’ ”

Samuels, a 1983 Glenn Hills High School graduate, said “the air went out of the room.”

Beforehand, Samuels, who had interviewed Houston seven times, and some of the Behind the Music staff had been joking about Houston showing up.

“She can show up sometimes and sometimes she doesn’t … but we didn’t expect to hear she was dead,” Samuels said. “She (Houston’s assistant) had just been down less than an hour before, saying to be ready for Whitney to come down. When she went back up, that’s when she found out she was dead. She died in that short window. I guess she was alive at 3 o’clock. She was pronounced dead at 3:55.”

People criticized the reception and party continuing as planned, but Samuels believes that by the time the news set in, it was too late to stop it. Guests were already en route or had started to arrive, she said.

“It was odd to know that she was on the fourth floor for that entire period of time throughout the party. One of the police told me they wanted to make sure they didn’t have another Michael Jackson situation, in a sense of not missing anything,” Samuels said. “I also think they were having a hard time trying to figure out how to get her out without coming through the middle of the hotel. I think it was a logistical nightmare for the police.”

Samuels has written stories about other celebrity deaths, such as Michael Jackson, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Princess Diana, but she didn’t know them nearly as well as she knew Houston. She will have a story in Monday’s edition of Newsweek about Houston.

“It was very surreal to be there and hear those words. I interviewed her enough before to know that on some level, this was probably going to happen to her. I was surprised actually that she lasted this long, given some of the interviews that I’d had with her where she was just so out of it,” Samuels said. “But I’d hoped that she was getting it together since things had quieted down a little bit. But from talking to people, I guess they hadn’t.”

Samuels said that she met Houston at the height of her career, and their last interview was six years ago. She recounts some of the experience in her 2007 book Off the Record, a collection of her encounters with entertainers and athletes during her journalism career. The night before their interview, they went out to dinner. Samuels said that Houston was “high as a kite.”

“I said to her and her publicist, ‘Please don’t let her come like this tomorrow to the interview because that’s not going to work out well for us.’ She came to the interview just as high as a kite the next day,” Samuels said. “I just kept thinking, this is going to have a bad ending. She’s not in control, and nobody is in control of her. You can’t last but so long like that.”

Houston was also well-known for not being very patient. At the VH1 taping, Samuels said everyone was rushing to finish her interview so that Houston wouldn’t have to wait.

“Whitney would cuss you out in a heartbeat. I loved her to death, but she was definitely that girl,” Samuels said. “That’s why when people say, ‘Why didn’t someone stop her?’… I say that she wasn’t that type of person that you could have stopped her if she didn’t want to stop. She was very strong-willed. Nobody was going to make her do anything.”

Still, Samuels knows another side of Houston. She wrote a children’s book about celebrities’ Christmas memories, and Houston was the first person to return her call.

“I think that showed what kind of generous spirit she had. She was a really nice person, certainly to me all the times that we met,” Samuels said. “I was surprised at how unguarded she was and just really sweet and open. I would ask questions and she would answer them. I really did like her. I thought she was a genuinely sweet person who just really got messed up by this business.”

She said her concerns now are for Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who is with her grandmother, Cissy Houston.

“She loved her daughter so much. She would always talk about her and going shopping for her. I really do feel for her. You just pray for her to be OK,” she said.

Samuels hopes that Houston had her estate in order. She anticipates a protracted legal battle over her assets if it isn’t.

“I hope that’s something that she did resolve.” she said.

“Because I could see that being a very ugly fight, and you don’t want that to be what happens to her daughter.”

TO READ MORE

Allison Samuels, an Augusta native and senior writer at Newsweek, will have a story in Monday’s edition of Newsweek about Whitney Houston. Read some of Samuels’ recent online stories about Houston at www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/allison-samuels.html

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happychimer
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happychimer 02/18/12 - 04:01 pm
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So Allison went to Glen Hills

So Allison went to Glen Hills and she made something of herself.Maybe that is why there are no comments here. We all know that certain ones like to talk trash about anyone who lives on the south side of Richmond County.Allison keep up the good work.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 02/18/12 - 06:17 pm
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happy, I believe there aren't

happy, I believe there aren't any comments here because people are tired of hearing about Whitney. She was a fantastic singer with major issues and I feel most people aren't surprised of the outcome. Doesn't effect our lives here in Augusta so people move on to something that does. Congratulations Allison on your success no matter where you went to high school. Happy she graduated 29 years ago from Glenn Hills. I'm sure it was a much different school in 1983.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/18/12 - 06:21 pm
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yes icl you do have a

yes icl you do have a point.....I wanted to watch some of it but it just went on-on-on today

mrducks
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mrducks 02/18/12 - 07:29 pm
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Whitney and Glenn Hills both
Unpublished

Whitney and Glenn Hills both suck.

GaStang22
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GaStang22 02/19/12 - 07:17 am
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If you really think that is a
Unpublished

If you really think that is a valid reason and arent just trying to instigate trouble, then why didn't any other "southsiders" post on it either??

But yes, Good Job Allison. Thanks for the inside glimpse of the real Whitney personality.

happychimer
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happychimer 02/19/12 - 11:52 am
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ICL there were plenty of

ICL there were plenty of comments yesterday. I have not lived on the southside since 1985, but I am not afraid to go there. I have family that lives near Glen hills, and they never have problems on their street. You said you are sure Glen Hills was a different scholl in 1983. I am sure all schools were different back then.

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/19/12 - 05:00 pm
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happychimer some of us have

happychimer some of us have to work. Yes, I worked today. In the past two months, on Glenn Hills Drive you can hear gunshots far too often, day and night. Maybe the people you know keep the TV or radio on too loud to hear it? A 13 year old DRIVER took out a mailbox AND a telephone pole. Two other mailboxes in the SAME block were damaged, one of them totaled the car that hit it, which was alleged to have been stolen, but who knows, the driver bolted a block down from the mailbox. One house was broken-into, brick thrown through a side window, but the perp was "encouraged" to leave by the returning owner, who was given a heads up by an alert neighbor by cell phone. An attempted break-in occurred up the street not long after, again an alert neighbor notified police. This is just what comes to mind immediately. All this was on the same block. Up on the hill, a friend of mine pulled a bullet out of her mother's house's eave 6 months ago. That was disconcerting, too. There are problems all up and down Glenn Hills Drive, apparently you just aren't hearing about them. Another friend's mother moved out of her home on the end near Deans Bridge because when she came back from church an hour after going, someone had broken in and was jumping out the back when she was going in the front. The first break-in I heard of on that street was in 1988 on the Barton Chapel end, and they stole nearly everything of value that family had. And yes, Glenn Hills Jr. High and High School WAS a different school in the 80's, but I hope it turns around again for the best. There have been some good students coming out of there and they are too be commended. It was already a challenging environment there in the 70's. BTW, the schools (elementary, middle, jr. high and high) were always been spelled with two N's, although the street originally was spelled with one N. Some people still call it Glen's Hills, but we adapted to Glenn Hills with the signage change.

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/19/12 - 05:02 pm
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BTW, It gives me happiness to

BTW, It gives me happiness to see that a young woman like Ms. Samuels is thriving after graduating from Glenn Hills. I love to hear positive stories and hers is one of them, but I am sad that we are hearing about her due to the death of Ms. Houston.

happychimer
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happychimer 02/19/12 - 06:58 pm
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Autumn i said they live NEAR

Autumn i said they live NEAR Glenn Hills.Their street is quiet.I know what I am talking about.

happychimer
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happychimer 02/19/12 - 07:00 pm
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posted twice

posted twice

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/20/12 - 05:39 pm
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If they live within 2 miles

If they live within 2 miles of Glenn Hills, they MUST hear gunfire if they have reasonable hearing ability, or understand what gunfire sounds like: I have heard gunfire at both ends of Glenn Hills Drive, at the middle of Glenn Hills Drive, around the schools, up on Vernon Drive, Lumpkin Road, Old McDuffie Road, Jeanne Road, Glenn Hills Circle, Deen Ave., Golden Camp Road, Thomas Lane, Ridge Road, Baywood Drive, Tate Road, Golden Avenue, Milledgeville Road, Deans Bridge, Green Meadows, Fleming Heights, ALSO in Brookwood, Bellemeade, and Georgetown Subdivisions. I know what I'm talking about because I have contacts in law enforcement and I also worked with at least three neighborhood associations in a five mile radius of there, reviewing the miscellaneous and crime reports for one of them as well, as requested. If their street is TRULY quiet, they are blessed and they have really good sound barriers. Funny thing, though, you don't always hear a gunshot before a bullet hits and even if there is a sound, you can't always tell which direction it came from or where it's going. It's too bad we have to feel prepared to duck any time there is a sound like a gun's report.

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/20/12 - 05:46 pm
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BTW, 8:00 last night, there

BTW, 8:00 last night, there was another very loud "report" of some type. We have not been able to determine what that was either. Hopefully it was only a piece of the construction concrete impacting metal at the intersection of Bobby Jones and Deans Bridge, but I have not been able to confirm that, or whether they are even still working the site that late at night. It unnerved everybody, though, there were people peeking out of their homes to see what was going on, up and down the street, but it is still a question mark.

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