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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Whitney Houston Dead at 48; Interview with Lionel Richie

Aired February 11, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SIMON COWELL, T.V. PERSONALITY/PRODUCER/EXECUTIVE: She was the ultimate booking. And you know, I'm watching the news now and I know there's a lot of speculation about what happened, why it happened, that it's important to note that.

But importantly, I think that we must still remember her when she was at her very, very best, because that's what I want to remember and that's what I think she should be remembered for. She was a fantastic artist, an incredible singer. She fell into the wrong crowd. There's no question of that. And God, I wish that had never happened. But there's nothing we can do about that.

But, you know, I want to remember her when she was at the very, very top, because, you know, we all love stars like this.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Simon, if you could just hold on the line for one moment. We're just going to go back to Don Lemon in Atlanta. He's going to give a very quick news update to viewers just coming in to CNN. And I'll come back to you, if it's OK.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Piers and Simon, thank you very much. Stand by everyone who is watching around the world. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Thank you so much for watching.

Breaking news tonight. One of the greatest voices of her generation, Whitney Houston, has died. The Grammy-winning entertainer was just 48 years old. We've learned that from the Beverly Hills Police Department, and we have been honoring her all evening here as soon as we got the information and mourning the loss not only to the entertainment world but to the world in general.

I'm joined now by Piers Morgan, my colleague here on CNN.

Piers, if I could just ask Simon a question. I'm noticing on Twitter and from the reaction I'm getting, Simon, a lot of young people, especially young girls, you mentioned the young singers, looked up to Whitney Houston. What does she -- she meant so much to so many young people, especially performers.

COWELL: You know, it was interesting, and I was thinking about this tonight, is that I started -- I've been -- as I said, I've been doing this a long time and every, you know, singer who aspired to be a great singer always looked up to Whitney Houston. And what's been interesting recently is that this new generation of singers who has come along and -- 15, 16 now, and a lot of them are quite cutting edge. You know, Jessie J from the UK is one of them and she will freely admit that, you know, her inspiration or one of her biggest inspirations was Whitney Houston.

This wasn't somebody who was popular just in the '80s and the '90s when she was at her peak. She still had this unbelievable influence and this coolness which, if anything, has been growing over the last few years. And that's what is so depressing to hear this news now. The fact that she had such -- well, she was an inspiration to so many of these singers. That's what everyone aspired to be even close to.

MORGAN: And Simon, if I could jump in. It's funny I had Clive Davis on my show last night with Jennifer Hudson. I mean, we're talking about this very point, because Jennifer had said this was (INAUDIBLE), I think a Grammy Award from Whitney Houston as one of the greatest moments of her life. And I was having some fun, you know, about the fact that she didn't get through to win "American Idol" and so on. And she was saying that for her, Whitney Houston was this great kind of standard bearer for all girls of her generation.

And to think that I was talking to Clive on her last night, and Whitney Houston has died today. You know Clive Davis very well. And he's been a mentor to so many great stars over the years. He's got this huge pre-Grammy party tonight where the whole of Hollywood is turning out to this thing. How do you think he'll be feeling tonight, Clive?

COWELL: Clive will be devastated. You know, Clive was really the man behind Whitney when she was -- you know, I mean, he discovered her, he worked with her closely over the years, and he is, make no mistake, the man who helped Whitney turn into a superstar.

I have no idea how he's feeling, because he was like a father to her. But if I know Clive well, I think he's going to use this night tonight to be, you know, what should be a tribute to her. Like I said, not as somebody who we're going to remember as a troubled figure, but as a legendary superstar and she deserves, you know, that on this night.

But he's going to find this very, very, very difficult because, you know, I've never known such a close relationship, Piers, between a record executive and an artist. I've seen the two of them together, the way that he would sit in the audience and watch her every move, you know, like I said, like a proud father.

And even when she was going through her troubled times, he masterminded her comeback album, which wasn't easy. He was very proud of it. And, you know, it's upsetting me talking about it now because, you know, it's sinking in. The realization that she's not around anymore. It really, really is -- I'm very, very upset.

MORGAN: It is just devastating. I think people can't really get their heads around this. It's exactly like it was with Michael Jackson. There were reports, Simon, in the paper over here in America that you were considering making an offer to Whitney to be a host on "X Factor" in America. Was that true?

COWELL: Well, the rumors have gone back to us, Piers. And that's often what happens, you know, when people, you know, want to be on one of these shows, you know, that somebody tells someone to get the word out. It's normally a sign that they are interested. We were ironically going to meet on Monday, and, of course, one of the names we were going to be talking about in that meeting, you know, as a possible mentor on the new series of "X Factor" was actually going to be Whitney Houston.

I have no idea genuinely whether she really was that interested or whether given the choice, I would have like to have taken her under my wing, as well, because she would have been the ultimate, ultimate mentor to any contestant coming on the show.

MORGAN: Simon, do you think that she was -- was she in some ways her own worst enemy? Was it a case people just couldn't get close enough to Whitney to try and help her? Did she lack somebody that could just put their arm around her?

COWELL: Well, that's the sad thing because like I said with people like Clive Davis, and, you know, a lot of her close family members, you know how much they cared about her. I can only speculate what happened recently and what led to this.

I'm more frustrated as to why it happened in the first place because it just shouldn't have happened. The only thing you can take away from this is, is that what the pressures of show business can do to somebody, even as huge as Whitney. And you hope that because of this, you know, it may prevent it happening to someone else. I don't know. But we're seeing...

MORGAN: Simon, I've got a -- I've got a clip actually. I've got a clip from the interview I did with Clive Davis and Jennifer Hudson last night. We're going to play this so that you can hear a bit of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIVE DAVIS, RECORD PRODUCER/MUSIC EXECUTIVE: For me, I've been known to be involved with divas, whether it's started with Dionne Warwick that led to Aretha Franklin and led to Whitney, and when I saw that audition for that movie part, I saw a depth and a range and a soulfulness that really ranks at the top level. And that's why we've been working together ever since.

MORGAN: I've always assumed and correct me if I'm wrong, but it would be part to beat Whitney at her peak, hard, right? When I hear you sometimes, I do genuinely feel -- I'm not an expert like Clive is, but I feel she's nearly there, maybe as good now?

DAVIS: Listen, it's hard to make comparisons. For years, you know, working with the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, people have always said, well, can Whitney compare with Aretha? They're old timers, and Jennifer... JENNIFER HUDSON, SINGER: It has always been my goal and my dream, so it never gets old to me. It's always such an honor to be just under Clive Davis. As a kid at 11, I would sit and create duets between Whitney and I with her "I Will Always Love You."

MORGAN: Did you really?

HUDSON: Yes, I did. And so to be sitting here right now with him is like -- I feel like I'm dreaming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Simon, there will be people just watching that, maybe not wondering what on earth it was. This was an interview last night I did with Clive Davis and Jennifer Hudson, in which he talks about Whitney to be one of the greats, and Jennifer Hudson talks about mimicking, doing duets with Whitney when she was very young and had never imagined that one day she would be receiving awards from her and being compared to her.

Whitney as a diva, as a singer, as an entertainer, pretty hard to beat, I would imagine, even in recent modern musical history.

COWELL: Yes. I mean, people like that can't be manufactured, Piers, you know. I mean, they either got it or they haven't. And it's so interesting, because I was only talking about her music to a friend of mine the other day, is that her records don't sound old fashion now. They don't sound like they were made, you know, 20, 30 years ago. That they sound -- they still sound incredible. She still sounds incredible and they are going to sound incredible in 50, 100 years time, because there is something about a Whitney record.

It wasn't just the power of her voice. It was the way that she could sell a song, the way that she could sell a lyric, you know, and that's part of the reason why she was so special and the whole diva thing came with that, because she was entitled to be a diva when she's got that much talent.

MORGAN: Tell me about -- you hinted earlier about the pressures of the kind of superstardom that someone like Whitney Houston had. You know, after the "Bodyguard" came out and "I Will Always Love You" topped the charts around the world, you know, for weeks and months, it propelled her into this rare stratosphere of genuine megastar. What are the kind of particular pressures that goes with the territory if you are a singer that reaches that kind of level, do you think?

COWELL: I think part of it, Piers, is that when you tasted the kind of height somebody like Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston have got to -- in other words, the top of the top of the top, those kind of artists, they can't walk away from that kind of success, you know.

Every artist like that will always want to be at the top again. And I think Michael Jackson, a lot of the pressure he was under was the fact that he wanted to prove that he was still the king of pop. He was under enormous pressure to do, you know, what was, off of my head, 50, 52 mega concerts. And, you know, that is unbelievable pressure.

And I think the same must have applied to Whitney because, you know, she didn't want to go out as a lesser artist. She wanted to prove that she was still as good as she was when she was at her peak. And I think that's part of the pressure.

You know, a lot of people are always blaming media intrusion or the paparazzi. I don't necessarily go along with that. If you're in the entertainment business, you've got to get used to the fact that you're going to get a lot of attention, and a lot of the time the media is what got you there in the first place and you have to accept the fact that when things aren't going quite so well, they're still going to show an interest to you.

So it is down to you. But like I said, normally, there are certain people, these people meet in their lives and they're the wrong people and they are the wrong influence. And we all wish we could probably reverse time, if we could, and stop her meeting a particular person and you know who that is.

MORGAN: Well, there's an image of the person I think you're talking about there on the left of the screen. There's no doubt that Whitney Houston's life spiraled downhill after she met and married Bobby Brown. It's a well-documented story.

I think my colleague Don Lemon in Atlanta has a question for you, Simon.

LEMON: Simon, I think you're touching on something that's very interesting here. And I was speaking with Larry King earlier about Adele. And Anderson Cooper is going to interview her for "60 Minutes." And Adele, when she found out that she was having problems with her vocal chords, she took a rest, she did the surgery.

That's hard, and you're talking about it now, that's hard for any entertainer to do. And one wonders if Whitney Houston possibly had done that and taken the time off and to rest her vocal chords and to get whatever rest she needs, that the last part of her career could have been different, the last couple of years may have been different. And that's a lesson for young singers coming up, as well.

COWELL: I mean, Adele is a great example and I know Adele quite well. And she's got this, you know, incredible attitude, which is I'm not going to be forced into anything, if I'm not well, I'm not going to do it, I do have choices over my life. The way that she's succeeded, she's done it without hype, without promotion. It's all word of mouth and she's got the confidence to do that.

I think -- I'm not speaking for Clive here, Clive, when she was working with her on her last album three or four years ago, you know, he took his time with her. He never tried to force her to rush something out. I know how many songs he went through to get to that album, and, you know, he took very, very special care of Whitney. And I never, ever once in all the conversations I've had with Clive, and I've had a lot, did I ever get a feeling that he was ever going to rush something on the market. He was so proud of, you know, of what she did on that last record. And there are some records on that last record which, you know, are suddenly going to be heard more clearly, because there was some fantastic material on that last record. And you're going to be hearing more and more of those songs.

LEMON: OK. Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, please stand by. More on the death of Whitney Houston right here on CNN right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Very sad news to report to you tonight. Whitney Houston, one of the greatest voices of her generation, of our generation, dead at the age of 48. A legendary singer. Her talent matched only perhaps by some of the turmoil in her personal life. More than 170 million album, singles and videos sold. An unbelievable career. Dead at the age of 48. According to Beverly Hills Police, she was found dead at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Pronounced dead 3:55 Pacific Time.

My colleague Piers Morgan is standing by in Los Angeles.

Piers, a big Grammy party for Clive Davis supposed to be going on. Whitney Houston was going to be there. You are going to be there as well. Things have changed now for the worse.

MORGAN: It is a desperately sad event. It's a desperately sad night for anyone that likes music. Whitney Houston was the queen of pop, you know. She was the female version of Michael Jackson. And to lose both of them, you know, at this tragic age is really -- it's just awful. And I got Simon Cowell on the line.

Simon, I know that you're in Scotland. You've been taping "Britain's Got Talent" there. There will be lots of speculation, and we touched on this, about the reasons why Whitney's life may have ended in such a gruesome manner.

But let's just focus on her talent for a moment. What do you think will be her legacy and her inspiration to the next generation?

COWELL: Well, look, there's so many things you can talk about, about why she was so incredible. I was thinking about it while we were taking that break, because right at the moment, pop music you can argue is being dominated by female solo pop singers, like Beyonce, like Rihanna, Katy Perry, obviously Adele.

But, you know, Whitney and Mariah, really, they were the trailblazers. You know, they were able to prove that a solo female artist could literally dominate pop music, which Mariah did and Whitney did for most of her career. And importantly, even though she was absolutely stunning when she was at the height of her career, you always remember Whitney for one thing and one thing only, the voice.

It was so distinct, so incredible. And that's what she's going to leave behind. Like I said before, these records, these songs are timeless. I still have people every time I do mass auditions around the country for any of our shows, and we say to someone what is the big song you're going to be singing? Seven or eight times out of ten it's going to be a Whitney song. And like I said --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Let's just -- Simon, let's just hear Whitney singing her song to give you an idea of what you're talking about.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: I mean --

COWELL: You know what, Piers? And like I said, no one could sell a song like Whitney. You always knew that she had that kind of church influence, background in her voice, as well. She understood gospel with the people around her.

MORGAN: It gives you goose bumps listening to her singing, isn't it.

COWELL: Oh my God.

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: I've never heard a voice as good as this, Whitney Houston.

COWELL: No, no.

And the power of the range of "I Will Always Love You," I mean, will always remain one of the money notes of all time. I mean, I don't think anyone has ever topped that.

MORGAN: And tomorrow night is The Grammys. It's an event that she dominated over the years. I'm sure it will turn into a huge tribute now to Whitney Houston. How do you think the industry as a whole is going to be reacting to this? Obviously with great shocked and sadness. But what does Whitney Houston mean to the music industry?

COWELL: Well, I think, you know, look, they have every right to celebrate The Grammys because, you know, Whitney won a number, you know. I don't think she would want the whole thing to turn into a totally somber affair, because, you know, I didn't know her well but my guess is that most of the night, if not the entire night, has to turn into a tribute to her.

I think people have to respect her and remember her when she was at the very top of her career. And the fact that a lot of people there on the night, in my opinion, owe parts of their career to her, as I said because of the fact that she was such a trailblazer and that she proved that, you know, a solo female artist like her could be one of the biggest selling artist in the world of all time, which is what she became. And I think people need to remember that.

MORGAN: And it must be, when you hear her at her peak there, "The Bodyguard," I watched it again recently, you're right. When she hit those big notes of "I Will Always Love You," it was just spine tingling. And you and I know, as you said from all these talent shows we've choose over the years that, whenever contestants tried to emulate Whitney Houston, it would normally end in disaster when they tried to hit those big notes. And that's what made her so special is very few people could hit them.

And it does seem almost incredible doesn't it that we've lost Whitney Houston at 48 years old. I really -- I'm finding it hard to come to terms with.

COWELL: Yes, I'm feeling the same way. And, you know, like I said before, Piers, you know, I was in Scotland back in London, I flew back and my phone is switched on. And I felt, Christ, there's over 100 text messages that have just come in. I had no idea what was going on.

I have friends -- business associates from all over the world are all reacting in the same way. I mean, you know, everyone is talking about it. They are completely and utterly shocked. But you know what?

This is going to sink in even more over the next couple of days, because you're going to start hearing those songs again, and the songs "I Have Nothing," "I Will Always Love You," you're going to hear "One Moment in Time," and they're going to take on a whole different resonance. And, you know, this is horrible, horrible news.

MORGAN: Yes. It really is. Simon, I'm very grateful to you. I know it's very late at night in Scotland.

COWELL: Oh, it's fine, Piers.

(CROSSTALK)

I genuinely wish we were talking on happier circumstances. But like I said before, you're going to hear a lot of not very nice stories over the next few weeks, if not months. But I think it's really important that she was a troubled lady. I don't want to go into too much detail as to why she got there.

But let's remember her for what she was when she was at the top, that she was one of the greatest artists of all time. I don't know whether we're going to find another one like her again. And I'm just incredibly sad. And I'm glad I got the chance to talk to you about her, to tell you how much she meant to me.

MORGAN: Simon, I'm very grateful to you, and I know that you knew her and you'll be extremely sad personally about this. And you've given us a fantastic insight, I think, into all the issues surrounding Whitney Houston.

It is a seismic shock to the music industry and to the world. You can just tell by all the social media tonight -- Twitter, I think the top ten trending subjects are all Whitney Houston related.

(CROSSTALK) This is a bombshell and it's right up there with the death of Michael Jackson and Elvis and others before. There are very few people who have had the talent of Whitney Houston. But, Simon, thank you very much for spending so much time with us.

(CROSSTALK)

COWELL: And let's just hope somebody learns something from this so these kind of things don't happen anymore. Because you can't waste lives and talent like this. It's just so wrong.

MORGAN: Well, I -- I mean, it's only a few months ago we were talking about the loss of Amy Winehouse, one of the great singer- songwriters of the last 25 years. And, you know, if there's one clear message that hopefully comes through is that this whole thing of drugs in the music business and so on is just desperately sad when it takes such great talent so young.

COWELL: Yes, and have the right people around you, you know. I mean, that's not to say she didn't with Clive, because, you know, every artist should wish for a Clive Davis in their lives. But there were other people.

MORGAN: Simon, thank you very much. We're going to go to a break now. But I really appreciate you spending so much time with us.

COWELL: It was a pleasure to talk to you. And as I said, I wish it was on a happier note.

MORGAN: Yes. Thank you, Simon. And we're going to leave with some music as we go to a break from Whitney Houston. We'll come back with some commentary from Dr. Drew Pinsky about all the troubled issues that surrounded Whitney Houston's life. Just to repeat, she has died at 48 years old today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And we will always love Whitney Houston and the talent that she had and the beautiful voice and the songs that she leaves as her legacy. Whitney Houston dead at the age of 48, died today in a hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

The great Lionel Richie on the phone now.

Lionel, before we get to you, we're looking at live pictures now of the Beverly Hilton. These are courtesy of our affiliate KABC.

Whitney Houston found unresponsive on the fourth floor in a hotel room there, and you're looking at live pictures of that hotel. Obviously, the center of attention now. Big Clive Davis Grammy party supposed to be going on there. And then you have this.

Lionel, last time I spoke to you, we were at Michael Jackson's funeral and now we're dealing with this. LIONEL RICHIE, SINGER (via telephone): Are you there?

LEMON: Lionel, yes.

RICHIE: Yeah, I have to tell you, I'm absolutely devastated. I always say this all the time, you know, we are a business. Unfortunately of such great talent, but also of great tragedy. And, you know, we see it happen so many times, from the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, 'the 90s, we watch them come, we watch them go. And you keep thinking it can't happen to this next generation. It's not going to happen, and sure enough, here we go again.

You know, Michael was enough to just stop traffic with me. I couldn't believe it. And then, you know, you see Whitney. I talked to her, you know. How are you doing? Are you OK? You keep hoping for the best.

LEMON: Right.

RICHIE: But then when you get this kind of news, it's really nothing but just silence is all I could give you.

LEMON: Can you talk to us about her talent? I'm sure you've seen her entertain as we look at these live pictures from the Beverly Hilton. You've seen her obviously perform on stage there personally. But talk to us about her talent, that voice.

RICHIE: Well, you know, what we pray for in this business, you know, there are singers, and then there are stylists. There are people that you can hear, you know, two notes, three notes and you know exactly who it is. And she had that voice. She had that voice that could just turn a story, a melody, into just magical, magical notes. I think about it all the time in terms of watching her just -- there was no end to what range she could hit.

And of course, you think, OK, she can't get any better than that. And then she comes with another lick that's even more amazing than the last lick. And you know, I always think about myself. I'm a storyteller, so when you get someone who is that gifted with a voice, it almost -- it's almost angelic at some point. And for her, it was just her signature, her signature was that beautiful voice she had.

LEMON: Lionel, Piers Morgan is standing by in Los Angeles.

Piers, you know, it's odd to see as we saw the close-ups. I don't know if you could see the close-ups of the Beverly Hilton. And you could see the red carpet inside. I mean, it's still going on. And, obviously, there's going to be a tribute. But Piers, go ahead, I'm sure you have a couple of questions for Lionel.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I do, Don. There are swirling reports at the party, the Clive Davis Party may not be happening. They are still, I think, trying to decide what to do as an appropriate way of reacting. Clive Davis, obviously, was the great mentor to Whitney Houston. He discovered her when she was a teenager. Turned her into one of the biggest musical stars of all time. Lionel, obviously very, very difficult night for everybody in the business. I was talking to Simon Cowell a little earlier about the particular pressures that come with being as big a star as Whitney Houston was and trying to stay at the level that people know you for.

And, you know, we were talking there about the angelic voice. There's no doubt that in recent years, because of a lot of the issues in her life, she was struggling to keep that voice at that same level.

And from a singer's point of view, tell me about the psychology when that happens to you. It must put huge pressure on you.

RICHIE: Huge. It's almost to the point of, what would be your identity? If your identity is your voice, and you don't have the voice that you had let's say ten years ago, what an amazing psychological pressure that could be on top of you.

You know, to be excellent every night, to be excellent every time you perform on record, it's just devastating. And then on top of that, let's put, now I have to live, we have to live our lives in the press every day. So on top of just the vocals, it's what are our personal tragedies? What are we going through personally as, I bet your can't top yourself. Can you beat the last performance you had? And then they bring the next thing in. You know, a young singer just came along that could be the next you. Can you imagine how that sounds in your head if you're an artist?

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Well, fine enough -- I was interviewing Jennifer Hudson last night by coincidence with Clive Davis, and she was talking about Whitney being her great heroine.

And Jennifer has this incredible voice, too. She was, I think, going to be performing tonight. And, you know, you can imagine the psychology of Whitney Houston probably sitting there listening to this young girl singing at the level that she may crave.

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: I mean, can you imagine someone saying, well, you know, you don't have to hit the notes that you used to hit. We'll take it down a half step for you, or we'll take it down a whole step for you.

I mean, as much as these sounds accommodating, it's not exactly what a vocalist wants to hear, especially when you have the next sitting there in the audience hitting notes higher than you did the first time in your life. It's devastating, and I understand it, but at the same time, she was such an iconic state in terms of her career that you always want to maintain the person that you started out with back in the '80s or where your career started. It's not an easy position to be at that level, that altitude of her career.

LEMON: Can I just jump in here, guys? I want to remind the viewers of where we are. On the left side of your screen, viewer, you're looking at the live pictures of the Beverly Hilton. This is where the Clive Davis party is going on.

And inside, there's a roundabout in front of the hotel and that's where the red carpet is, and a lot of events are held there. The Oscar party were held there. The SAG Awards were held there just a couple of weeks ago, a couple of weekends ago.

And you're looking at a balcony now. And they're probably, I'm sure the chopper is trying to zoom in on the fourth floor, because that's where Whitney Houston's body was found in a room on the fourth floor there, at 3:55 this afternoon pronounced dead.

And I think, Lionel, you bring up a good point. Because as Piers and Simon were talking, the last thing -- one of the last things Simon said was, listen, there are going to be a lot of horrible stories that are going to be said over the next couple of weeks and months, but let's hope there is a lesson, a positive lesson from all of this.

You have had to deal with yourself being in the press. Your daughter being in the press and in the tabloids. Whitney Houston. What is the advice, what is the takeaway as you see it here?

RICHIE: Well, you have to understand something. We live our lives every day in the public. More so now than ever. And just there used to be a time, you just can't imagine this, there used to be a time when all you had to do was survive your own craft. They didn't know anything about your personal life.

We didn't know about Elvis and the background. We didn't know about all these tragedies that were happening. And all of a sudden, now we have every single day there's a tweet, there's a blog, there's a blurb about some part of your personal life.

Now, from a stand point of an artist, we're a business of psyche. How can we hold ourselves together and still maintain the voice, the psyche of who we are and how do we maintain that? Can you imagine the pressure now of trying to be who you want to be and still with all this swirling around about your personal life, you know, the tragedy of your personal life, and you're trying to overcome that and say walk on stage now and do your best song. It's the hardest thing to overcome. And that's why you see --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Lionel, I just --

(CROSSTALK)

RICHIE: Today, so many artists are falling apart because the pressure of being famous and maintaining the famous part, and maintaining your craft at the same time is almost overbearing.

MORGAN: We're hearing, Lionel, but I just got a message from somebody who is at the Clive Davis event that they are probably on now going ahead with this. Obviously, being an incredibly difficult decision and night for Clive Davis. I mean, what he's going through -- you know, I sat with this man in this studio yesterday, and he was talking in this incredibly emotional way about Whitney and legacy then, you know, obviously not knowing anything is going to happen to her. It's a real bombshell this, isn't it, Lionel? What impact will this have on the music industry, you think?

RICHIE: Well, first of all, let me talk about Clive for a minute. Because what's so beautiful about this man is that, you know, in our business, we find people who believe in us. We find people who tell us before we even know we're famous that you have a voice, you have a skill that's going to be so amazing to the world that I believe in you enough, I'm behind you and we believe in this guy.

And, Clive was the perfect person for Whitney. I mean, he took her under his wing and said, I am going to do all I can to make you that star. And I know tonight he is probably devastated because this was his angel. This was his little angel. And I know that through her tragedy of drugs and everything, I know how he felt about one day my angel is going to come back and be strong that she was before.

LEMON: Lionel, can we talk about Cissy? Can we talk about Cissy? What she's dealing with now?

RICHIE: Who is this again now?

LEMON: Cissy Houston.

RICHIE: Oh my God, I can't imagine. Well, just startled parent. I mean, we don't have to start going any further than that. I mean, she's been in the business longer than anyone. She knows the hardships of this business, but she just lost a child. I mean, my heart absolutely goes out to her and to Dion, because I know them so well that I just can't imagine their loss.

MORGAN: Lionel, there's going to be so much stuff written about Whitney Houston, as there was after Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and all these entertainers who get taken at such tragically early ages like this.

Try and put in perspective for me what Whitney Houston was really like from your knowledge of her. Cut away from all the tabloid headlines and the mythology, what kind of woman was she?

RICHIE: Very good question, and I love that, by the way. And I started smiling as you thought about it.

First of all, I mean, she was a gift, if you understand that.

MORGAN: Yes.

RICHIE: I mean, I am a storyteller. She's a singer. So when you see someone walking to the studio and can hit any note she wants to hit at any volume, at any level, I mean, come on.

I sat there some days going God, you should have given me a little bit more than that, you know. But she was just a gift in voice. And I think more so of the humor, her sense of humor in the middle of all this.

I remember in her early days, she kept saying to me, you know, do you think one day I'm going to be like you? I said no, no, you are there. And quit saying you're going to be there one day. You are there already. But she was just so innocent to the business and that voice was so pure and her life was so pure that that's what I'm holding onto.

I think what we're going to do in the long run of her life story is focus on the voice. Not the tragedy, but the voice. That's the gift that was left to us. That's the gift that was given to her and that's going to be what we'll always remember.

LEMON: Wow. Hey, can we have -- well, while we have you, Lionel, I want to read some of the responses from some of the people you have worked with.

First up, I'm going to read Aretha Franklin, all right, Lionel. Aretha Franklin says, "I just can't talk about it now. It's so stunning and unbelievable. I couldn't believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen. My heart goes out to Cissy, her daughter, Bobby Chris and her family and Bobby."

I mean, Aretha Franklin is the voice and a phenomenon herself paying tribute tonight to Whitney Houston.

Smoky Robinson saying, "I've known Whitney since he was a little girl, and I've loved her. She was like family to me. I will miss her." Smoky Robinson signed with love.

Mariah Carey tonight saying, "Heart broken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend, the incomparable Ms. Whitney Houston. My heartfelt condolences to Whitney's family and over the millions of fans throughout the world. She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices to ever grace the earth."

And Piers, you mentioned you and Simon were talking about Tony Bennett, another amazing talent and voice.

MORGAN: Yes.

LEMON: Tony Bennett says, "It is a terrible loss for the industry." This is -- he's at the Clive Davis party tonight. "Terrible loss for the industry," and when Clive Davis heard the news, he said that "when Clive Davis first signed her, she was one of the best voices ever in the industry. And he calls her one of the best vocalists of our time." That's just coming in. I'm just reading it off of my e-mail here and to CNN.

RICHIE: I agree with that.

MORGAN: Yes, I think, Don, we're going to be hearing from Clive Davis very shortly. He's at this party at the Beverly Hilton. Obviously, it's a tragic situation where Whitney Houston was found dead at the hotel. She was staying there specifically for the purpose of attending the party tonight. It's a party she always looks forward to every year. Clive was telling me off camera last night that it's a thing she really enjoys, and he was hoping she may get to perform.

And, you know, it's such a devastating thing to have happened. I mean, everybody down there, all these great stars and, Clive and the others, they're just reeling from the shock of what has happened. But I think, they're right to go ahead with this, because, I think, all the guests we've had tonight are hitting the right tone here.

Whatever has gone wrong with Whitney Houston's life, and it's been very well documented that she had many difficult issues; the reality is that she was one of the greatest singers of all time. She produced some of the greatest records of all time.

RICHIE: Right.

MORGAN: And I think it's appropriate tonight to remember the incredible music, the incredible body of work. And the tributes from people like Lionel Richie himself, one of the great singing stars of the world, talking in the kind of awe that you have, Lionel, about this woman.

RICHIE: I'm going to tell you, honestly in my lifetime, I've never met anyone who was so gifted in voice. From the first day I watched her in the studio that I just could not believe that when we did "The Preachers Wife," she did take, after take, after take live, you know, which is unheard of.

You know, you normally do it to track after a while, but she did every take live. And I kept thinking to myself, where is this voice coming from? You know, I think that's what we're going to hold on to in the long run, is her gift, the gift of what God -- the universal God, what gave that gift to her. And I think that's -- if we can hold onto that, then her memory will be absolutely brilliant.

MORGAN: Lionel Richie, thank you so much for calling in. We really appreciate it on this desperately difficult night for you and for the whole music business and everyone that knew Whitney Houston as you did. And our heart goes out to you and everybody who knew her. We're going to go to a commercial break. But for now, Lionel, thank you.

RICHIE: Thank you so much.

LEMON: We're going to be back with our coverage of the death of Whitney Houston right after a quick break. We're going to hear from Dr. Drew Pinsky Whitney faced for some of her life. And we're going to pay tribute and honor her, as well. We're back in a moment here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news everyone is that Whitney Houston, singer, entertainer extraordinaire, dead at the age of 48, found in a hotel room in Beverly Hills, 3:55 this afternoon, Pacific Time at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

When paramedics got there, they've work on her. They said she was unresponsive and they never got her to come back. They never revived her. 48 years old.

She was supposed to be attending a Grammy party for legendary producer Clive Davis. The party is going on now. You're looking at live pictures of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

My colleague Piers Morgan is in Los Angeles helping us out. Kareen Wynters is in Hollywood helping us out, as well. And as well as our folks who were there at the Beverly Hilton tonight.

Before we go to Piers and to Kareen and all the people we have, I want to go to our very own Dr. Drew Pinsky, who is helping us as well.

Dr. Drew, listen, we want to pay tribute to Whitney and we want to remember the good things about her and the extraordinary voice and talent that she did possess. But we would be remiss in our duties as journalists if we didn't talk about the other possibilities, just the possibilities of what might have happened and to talk about some of the issues that Whitney dealt with in her life.

Dr. Drew?

All right, we lost Dr. Drew. Piers Morgan is standing by.

Piers, I thought it was very interesting when you spoke with Simon Cowell and I got to jump in a little bit and he mentioned the same thing that I said, we should be honoring Whitney Houston. But the fact is --

MORGAN: Yes. I think that the real --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, go ahead.

MORGAN: Yes, there's a fine line, isn't there, Don, when these tragic events happened, when you had somebody like Whitney Houston who has had such a well-documented history of problems and terrible issues to deal with substance abuse and a pretty brutal marriage and so on. There is a temptation to dwell too much on that.

When this is the night that this -- a remarkable talent has been taken from us, and it is important, I think, to focus on that talent, on her as a human being, on the impact she had on the world. Because we know what's going to happen in the next few days and weeks.

Every tiny part of her life will be raked over and CNN, like everybody else, will report on that as it's appropriate. But when you hear Whitney Houston singing in these clips that we're playing, it's very hard for me to think of anyone in my lifetime, I'm 46 years old, who has ever had a better voice than Whitney Houston. And that voice is gone. And she's 48 years old. Desperately young age to lose somebody of this gigantean talent. LEMON: It's interesting because I said when I finished doing the other job and I walked downstairs, and as soon as I got downstairs, they said go back up, because we're getting tragic news that Whitney Houston may have died.

And, Piers, we're the same age. I'll be 46 in a month. And this was the soundtrack, really, to my youth, at least my college years.

Piers, stand by because I want to go to MC Lyte. MC Lyte is the president of The Grammy's in Los Angeles.

And, Piers, please feel free to jump on any time here.

MORGAN: All right.

LEMON: MC, you knew Whitney, 25 years you were friends, and you're out there I imagine. Are you at the party? MC Lyte? We don't have her?

Piers, when they get her --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: It's obviously -- Don, it's fairly chaotic down there. I know that we're trying to get hold of Clive Davis. He's obviously extremely distressed about what happened, but he has this huge event, which I would imagine will become a memorial to Whitney Houston. His great protegee.

You know, as I said earlier tonight, he was sitting in the studio last night talking about Whitney as being one of the greatest stars of them all, without any indication, obviously, of what was going to be happening today.

And Lord only knows what that man is going through. He could never have contemplated. We now have, I think, Don, some tape of Tony Bennett who is at that event tonight. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BENNETT: To have this happen, it's so tragic, you know. It's terrible. She had a God-given gift of being a magnificent singer and great artist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you speak about her impact on your industry?

BENNETT: Well, it's all personal, but you know, I just, you know, to me she was one of the greatest singers I ever heard. And to have this happen to her is tragic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've worked with some of the best vocalists.

BENNETT: That's true. She was one of the greatest singers I ever heard. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel like you kind of regret may be not getting as much opportunity to work with her in the past?

BENNETT: It's one of the regrets I had because I always wanted to sing with her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately you won't be able to do that.

BENNETT: Right, I understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us a little preview into your performance, and what we'll hear from you?

BENNETT: Well, I'm nominated for three Grammys, so I don't know. I'm just doing one of these, you know. Let's see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

BENNETT: Well, thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: That was Tony Bennett, who is speaking tonight at the Beverly Hilton, which is where Whitney Houston's body was found this afternoon, dead by a freak coincidence, she was there to attend that very event.

Clive Davis, her mentor, who discovered her, put her on Arista Record sold millions, hundreds of millions of records. And Tony Bennett recently, I interviewed him. He talked about Amy Winehouse, who he did sing with last year, as being another of the greatest singers he had ever seen. Both Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston have died within the last year. Incredibly sad.

We're now being joined by great record industry man, Tommy Mottola.

Tommy, a desperately sad evening for everybody in music.

Tommy Mottola, are you there?

TOMMY MOTTOLA, MUSIC EXECUTIVE (via telephone): Tommy good evening, Piers.

MORGAN: Tommy, obviously, a desperately sad evening. You knew Whitney well. What are your feelings tonight?

MOTTOLA: Well, this is just so, so heartbreaking and we're all filled with sadness. It's the loss of one of the greatest treasures to the world of not only music, but you know, to everyone around her and her family, her mother, Cissy and Dion. Her Aunt Dion. It's just a tremendous tragedy for all of us.

MORGAN: And tell me --

MOTTOLA: This young girl who had this extra special voice. I mean, she was what we considered and what I considered the gold standard and really broke all barriers and really, you know, set the goal for everyone to achieve.