Whitney Houston’s death: accidental drowning caused by a heart attack & cocaine?

The coroner has released a statement on the cause of death for Whitney Houston, and it actually surprised me. I thought that Whitney’s cause of death would have been a combination of sedative drugs, but the initial autopsy report claims that she died from accidental drowning, with the “effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use” contributing to her death. She was also on a cocktail of prescription and other non-prescription drugs, including marijuana, benadryl, a muscle relaxant and xanax. The coroner thinks that Whitney had a “cardiac event” perhaps brought on by cocaine use, which caused her to slip underwater and drown. This is perhaps a controversial conclusion given the evidence, as E! Online has quotes from another medical expert who claims that the sedatives in her system, even though they were in “therapeutic levels,” should have been considered contributing factors in her death. (They still might be, as the full coroner report has not yet been released.) Here’s E!’s very good explanation of the coroner’s report, and CNN has more:

Whitney Houston drowned on Feb. 11, having ingested cocaine recently enough to have it be a contributing factor in her death.

But what does that mean? Did she overdose? Hit her head? Simply fall asleep? Did years of cocaine use cause the heart disease that was also detected during autopsy?

How exactly did Houston, who was only 48, die in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton?

Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter, who determined cause of death to be accidental drowning combined with cocaine use and atherosclerotic heart disease, tells E! News that his team actually has not been able to pinpoint exactly how Houston died as far as sequence of events—but there are some likely possibilities.

“It means she could have passed out and drowned,” Winter says. “Also, continued use of drugs resulted in heart disease, and that could have led to a heart attack.”

“At this time,” he adds, “I don’t know how bad her heart was. That will be in the final report. We know she drowned, she had heart disease, and the cocaine was considered a contributing cause to her death.” They will be reexamining Houston’s heart for other indicators of deterioration in the coming days.

As for the traces of pills found in her system, chief coroner investigator Craig Harvey told reporters during a press conference that it was “clear Houston was taking Xanax, but the levels were such they were a therapeutic level…normal for someone following the rules of a prescribed medication.”

“The Benadryl may have created a combined effect,” Harvey said, “but the toxicology said all levels were therapeutic or sub-therapeutic and not contributory to her death.”

They found a “moderate” amount of cocaine—an “acute dose, not too much before she collapsed,” he said, but noted that there was evidence of “chronic usage.”

“Drug use creates problems,” Harvey explained. “If you have one condition and you’re using cocaine, you’ll exacerbate it. It causes the heart to beat faster, the arteries to constrict, which can create a problem and set you up for a cardiac event.”

“It exacerbates heat disease,” he said. “Probably in the long run, [all of the substances] didn’t help.”

The coroner’s office said earlier today that the final report should be available for release within two weeks.

Meanwhile, at least one medical expert doesn’t buy the notion that the marijuana, Xanax and other sedatives found in her system were not considered contributing factors in Houston’s death.

“I don’t know how you can say that a bunch of sedating drugs, even in small amounts, couldn’t contribute to somebody either passing out or becoming sedated to the point where you wouldn’t necessarily struggle to recover the way most people would,” Dr. David Baron, chief of staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Ortopaedic Hospital, tells E! News.

“If we were falling asleep and slipped under the water, our emergency systems in our brain would wake us up,” Baron said. “When people are sedated, the brain doesn’t have the normal alarm systems working properly to make you struggle and fight for life. So I really don’t get why [the coroner's office] said they were not contributing causes; I don’t know how they can know that unless they were in such minute amounts.”

Which is a possibility—the official report hasn’t been released yet.

As for the cocaine, Baron said, if she ingested a “large amount…she could have easily had a cardiac event like a heart attack and an irregular heartbeat. There is no way after someone dies to know if they had an arrhythmia, they are always the mystery of sudden death where you weren’t there to witness it.”

“We are probably never going to know the exact sequence of events that took place,” Baron concluded. “But the question about whether the drug use caused her to drown or not I think is unquestionable. It either compromised her heart, made it weak, caused an arrhythmia and resulted in blood vessels constricting.”

[From E! Online]

As a layperson, I wondered how medical examiners can determine a death by heart attack. Like I assumed that there would be definitive evidence to show that a heart attack took place, but that doesn’t seem to be the case given the quotes in this article. Examiners might only be going on the condition of the heart and arteries. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) I asked my husband, who is a scientist, to help me find out more about this, and he semi-confirmed this with some research. I also found this statement on Wikipedia’s autopsy entryA study that focused on myocardial infarction (heart attack) as a cause of death found significant errors of omission and commission,[5] i.e. a sizable number cases ascribed to myocardial infarctions (MIs) were not MIs and a significant number of non-MIs were actually MIs.” So as this E! article explains, it sounds like the heart attack and then drowning theory for Whitney is just that, a theory.

Radar is trying to make this into a scandal and is suggesting that since no cocaine was found on the scene that someone must have cleaned it up. Life isn’t like a CSI episode and just because cocaine wasn’t found in the hotel room that doesn’t mean that someone hid evidence. Whitney could have done a bump from her purse that someone picked up after she died, or she might have done some lines in another person’s hotel room. Of course it’s easy to imagine people freaking out and cleaning up illegal drugs in Whitney’s suite before the paramedics came. Poor Whitney.

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35 Responses to “Whitney Houston’s death: accidental drowning caused by a heart attack & cocaine?”

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  1. aprayerforthewildatheart says:

    Poor thing, she deserved better, too bad she never knew it…

    • justalark says:

      WHY “Poor Whitney” and “Poor thing?”

      This woman was born with some incredible good fortune: her gift of physical beauty and her amazing singing voice. These gifts enabled her to earn a small fortune and live an exclusive and indulgent lifestyle.

      All of her problems, including her untimely death at age 48, were self-induced and the result of poor decisions.

      All of those who claim she was “a good person” and “a true Christian” puzzle me. In my opinion, if a person truly appreciates and honors God’s gifts, she doesn’t abuse alcohol and drugs and neglect her child.

      Actions speak louder than words!

      • lalola says:

        I agree with you! The part of her being a nice person I think she was, but before she started using drugs. In my opinion, as a singer she was gone a long time ago, her brain was also fried a long time ago. I actually felt so embarrassed for her, never watch the interview with Oprah because to me she was just a ghost of the singer/actress that she was.

      • Delouise says:

        People like you with opinions like that are the problem. How terribly immature and criminally naive.

  2. Nicole says:

    She was a great talent and a loss to the music world, but she gets no sympathy from me. She chose her path.

    Addiction is hard bitch to beat, but it can be done if you want it hard enough.

    My sympathy is for her daughter, family and friends who loved her and tried to help her.

    • brin says:

      Well said.

    • NYC_girl says:

      I think if you’re an addict, you’re going to struggle with it the rest of your life, whether it’s alcohol, coke, etc. I had an ex who was alcoholic and it was a terrible mess, and an uncle who died of a heroin OD. I feel most sad for her daughter; I can’t imagine being without my mother. I highly doubt the “family and friends” tried to help. Then again, if you’re addicted, you can only help yourself. Maybe I’m a hard-ass, but I don’t feel sorry for Whitney.

    • Zelda says:

      Also cancer. You can just beat that bitch, if you try hard enough.

      I’m not saying that addiction cannot be handled with a lot of effort, but it is a complex issue, and should not be treated with the oversimplified “If you wanted to be sober, you’d just try harder.”

      I understand what you are saying in your post, but putting something as difficult as addiction in such simplistic terms just stigmatizes it further and makes addicted people even more reluctant to get the help they need to manage it.

      • Nicole says:

        I understand what you are saying, but at the end of the day it is a really simple issue.
        Either the addict wants to be sober or they dont.
        The only cure/management for addiction comes from the addicts self will not to partake in their poison of choice.
        The addict needs to take ownership of their addiction. All addiction programmes boil down to this. Its not complex just an extremely difficult undertaking.

      • strah says:

        I agree. Addiction isn’t a black and white issue for anyone. The majority of addicts realize their problem and what to resolve it but struggle to do so.
        The mentality of ‘if you want to get better you will’ is often misapplied by people who don’t understand the obstacles involved in the situation.

      • Psyren says:

        ITA with Zelda. It’s like since she had an addiction that she wasn’t strong enough to beat, that makes it totally ok that she died. Who cares? She chose to be an addict!

        I don’t care how she died, the point is she was someone’s child, someone’s mother and someone’s friend and a talented musician. No one asked any of you to feel sorry for her. Instead of condemning her and using her as a means to voice your views on addiction, why not just have a little respect for a life that was lost?

      • Delouise says:


  3. Taree says:

    Im a cardiac nurse and even i found that a bit confusing!! There are many ways you can tell if someone’s had a heart attack when they are alive. Certain enzymes rise post MI but once they pass away, it’s harder to decipher these levels and they become less reliable. The coroner would have good indication if there was a cardiac event, but in death these cant be proven, only suggested. Hope that helps?

    • Sapphire says:

      Cocaine use and or narrowing of the coronary arteries can cause irregular heartbeat (arrythmia) which can cause a person to lose conscious or die. It leaves no evidence, unlike a “heart attack” which may cause certain changes in the blood, show a blocked blood vessel etc. I am not a MD, but this is my guess.

      • Dani says:

        I agree and surely her blood would have been checked for cardiac enzymes which are indicative of a heart attack. Although not all enzymes can be tied directly to a heart attack, as some are more specific than others and also will elevate at different times with a heart attack. So time can be a factor as to when these enzymes are obtained from the blood.

        But the autopsy would show some physical damage to the heart if she did have a heart attack. Maybe they already know this and this is why they are leaning towards a heart attack with coke as a contributing factor. All speculation at this point.

        It does seem like they have released partial info but yet with specific reasons for her death which has confused people. This has all the doctors scratching their heads and with good reason.

        I am a bit perplexed as to why they just didn’t wait to release the whole works at once to avoid all this speculation or does it become a public record?

  4. daz says:

    take too many drugs, you die, shocker !!

  5. Maguita says:

    What bothers me most, is how obviously out of it Whitney seemed a few days before her death. Even if her family and PR tried to spin it like gossips were taking things out of context, and making her look bad on purpose: Whitney was acting HIGH OUT OF HER MIND!

    No ifs or buts about it. The woman was ragged. IF you are truly a recovering addict, you don’t go partying with your daughter, your 19-year-old daughter, every night, until the wee hours of the morning!

    The last coroner information is they had found that cocaine was consumed very close to her death, like minutes before her death. And weirdly enough, on Oprah’s last interview with Whitney Houston, she was talking about how she started consuming “soft drugs” not hard, and in her own words, those “little drugs” were pot and cocaine. Yes, she considered cocaine as soft drug, not hard.

    They say that you quit when you are ready to quit. But that goes for normal people, who don’t have entourages and blood-sucking leeches around them 24/7. I think when you have those people around you, it is much harder, and they are as responsible for your addiction as any pusher is.

    So yeah, there might be what could be considered foul play, as her family puts it. The person who gave Whitney her last line has some responsibility too in her death.

  6. Narsa says:

    Jim Morisson died in a bath tub also (ahem) ,,,,? Everybody knows that is one of the oldest common wisetales is to put a person who od’s in the tub , usually cold water with a beating to try to revive them or if they od’ed in some other way a warm bath so to not implicate any foul play or murder .. Her image seemed really important to keep in tact & be presented a certain way to the public , after all she is such an icon of American music history truly blessed so sad …

    • Snarky says:

      If she was already dead, there would not have been water in her lungs and therefore they wouldn’t have ruled it accidental drowning.

      • Celebitchy says:

        I looked that up also and was going to write about it, but it actually doesn’t sound that simple to determine if someone died from drowning, either. See points 10 to 13 on this PDF:

        Also thank you @Taree, Sapphire and Dani for your help with the other medical issues. I don’t know much about that and it’s reassuring to know it’s confusing to those of you with medical experience as well!

  7. hillbillygirl45 says:

    I’m sad, but, not surprised. To me, she was acting erratically those last couple of days. Wonder where that fine upstanding man, Ray J is in all this? He’s such a sleaze….he was probably her connection……

    • Maguita says:

      Definitely agree on Ray J, that disgusting perv has something to do with her untimely demise.

      Although her health was her responsibility, I think he was one of her detractors on her road to getting better. One of the blood-sucking leeches.

  8. lucy2 says:

    Sad, but not surprising.

  9. Hipocricy says:

    Miss Houston was a drug ADDICT UNLIKE HER EX HUSBAND who was more of a druggie than a drug addict. She has been an addict for at the very least half her life, period !

    I am just tired of her family, entourage or part of her fans (i am a fan of her music) keeping at pointing fingers at others while minimizing her HUGE responsability in her own demise.

    She was the one who was caught on picture in pijama buying her fix from a drug dealer a few years ago, not Bobby B, she was the one using her own money to buy her fix and lost 100 millions of her own dollars into drugs.

    She was 100% responsible and instead of pointing at her facing her responsability, her family, her entourage have always kept on pointing fingers at others.

    How come she was allowed to raise a child with all the drug surrounding her while her entourage didn’t do anything, didn’t intervene ? I rememberred Mariah Carey supporting her mum to remove her sister’s children from her because of the drug. How come it wasn’t done for Whitney ?

    I tell you how ! Because her family never make her accountable for her own addiction. Because it was always somebody’s fault. They should have treated her like the true addict she was and be tough with her, including removing her child from her until she was totally proven cleaned….just like Britney has made a 180 degrees turn around and became sane again after her kids were removed from her, after her money was managed by her father.

    But then again, Britney’s entourage didn’t put their head in the sand and were not busy pointing fingers at others !

    What killed Whitney, besides the drugs, is the blatant blindness and guilty tolerance of her entourage towards her addiction.

  10. kibbles says:

    This will inevitably be the same story for Lindsay Lohan whether she cleans up her act or continues on the same disastrous path. Lohan has probably used so many drugs that she has done irreparable damage to her heart and arteries. The same with Whitney Houston. Her premature death was inevitable. She spent too many years abusing drugs. The coroner found plaque buildup in her arteries. If she hadn’t drowned in the bathtub at the Beverly Hilton, she probably would have died elsewhere someday soon of the same causes. I never believed once that she was off cocaine and marijuana. She looked like a hot mess for a very long time. Bloated, disheveled, disoriented, and acting irrational. That night when she had a fight with that woman from the X-Factor should have been more than enough warning signs to put her back into rehab. Unfortunately, I think her entourage gave up on her and allowed her to go on with her drug use as long as she got it together just enough to attend events such as the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party she was to attend the night of her death. And it is obvious that someone in her entourage flushed (or took for themselves) the drugs before the paramedics got there.

    • Onyx XV says:

      kibbles, I was thinking the same thing when reading this. Lindsay’s path will probably be very much the same, only at a younger age. Her family and sycophantic entourage seem more stupid, ignorant and enabling than Whitney’s.

    • Whatever says:

      Lindsay will make it simply because she’s not married to another addict. Its worse if you’re significant other is also an addict because that means, you have to get 2 people cleaned and Not just one.

  11. k says:

    Rip..Whitney. The worst thing you did was to marry another addict. You were an amazing person, wish you knew that.

  12. Gene Parmesan says:

    i wish i could say i was surprised but im not

  13. skuddles says:

    From what I’ve read, it’s believed she ingested the coke right before she died, so it does seem likely that someone cleaned up traces from the room. Plus the sheets were pulled off the bed before EMT’s arrived, so that seems rather suspect… Also, the room was stripped the moment Whitney’s body was moved. I actually believe there is a lot more to the situation than what is being reported and certainly an abundance of rumors out there about who was in the room and what led up to Whitney’s death, bad coke and why BK suffered a similar incident in a tub just the day before, etc. Some people are saying Ray J is losing his sh*t a bit, worried the coke will be traced directly back to him. He’s apparently known for being a dealer to the stars and quite likely his “relationship” with Whitney was more of a dealer-junkie/junkie scenario than an actual love connection. I really don’t think this is the end of the story and many more details will emerge now that the coroner’s report has been released.

  14. Trashaddict says:

    The Assistant Coroner Ed Winter is the one quoted for a lot of these high-profile Hollywood deaths, he must be the mouthpiece, I looked him up and there are quotes from him on Brittany Murphy’s death, her husband’s, Don Cornelius, etc. They never seem to quote the Chief Medical Examiner on these things, maybe he doesn’t like to talk to the press (he is an MD though). Not clear who physically did the autopsy and I can’t tell looking up his name whether Winters is a physician or not. Their website says all physician staff but lots of coroner’s offices are elected and not necessarily physicians either, although pathologists are trying to change that. Anyway, autopsies are not magical like CSI but the quality is somewhat dependent on who’s doing them and how much they think to look for. Were there any comments about Whitney’s blood alcohol level? Alcohol and benadryl – bad combination. Cocaine can cause coronary artery spasm with the end effects being like a heart attack, except your coronary arteries won’t look clogged on the autopsy. If she had cardiomyopathy which is basically a flabby heart, from all the drugs she’d used, the pathways controlling her normal rhythm could have been damaged –> arrhythmia –> unconscious in the bathtub –> dead. Don’t do drugs, kiddies….

  15. Rux says:

    Addicts leave traces. No matter what.

  16. Myria says:

    I find it extremely sad that the majority of opinions regarding drug abusers and drug abuse in general is in itself abusive. Just because someone has talent and money doesn’t mean they are automatically going to be sailing on a cloud of happiness. Drug addicts, especially long term ones the majority have underlying mental conditions and abuse from childhood. Even mild depression can lead one to self medicate let alone a person with bi polar, personality disorders and sexual abuse. Their actions and behaviors seem very selfish and stupid but I have worked with addicts for over 20 years and they are without a doubt some of the most talented, artistic, sensitive, giving and truly honest people I have ever met. Their addictions are something even they wouldn’t wish on anyone even their worst enemy. It is a legacy, a lifetime disease that is extremely complicated and for society at large due to the social stigma is severely misunderstood. One thing no one can argue about it that for some addicts like Whitney it is terminal.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I don’t buy the whole ‘happy family’ facade with Whitney and her parents. They stage managed her through their connections. She was never ‘discovered’; the whole thing was opportunistically engineereed.
    Her dad looks like he might have had a few issues himself. I read from a reliable source that he sued Whitney early on for control of her money.
    Her mother and ‘aunt’ Dionne Warwick look like vultures.
    I think the woman was abused in childhood somehow. Her eyes, even when she smiled, were sad.
    As for her vocal loss: She had numerous plastic surgeries including probably at least two nose jobs. Easy to see when comparing early photos. A nose job also changes the voice, which is why Streisand finally had one years after she retired from making albums.
    Anaesthesia and intubation can mar the vocal cords. Whitney,as good as her voice was, abused it by ‘throat singing’ instead of facial mask singing.
    She sang on the edge, lived on the edge. The drugs and smoking pot and cigarettes also ruin the voice.
    This was a very fishy death, and covered up. When initial reports are retracted and new reports issued, something’s up.


    Sorry you have to type it in, this blog obviously discourages likes to other pages.

  18. Jennifer says:


    Good link, informative and thought-provoking re: Whitney and death. Found out you can click on and go directly to the page.

    Also, to the first blogger who said Whitney could not have been a Christian: She was what is known as BACKSLIDDEN. Her salvation from the Lord was by grace and grace alone and she did not lose her salvation.
    I would have probably backsidden just as badly with all the temptation she faced.