On Saturday, music mega-star Whitney Houston will be laid to rest near her father at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, N.J., after a celebrity-packed, invitation-only funeral at her childhood church in Newark, N.J. The final sendoff of one of America's best-loved vocal talents has generated intense interest, unchecked gossip, a dose of drama, and even a political controversy. Here, five talking points:
1. The ceremony will be packed with gospel and R&B stars
The funeral at New Hope Baptist Church will underline Houston's status as R&B royalty. The ceremony is being planned by her family, including mother Cissy Houston and cousin Dionne Warwick, both Grammy-winning singers. Houston's godmother, Aretha Franklin, will perform at the service, as will Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. Her eulogy is being given by gospel singer Marvin Winans, the Detroit pastor who officiated Whitney's ill-fated 1992 marriage to Bobby Brown. Also speaking: Record producer Clive Davis, Houston's mentor and the man who guided her to fame.
2. Hollywood will send a delegation, too
The speakers' list also includes actor Kevin Costner, Houston's co-star in her biggest film success, The Bodyguard (1992). "Kevin always supported her," a family friend tells People, and, while the two may have lost touch, "they were always friendly." Director Tyler Perry, whose private jet reportedly flew Houston's body back to New Jersey from California, will also take part in the funeral.
3. Ex-husband Bobby Brown eked out an invite
Rumor had it that Brown, whose volatile marriage to Houston officially ended in 2007, would be barred from the funeral. Not so, says People. Brown and Houston have an 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, and "Bobby will be there at the funeral to support his daughter," a close family friend tells the magazine. "There was some talk... some people were angry at him, but that's just grief. He will be there." After the funeral, Brown is performing in Connecticut with his old band, New Edition. Brown turns to performing "as therapy to get him through a difficult time," CNN reports.
4. You can't go... but you can watch
If you don't have an invitation, Newark police won't let you within four blocks of New Hope Baptist, police director Samuel DiMaio tells CNN. But the Houston family is letting one Associated Press video camera into the funeral, and fans can watch the service on Livestream, or any TV network that chooses to broadcast the AP feed.
5. Chris Christie is courting controversy by honoring Houston
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced this week that flags at state government buildings will fly at half-staff on Saturday in Houston's honor. "Whitney Houston was an important part of the cultural fabric of this state," in the same category as "Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, and Bruce Springsteen," he explained. Not everyone agrees. Judging from posts on Facebook and Twitter, "many people feel that the honor of having flags at half-staff is a gesture for heroes — not drug addicts," says Ruqaiyya Noor at Yahoo News. Indeed, Christie erred here, says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. Houston's untimely death, while tragic, "is not a national tragedy."