NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Actor Kevin Costner gave an emotional tribute to singer Whitney Houston at her funeral on Saturday, revealing insights into the singing sensation who died suddenly last week and hit film "The Bodyguard" they made together.
Costner told family, friends and greats of the music industry who packed the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark during the uplifting ceremony that he and Houston both came from musical families and grew up as Baptists.
"Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began and I urge us all inside and across the nation and around the world to dry our tears, suspend our sorrow, perhaps our anger, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney," he said.
Although Houston's place in musical history is assured, Costner remembered her self-doubt, fear, need for reassurance and her worries, and his doubts, about her first acting role in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard."
"The Whitney that I knew, despite her worldwide success and fame, still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?' It was the burden that made her great, and the part that caused her to stumble in the end," he said.
"People didn't just like you, Whitney, they loved you."
Costner recalled that Hollywood studio executives were hesitant to cast Houston in her first starring role, preferring "somebody white," but she soon won everyone over.
Houston nailed the movie's screen test and dispelled any doubt studio executives had. The film went on to become a worldwide blockbuster, but Costner confessed that the hit song "I Will Always Love You" almost didn't make the film because it wasn't the first choice.
He praised Houston, who suffered a still unexplained death in a Beverly Hills hotel room one week ago, for setting the bar so high for professional singers and for young women trying to make it in the music business.
"I think Whitney will tell you, 'Guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle of your own life.' And then sing your hearts out knowing that there is an angel in heaven making God himself wonder how he made something so perfect," Costner said.
"Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father, when you sing before him, don't you worry you'll be good enough."
Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and R. Kelly sang at the invitation-only service that ended with a stirring recording of Houston singing "I Will Always Love You." Oprah Winfrey, singer Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Jesse Jackson and Houston's mentor Clive Davis were among the 1,500 guests.
The cause of death of Houston, who was born in Newark and had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, may not be known for weeks, pending the results of toxicology tests.
She will be buried on Sunday in a private ceremony at a cemetery in Westfield, N.J.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Bob Tourtellotte)