Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cautionary Tale: Whitney Houston Dead at 48

The only thing more depressing than Whitney Houston's entirely predictable death by "partying" is listening to her (now 20+ years old) hits, especially "The Greatest Love of All" with its line about "they can't take away my dignity." Sadly, life rarely imitates art:

Whitney Houston, whose soaring voice lifted her to the top of the pop music world but whose personal decline was fueled by decades of drug use, died on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel room. She was 48. 
Her death came on the eve of the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles and at the same hotel where her mentor, record mogul Clive Davis, was holding an annual pre-event party at which she was scheduled to perform. 
A dramatic scene unfolded at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as music celebrities arriving for the party expressed shock at her death, while reporters swarmed the hotel and fans gathered to pay their respects. 
A Beverly Hills police officer told reporters they were called to the Beverly Hilton at around 3:20 p.m. PST and that emergency personnel found Houston's body in a fourth-floor room, and she was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. The cause of death is under investigation. 
"She has been positively identified by friends and family (who) were with her at the hotel, and next of kin have already been notified," Lieutenant Mark Rosen told reporters. Police said there were no obvious signs of criminal intent. 
Tributes poured in from around the world for a singer whose remarkable vocal range produced some of the most memorable music of her generation, including her signature hit, "I Will Always Love You."

Show business is full of train wrecks, but you have to look long and hard to find a fall as epic as Houston's. Born into a show-biz family that included Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, and Areatha Franklin, Houston rose literally to the top of her profession, before throwing it all away in a death spiral of drug addiction and destructive behavior that destroyed her image and her voice, the two things in the  world she needed to protect the most.
I can't say I was ever literally a fan of Houston's, but back in her heyday (1983 - 1991) she was inescable.  Whatever you might think of big league diva showstoppers as a genre of music, you had to acknowledge her skills were close to unparalleled. But, the relatively brief period that Whitney ruled the pop world saw her project an image that was starkly different than the one she has showed in the years since. Check out her video for "The Greatest Love Of All" and then ask yourself whether you can imagine her being found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel bathroom
After watching 20 years of self destructive Whitney moments, what can you conclude, but that she must have hated the song, hated the sentiment, and hated herself? The Whitney "we" loved was the soaring songbird with the clear-as-glass voice and innocent smile. Houston went out of her way to destroy that image and replace it with a horror show. What demons drove her to do that are, of course, unknown, if not unknowable. (No, it's not "Bobby Brown's fault." They appear to have had a genuinely loving, if destructive, relationship). But, I will say this: as with Michael Jackson, it's not hard to imagine that Houston must have suffered some sort of abuse, whether sexual or psychological or what have you, during her climb to the top. What else would cause someone to destroy themselves like this?

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