Death is an equal opportunity offender. It does not discriminate. It comes for the old and the young; the rich and the poor. It could care less about title, status of one’s net worth. It doesn’t make appointments; it comes when its ready and many times when you are least prepared. It distinguishes not between the believer and the nonbeliever; the sinner or the saved.
Sometime on Saturday February 11, 2012 it came for Whitney Houston.
The mega-talented vocalist seems to have been looking at it in the rearview mirror for some time, and though it appeared to be distant, it was closer than it appeared in the mirror. The world is again shocked that someone so talented, so gifted, so blessed, could wind up leaving this world so prematurely. Even after all the tabloid escapades that engulfed her life in later years, her fans wanted so desperately to believe that Whitney was truly on the road to recovery and set to reclaim her place in music royalty. Sadly, it was not to be.
There will be countless tributes to Whitney Houston in the coming days, including an unplanned salute to her at tonight’s Grammy awards in Los Angeles. Her life and career should be celebrated; she achieved much during her abbreviated time on this earth. It would be wrong though, and would also diminish the value of her life, if we did not use her struggles to remind us all that death gives no one a pass and that we should not aid its early arrival. The number of artists who struggled with addiction and who met an early death is staggering. It is a reminder, and should be a warning to youth who idolize celebrity and not the blessing of a God given gift, that there is often a high price to be paid for fame and fortune. Our memories are filled with talent that was derailed by addiction and/or depression. Truly, the skyrocket to fame is both impressive and overwhelming, and sadly the reentry into the atmosphere of regular folk experienced with equal but often deadly force.
How many times must we see this scene play out before we decide to re-write the ending of this drama? While the official cause of Whitney Houston’s death remains to be determined, given her past substance abuse problems it would not be a stretch to speculate that a factor or contributing factor was her addiction. It is a public health crisis that we need to come to terms with as a nation. In that respect, hopefully if any “good” can come out of this we will use Whitney’s passing to amplify the discussion about drug addiction. This is a disease that destroys people and families, and ravages communities, and robs our nation of the best that was yet to come. Help is often available, is often within reach, but is often rejected for a myriad of reasons – shame, denial or sometimes because the addiction is more powerful than love from family or love of self.
For all our adulation of our favorite artists, as fans perhaps we demand too much and give too little. Behind the glitz, glitter and makeup these are real people with real life challenges and real problems. I can only imagine that it can become a bit too much; the need to be “on” all the time and to be the fantasy created by music videos and supermarket tabloids. Despite the outward appearance of confidence and success, it must also get really lonely when you are on top. That is what I find most sad about Whitney Houston’s death. There is a loneliness about it that touches the heart.
I am confident that whatever demons she faced while on this earth, Whitney Houston is now at peace. She no longer has to worry about making hits or running from the paparazzi. Her time is no longer bound by such trivial matters. I suspect her “producer” had been working in the studio and found a tune that only she could sing. So sing Whitney, hit those high notes, and walk among the true stars. Your family is surely heartbroken, and your legion of fans at a loss for words, but your life teaches us that life is no dress rehearsal and that we must also face the final curtain call. Tragically, your show ended too soon.