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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Good Could Come From the Death of Whitney Houston?

"Whitney Houston's sad and sudden death 
on the eve of the Grammys 
after a well-documented history with substance abuse 
has plunged the media into schizophrenic mode 
as it wrestles with ways to praise her legacy 
while acknowledging her lurid end." - Brent Lang

At 48 years old, Whitney Houston died relatively young, but her battle with addiction played out so publicly that the final act was seemingly inevitable. The slow-motion decline is no longer astonishing news. Nor is death caused by drug abuse. Today, the majority of the public even anticipates the finality with a common acceptance. 

A celebrity death is not so much an admonishment, but rather a curiosity. People watch cultural icons crumble in life and then they are swiftly shocked by their deaths.   

One can find story after story about a music icon whose career and life, once infected with the disease of drug abuse, slides unchecked into inescapable decline and inevitable death. Perhaps the '60s should have been the watershed decade that separated drug addiction fiction from fact. Consider the deaths then -- Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mike Bloomfield, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Tim Hardin, Keith Moon, Gram Parsons, David Ruffin, Lowell George -- all brilliant, unbelievably talented stars who lost their lives to drugs.

Unfortunately, nothing much has changed about musicians' addictions and deaths to drug abuse since then except the means of delivery -- changing from massive amounts of  heroin, morphine, and cocaine in the '60s to prescription drugs like OxyContin, lorazepam, diazepam, and Xanax in the new millennium.      

Whitney Houston's death becomes the most current chapter in the volume of musical addiction. Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse have recently contributed their painful episodes.

And, in the wake of their deaths, the truth of their dependency was minimized. Instead, the media chose to portray the old tale of another star cut down in their prime, perhaps poised for a comeback or an artistic milestone but now denied. This mournful treatment is expected in the name of respect and common decency; however, another prime opportunity for a cold but honest learning moment becomes secondary. What about the toll of the years of drug abuse on Whitney Houston?

Celebrities spoke out about Houston's untimely death:

"First of all, I want to tell you that I love you all. Second, I would like to say, I love you Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage." -- Houston's ex-husband Bobby Brown, performing a show in Southaven, Miss., hours after her death.

**Note** People watched her fall victim to domestic abuse on the 2004 reality show "Being Bobby Brown." The show broke ratings records on Bravo. In his review of that program, Barry Gerron of the Hollywood Reporter called it "undoubtedly the most disgusting and execrable series ever to ooze its way onto television." (Lucas Kavner, The Huffington Post, February 13 2012)

Tony Bennett, who has had his own struggles with addiction, publicly called for the legalization of drugs in the wake of Houston’s death, saying it could prevent future tragedies. He said, "I'd like every person in this room (at Clive Davis' annual Grammy Awards) to campaign to legalize drugs. Let's legalize drugs like they did in Amsterdam. No one's hiding or sneaking around corners to get it. They go to a doctor to get it."

**Note** This comes from a man who claims he had to give up drugs? Bennett struggled with drug addiction in the late 1970s. According to Bennett, a friend, the manager for the late comic Lenny Bruce, said of Bennett, "He sinned against his talent." "That one sentence just changed my life. It meant that I had to drop everything I was doing. I stopped all drugs completely," Bennett said.

But almost celebrities stuck to simple statements of condolences. 

Beyonce Knowles, Mariah Carey, Oprah Winfrey, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few, spoke of Whitney's amazing talents, sincerity, and kindness. 

A couple of celebrities did offer different opinions:

Comedian Patton Oswalt urged Lindsay Lohan's "goddamn friends" to try and prevent an untimely end to her troubled life. "Sit her down now, 'post-Whitney, post-Michael, post-Amy' and be stern with her," he urged via Twitter. "You could actually save her."  

Celine Dion called in to Good Morning America today and had A LOT to say about Whitney Houston, an artist Dion referred to as "an amazing inspiration."

"It's just really unfortunate that drugs, bad people, bad influences took over her dreams, her motherhood," said Dion. "When you think about Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson.. To get into drugs like that for whatever reason - because of stress, bad influence, whatever."

She continued, "What happens when you have everything? Love, support, motherhood... Something happens that I don't understand. That's why I'm scared of show business, of drugs and hanging out. That's why I don't go to parties!"

I applaud Patton Oswalt and especially Celine Dion for their courage and their witness to the tragedy that seemingly never ends. Unlike the media and most of Houston's fellow celebrities, they seized the moment to emphasize the importance of stopping drug deaths. With respect to Whitney Houston, they chose to use her unfortunate demise to address larger concerns.The question Houston's friends need to consider after her death should be: "Who contributed to her rehabilitation and well being?"

Maybe this seems cruel to some that entertainers would expose the matter of abuse so soon after Houston's death. But, the point is that IT IS TIME TO PUSH FOR CHANGE. No one is attempting to defame Houston, belittle her achievements, or misrepresent her life. Instead, these concerned people are issuing a long-overdue wake up call. There is a prescription drug abuse epidemic in the music industry.

 “The real sad loss happened ten years ago,” said Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History. “She (Houston) was the walking wounded, but the press is not going to alienate her fans by writing that. So it becomes this mixed bag between weeping on the grave and dancing on the grave.” (Brent Lang, TheWrap,, February 14, 2012)

One life saved by entertainers speaking out in truth for a positive change is reason enough for those in the music industry to shout, "Enough is enough!" Whenever artists really want to sustain the lives of their fellow stars and allow their exceptional talents to mature fully, they will work tirelessly to change the myths about drugs and, instead, reveal the realities they already know far too well. The problem is really about "facing up" and "speaking out." -- not in a manner of reveling in lurid detail about dead celebrities but rather to illustrate the deadly consequences of dependency and addiction. 

I pray the death of Whitney Houston may be the beginning of the end: the end of certain expectations. The public, especially youth who idolize musical performers, have accepted the "drugs, sex, and rock and roll" cliche image of stars. They are not shocked when their heroes are busted for drugs, arrested for insane actions, or become involved in almost any other reprehensible conduct. They believe their idols are just following in the footsteps of their predecessors. And so, the vicious cycle continues.

Even worse, most believe that drug rehabilitation will take care of any addiction. To them, becoming clean in rehab is about as easy as taking a small vacation away from public scrutiny. Why? Because their idols have repeatedly used (and often abused) these facilities through their considerable monetary and human resources. 

In the real world, fame, money and status are not tools addicts have readily available. In the real world, addiction quickly consumes any scant resources the addict and his loved ones possess. In the real world, rehab is not even an available option for most. And, in the real world, when an addict is fortunate enough to bottom out and actually receive help, Rehab is the destination right before the final stops of Controlville or Death Valley.

When a star dies from drug abuse, the same adoring public that has tracked all the wicked escapades of the star's addicted life is shocked and full of pity. How can this be? It happens because the musician's "live hard, die young" fame is perpetuated. That image of fame is false -- nothing is glorious in premature death. Ask any service veteran who has seen lifeblood spilled on the battlefield. 

The war against drug abuse (And, don't kid yourself; it is a "war" being fought in America right now.) requires support and action from all. I grieve the loss of Whitney Houston, but I feel that it's time for the music industry to shed its old image, an image that glorifies drug use, and call upon America to "get clean" for the sake of preserving the precious gift of life. 

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