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Monday, May 7, 2012

Whitney "Nippy" Houston and Hollywood's "Illegal" Roulette

Whitney Houston's father used to say to her,
 “Nippy, seldom right,” when Houston,
as a fussy baby,
would repeatedly kick off her winter blanket at night.

Nippy was also the name of a cartoon character who constantly got into trouble. Nippy became Whitney's cute nickname.

But, Houston soon developed a second nickname. “We called Whitney ‘Illegal’ because she would just do stuff,” Pastor Marvin Winans said on "Good Morning America." He continued, “Not because she was Whitney Houston -- the star -- but because she was this mischievous little girl from New Jersey.”

Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012, at the young age of 48. She was a very accomplished American recording artist, actress, producer, and model. In fact, in 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most-awarded female act of all-time.

Allison Samuels in her article "Whitney Houston's Private Hell and Inevitable Death" (Newsweek, The Daily Beast, April 30 2012) provides insight into the life of a drug addict -- in this case, a very famous one, Whitney Houston. By reading the print and thinking "between the lines," a reader can witness a deadly cycle all too familiar to those who have suffered escalating drug abuse.

Samuels' entire article:

Her life and her successful singing and acting careers cut shot, Houston, in death, becomes another tragic young icon for the ages joining the ranks of the celebrity drug dead such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and River Phoenix.

Understanding the life and personality of Whitney Houston enables a largely uneducated public to learn through example. I hope people understand that in reviewing some problems in her life I am not making a judgment of her character. Instead, doing so can deepen our concerns and promote better understandings of those who suffer addiction.

Neither do I wish for this post to be a blamable expose. I have no desire to submerge myself in horrid details. I don't think that shock or accusatory tactics are successful strategies in dealing with abuse, but I do believe people can be taught to identify the stages of the disease and be made mindful that research-based programs and treatments can save lives.

And, most of all, I do believe the music industry and the film industry could benefit countless impressionable youth by publicly supporting efforts to end drug abuse. If drugs are native to the businesses and causing death after death, these star performers must break the "code of silence" and take a strong stand. Controversy will confront those willing to speak up; however they have the ability to be major players against abuse.

Celine Dion did speak out. She bravely stated this after Whitney's death:

"There's something that happens that I don't understand, and that's why I'm so scared," Dion said. "I'm scared of show business, I'm scared of drugs, I'm scared of hanging out, and that's why I don't do parties and hanging out, and that's why I'm not part of show business. We have to be afraid."

"Houston's music will live forever," Dion said, but added, "it's not enough. Time after time, we lose people...Taking pills to go perform, taking pills to wake up and taking pills to go to bed...It's so unfortunate. I've always said, you have to have fun, and do music, and never be part of show business, because you don't know what it's going to get you into."

"How come it's stronger than all that, stronger than family and motherhood and love itself?" questioned Dion.

Many people posted comments and agreed with Dion. Still, others expressed dissatisfaction with the performer's timely reaction. Reader comments to these remarks included the following:

* "That foreigner had no right to said anything about Whitney Houston. She is jealous because she will never outdo Whitney Houston's voice. No one has heard from her all this time and now this b_ _ _ _ wants to add her two cents. Shut up!"

* "Celine Dion is a pompous bimbo who lives in a glass house with a weirdo. Really? Does she think that everyone lives a perfect princess life. Not everyone shares your views, and this is NOT about you. Next time, when someone is trying to save you from yourself... SHUT UP.

* "Celine shot off her mouth publicly about something that was none of her business – I doubt if Whitney's family and friends will thank her for it. It was inappropriate of her to rag on about drugs when the poor woman was barely cold – shame on her. A simple condolence would have been sufficient."

I see nothing wrong with Celine Dion's words. As a public figure, Whitney Houston was the center of attention for weeks after her unfortunate death. The media did everything they possibly could to make the tragedy a bitter/sweet tale to keep viewers' attention alive. If anyone was responsible for spreading information about Houston's abuse, it was rabid reporters. Dion did not deliver her words at Houston's funeral or issue them as a derogatory reaction about the life of Whitney Houston. She merely expressed her own concerns about the frequency of such tragedies.

As you read this condensed account of Whitney Houston's relationship with drugs, ask yourself what you find in it that helps you better understand the cycle of dependency in our culture. Of course, the toughest question in retrospect is this: "What can we all do to save future lives?"

As I already stated, it does no good to view tragedy unless you can derive some kind of answer -- a theme, a message that can better the human condition. To the ancient Greeks, even in tragedy there must be joy derived from the sure hope of good at last replacing the fear of evil. Today, we must continue to have confident faith in the victory of good. I believe we need to change some things to make that happen, and I think drug abuse is one of the major obstacles.

Whitney Houston and Addiction

Whitney Houston's family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, after living in Newark during the 1967 riots. Somewhere along the way, her older brothers, Gary and Michael feel victim to drug use. Monique Houston, who married Gary early in Whitney's career and divorced him in 2001, said it wasn't Bobby Brown who introduced Whitney to drugs.

Monique said, “She grew up in the inner city and certainly wanted to be loved by her people.” Particularly since the real Whitney Houston, stripped of her long evening gowns, flawless makeup, and heels, was a down-home, hard-core Jersey girl who loved nothing better than to drink, smoke pot, and have a good time.

Monique claims, “Drugs were around her for years before she met Bobby and continued after he left. It was worse when they were together, but he didn’t cause it.” People who knew her well say Houston wasn’t someone easily led into doing things she didn’t want to do. Houston dabbled only in light drugs during the initial stages of her career, say several people who were around her at the time.

But as her fame grew, so did the pressure to succeed and her need to escape from it all. “It was hard, given her two brothers were into drugs,” Monique Houston says. “During the early and mid-’80s, a lot of people were doing drugs, and Gary was in rehab several times for it. I think it was hard for her to go a different way with such easy access to it and those around her doing it, too.”

By the time Houston had reached superstardom—singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the Super Bowl in 1991 and starring in her first Hollywood movie, The Bodyguard, in 1992—the façade her record label so carefully crafted and marketed was beginning to crack. “It really got bad for her around the time of The Bodyguard and after her marriage to Bobby,” says her former assistant. “She was trying hard to be this kind of prissy, girly girl people wanted her to be, but she wasn’t. She was trying to be everyone to everybody while also taking care of everybody. That took its toll.”

Why didn't someone attempt to get Houston help early on? Many did. But, according to several friends and associates of Whitney's, Houston's family refused. “The family was afraid of the embarrassment on some level and wouldn’t confront her early on,” Monique Houston says. “Her mother would always say, ‘I don’t understand this drug thing.’" Most feel she really didn't "understand," and Houston's brothers were already dealing with their own drug abuse.

Here is a view from another celebrity who lost his famous brother.“A lot of times the family isn’t able to get to the one they love,” says singer Jermaine Jackson, who understands all too well the Houston family’s struggle. “I saw that with Michael for years. We couldn’t get to him, because those who just wanted him to work and make money didn’t care if he was sick or drugged out. That’s a tough battle to fight.”

As drug counselors well know, though, no one could help Houston unless she was willing to accept that she needed help. “You couldn’t make Whitney do anything she didn’t want to, plain and simple,” her former assistant says. “People did try to get her help, and her mother certainly wanted to help her daughter. But in many ways they didn’t know what to do. Whitney was the breadwinner and called the shots.”

Couldn't her employees, those very close to Houston who witnessed the terrible toll drug abuse was taking on her, intervene? Former employees say confronting Houston about her drug use was a sure way to end up jobless. “She could get someone else to do whatever you were doing for her in a heartbeat,” says a former security guard. “I quit because I was tired of looking the other way and tired of pretending this wasn’t going to turn out exactly the way it eventually did.”

Faced with many added pressures, an addicted Houston could hardly cope. How about any saving power in her musical faith? Her strong-willed mother Cissy, who had been a musical star herself, held lofty expectations for her daughter. And, Clive Davis, her musical mentor and owner of Arista Records, urged Houston to keep her music mainstream pop as possible. He discouraged Houston from writing her own lyrics.

So, a segment of her African-American audiences felt Houston and her music lacked soul—so much so that they dubbed her “Whitey Houston." This stereotype seems so unfair and condescending.

Yes, Whitney had confidants -- people very attentive to her particular needs. She developed a close relationship with longtime friend and business associate Robyn Crawford before meeting Bobby Brown. But as the lesbian rumors persisted, even after her marriage to Brown, Houston denied them as they posed a potential threat to those invested in her career. Crawford disappeared from Houston’s life in the mid-’90s (not her own decision, say some). “When she left, Whitney felt lost,” says a former associate. “She needed her.”

And even the birth of a child would not be incentive enough to make Houston change. Ironically, Whitney's drug use only grew worse after the birth of her beloved Bobbi Kristina, who arrived after several earlier miscarriages. “She loved that little girl with all her heart, but she was far too sick by the time her baby came to be the kind of mother she needed to be,” says a family friend. “Sometimes Whitney would be so out of it, the baby wouldn’t be changed for days at a time. That’s what drugs will do to you, and it doesn’t matter how rich you are. An addict is an addict.”

Of course, the well-publicized Bobby-Whitney combo was too toxic a cocktail to allow sobriety. Brown drank and abused his spouse amid his attempts for sobriety. Once, in the late ’90s, Houston decided to go along on the tour, baby daughter in tow, to support him. Brown had just come back from a stint in rehab, but Houston continued to use cocaine in front of him. Brown was so enraged he ordered her and Bobbi Kristina off the bus in the middle of the road, forcing another band member to pick them up.

But, as the abused and the abusing often do, Houston remained in the relationship. She paid Brown’s legal bills from his numerous run-ins with the law, as well as the child support due his exes, all in the name of love. But, the doomed marriage ended in divorce in 2007 although some close to Houston said she really didn't want the split. The singer told Oprah Winfrey in 2009 that she’d waite for Brown to come and get her and their daughter after she moved out, but he never did. Instead, he became engaged to another woman and now has a new daughter.

In divorce, Houston grew closer to Bobbi Kristina. But with drugs preventing her from being much of a mother, the two became more like sisters, hanging out together at nightclubs and parties, yet behind closed doors they fought often—and sometimes physically, according to one friend of Houston’s.“Bobbi Kristina loved her mother,” says another close family friend. “But she had anger at her as well. She saw a lot of bad things as she grew up, from both her mom and her dad. They both put that child through a lot.”

19-year-old Bobbi Kristina disappeared after her mother’s funeral and was later found in a hotel room using drugs, according to two people familiar with the incident. Even before Houston was laid to rest, these people say, the family had discussed getting Bobbi Kristina into rehab, though she has publicly denied doing drugs. “She’s really alone without her mother,” the family friend says. “No one else can get to her, because she has a lot of Whitney in her. She’s going to do what she wants.”

I think it's wise to close this entry without commentary. Just suffice it to say that the names could be changed and the steps of the deadly progression could be slightly altered and you would be reading a very similar story of hundreds, tens of thousands of unfortunate souls who succumb to the disease of addiction.

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