She had the face of an angel and the voice of an angel. Whitney Houston leaves behind a daughter and a breathtaking musical legacy. Like Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, and many others before her, she also leaves behind the debris of an addicted life.
A cacophony of criticizing, judgmental voices has already arisen on the Internet. Gossips chat gleefully about her last hours. All eyes are on Bobby Brown, considered by many to be the villain of the piece. Even young Bobbi Kristina hasn’t escaped unscathed, and she’s just a teenaged girl whose mom just died!
Welcome to our celebrity culture. We put people on pedestals so we can get a better view of them when we shoot our rifles of judgment at them. We expect our celebrities to be something beyond human. We buy their records or watch their movies and somehow start to believe that we own them. We need to know every bit of their business and then comment on it. On Monday, while at the grocery store, I heard two employees complaining about the choice of Jennifer Hudson to sing the Whitney tribute at the Grammys. J-Hud, in her recent book, describes some of the hurtful comments she’s received because she lost 80 pounds and got healthy! Apparently we’ve already moved on to the next target!
Then there are the celebs who refuse to play by the scripts we have handed them. Angelina and Madonna keep creating, keep growing as artists, despite the roar of the judging crowd. After the Super Bowl, Madonna was described by some as an “arthritic grandmother” who could no longer handle the rigors of long dance routines. I saw that same performance, and the only problem I saw was her shoes! I think the heels were causing Girlfriend some problems. These women keep going, no matter what, and they have learned to ignore our opinions about them. That causes some to shoot even more, spreading outright lies to try to “get” to them.
After we tear them down, we hope for redemption. On the same weekend that Whitney Houston died, we honored Glen Campbell for his contributions to the music industry, and we are touched by this man’s dignity as he fades into the sunset of Alzheimer’s but is enjoying his final performances. Campbell, too, struggled with alcoholism and addiction, and it’s possible that those years of abuse contributed to his illness. But we love a good comeback story, don’t we? Tear ’em down, then build ’em back up again.
People often think that celebrities, with all their money, are immune to problems and challenges. We don’t know what started Whitney on her road to addiction. It could have been something as simple as taking a sleeping pill. For some, it’s taking that very first drink — some alcoholics are addicted from that very moment. There’s a lot we still don’t know about brain chemistry and addiction, but to criticize an addict for being addicted makes no sense. Addiction is not a character flaw. It is much, much more complicated than that.
If you don’t understand this, stop eating sugar or drinking coffee for thirty days and see how that works for you.
She sang like an angel and looked like an angel, and we wanted her to be one so we wouldn’t have to be. When she showed us that she was all too human, we disapproved. We expected more from her than we do of ourselves. Would you like to live with that kind of pressure?
We will never know the truth of Whitney’s end. I am sad that she never saw her 50s and all the good that comes from maturing. I am sad that her daughter must live without a mother. I am sad that we understand so little about addiction. I am sad that we will never hear new material from a remarkable and talented artist. Mostly, I am sad that we wanted an angel instead of accepting that she was just like us — with joys, sorrows, talents, and troubles. She was human.