In Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

Ever since Whtney Houston died on February 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, reporters and commentators have repeatedly used the word “tragedy” to describe her fate.

But there are tragedies that are brought on by events beyond human control–and tragedies that are self-inflicted.


You’re Julie Andrews, whose four-octave soprano voice has delighted audiences for decades on Broadway (Camelot, My Fair Lady) and movies (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music).

In 1997, you undergo surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center to remove non-cancerous nodules in your throat. The nodules are removed–but so is your ability to sing.

Your husband, Blake Edwards, is widely quoted as saying that your voice has been all but ruined: ”If you heard it, you’d weep.”

You’re Whitney Houston, blessed with beauty, charm and a golden, intense singing voice that can turn even the almost-unsingable “Star Spangled Banner” into a rousing anthem.

You become a beloved, internationally-recognized vocalist. This brings  you even greater fame and wealth as a movie star (The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale).

Meanwhile, you take on increasingly deadly habits. You chain-smoke cigarettes. You smoke marijuana–“a lot.” You dive into alcohol, pills, cocaine. You admit as much during a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer.

You deny using crack–not because it’s lethal, or because it will destroy The Voice that you believe is God’s gift to you. No, the reason you give pulses with ego:

“Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. OK? We don’t do crack. We don’t do that. Crack is whack.”

Nevertheless, reports continue to emerge that you’re a hard-core crackhead.

In 2006, the National Enquirer runs an interview with your sister-in-law, Tina, who charges that you spend your days locked in your bedroom “smoking crack, using sex toys to satisfy herself and ignoring personal hygiene.”

Then, in 2009, appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s season premiere, you finally admit that you used drugs with your ex-husband, Bobby Brown, who “laced marijuana with rock cocaine.”  In other words, crack.

Over time, the once-magnificent instrument that is your voice starts to change noticeably. You can no longer hit those high notes, or hold one the way you did in your immortal hit, “I Will Always Love You.”

Your voice now sounds hoarse, raspy.

In 2010, you embark on a “Nothing But Love World Tour.” It’s a disaster. In Brisbane, you pause during singing to take a drink of water.

A critic says your performance in London was marked by a strained voice filled with coughs and wheezes.

Fans feel cheated–especially after paying $165 for a ticket–and react with jeers and boos.  Some walk out in mid-concert.

On the night before your death, you become belligerent and almost duke it out with singer Stacy Francis at the Tru Hollywood nightclub. Your boyfriend, Ray J, has to step in to prevent a fistfight.

You’re seen leaving the club drunk, with scratches and blood-stains on your legs.

* * * * *

Whose tragedy was the predictable–and preventable–one?

The ugly truth is that Houston’s singing career ended long before her life did.

When people remember her monumental hits like “I Will Always Love You,” they’re recalling a time more than 20 years ago.

Another ugly truth is that each of us is responsible for our own actions.

Attorney and talk-show host Nancy Grace recently blamed Houston’s doctors for her death.  She argued that they had kept writing prescriptions for “America’s songbird” when they knew she was an addict.

But Houston was the one who requested that they write those prescriptions.  And she was the one who administered them.

The same chain of events occurred in the Michael Jackson case.

Jackson wanted his drug-of-choice: propofol, a hypnotic sedative used for general anesthesia.  And he got it.

He paid his private doctor, Conrad Murray, $150,000-a-month.  For a salary that large, Jackson clearly expected to get more than the standard: “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.”

So he got what he wanted–and it killed him.

Houston, for all her charm, was also used to getting her own way.  Once. on an airplane, she tried to light up in the bathroom.  When the pilot warned that she could be fined $2,000, she offered to write out a check that moment if she could have her smoke.  The pilot refused.

No matter how famous, talented, beautiful and/or wealthy you might be, in the end, you remain a mere mortal.  Even if you are allowed to flout the laws of man, you will be held accountable by your own body for bouts of deadly excess.

That, in the end, is the real legacy of Whitney Houston.  And Michael Jackson.  And Elvis Presley.  And Marilyn Monroe.  And a great many other now-dead celebrities.

Sadly, it is a truth that both celebrities and their worshippers must re-learn–over and over.

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