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As world mourns Whitney Houston's death, question arises: Do we all share some blame?



whitney_houston_dies_021112_370x278.jpgIt was a surprise, and yet it wasn't.

For years now, Whitney Houston had transformed from a transcendent pop diva to the troubled relative you always hoped would pull themselves together -- but never really did.

As the world mourns Houston's loss today, found dead Saturday in a hotel where the Golden Globe Awards were held just weeks earlier, I feel saddest for young music fans, for whom twisted Whitney knockoffs like Mariah Carey are already old hat.

The simple fact is, when Whitney was on her game, there was no voice better; no singer who combined thrilling vocal chops with an instinct for molding a melody and a beautiful, proud image of glamor. As a young R&B and funk musician, I learned how to pace a ballad and develop a song by listening to her early hits, playing You Give Good Love and How Will I Know in nightclubs across the Midwest.

whitney-awards.jpgFor black folks who had to watch early MTV ignore Michael Jackson and Prince, seeing Whitney sail into the popular consciousness with soulful, gospel-trained talent, felt like an affirmation of everything we already knew.

We can bring the best to the table. If you only let us in the door.

But fame and success proved as corrosive to Houston as it has for so many others. It is tough to know whether the pressures and perks of stardom make substance abuse and addiction greater threats -- but it can't help to have an army of employees and hangers on who are willing to give whatever you want and hide it from the world as long as possible.

I think of all the pop divas who have stumbled badly in one way or another before our eyes; Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna. All have had various, high profile bouts with addiction, domestic violence or worse. All seemed to struggle for balance in life, despite the adoration of millions.

Which makes me wonder: Are we, the fans, somehow contributing to all of this?

What I don't buy, is the notion that media coverage creates these problems. Elvis, John Belushi, Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix all died of issues related to their addictions, at a time when media outlets outside tabloid newspapers rarely carried stories on the personal foibles on celebrities.

And because Whitney's initial public image was so glamorous and different than the life of drug addiction and dysfunction she fell into, it was only natural and expected that journalists would try to learn the truth behind the mask.

To see Whitney herself talk about press coverage and reveal how different her real life was from her image, check this Rolling Stone interview from 1993.

whitney_houston_is_back_or_is_she.jpgAs Simon Cowell said on CNN Saturday, surrounding yourself with positive people in important. And it couldn't have been easy for Whitney or her ex-husband Bobby Brown to be married to another person who had their same weakness for controlled substances.

It was interesting to watch news outlets scramble to cover a news event which broke when they are least attentive to live coverage. CNN would have taken the crown for its reporting -- including interviews with Cowell, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and the producer of the Grammy awards broadcast.

But they also made the mistake of saying R&B singer Ray J was the one who discovered her body. Turns out, it was likely her bodyguard, also named Ray.

Gossip website TMZ seems to have worked the story -- broken by the Associated Press, which had  statement from her publicist -- with seemingly minute-by-minute details of the drama at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

According to Topsy Labs, a relative of a hotel worker who found Houston in her tub was likely the first person to publicly report news of her death -- tweeted at 4:15 p.m. PST.   The tweet from the Associated Press which broke the news to the world didn't come until nearly 45 minutes later.

As a longtime fan, it all made me wonder if there isn't a way for us to love our idols differently -- a way to support them without delivering the crushing pressure to perform which seems to crumple so many titanic talents.

I kept hoping Whitney would shake off her troubles and give us the comeback album we really wanted. But her later performances never got close to the soaring heights of her old triumphs, leaving the bitter question of whether years of hard living had irrevocably altered her instrument.

It would be presumptuous to say Whitney may have realized she could never live up to all the fans' hopes for her.

But if that were true, it would be a particularly sad circumstance -- where all the good wishes and support of the public feels more like a reminder of how much you will always disappoint them.

RIP Whitney Houston. I hope the Xtinas and Britneys of the world learn from your triumphs and your tragedy. 

Look below for my discussion of Houston's life and legacy on CNN this morning:



[Last modified: Sunday, February 12, 2012 3:20pm]


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