Whitney Houston’s Death is Probably Not What You Think It Is
I’m grieving, like many.
Whitney was thrilled to be alive and didn’t want to go this soon.
People talk about how much pleasure her music gave them; but really, she got the most out of it. That glow you saw inside Whitney when she sang was unadulterated passion.
Imagine feeling like that every time you opened your mouth.
I don’t know anything about Whitney’s cause of death. We may never know. Unlike the media, however, I wouldn’t presume to festoon a “drug-addict-tragedy” to her memory. I find this treament sexist, disrespectful— and medically, clueless. Easy prejudices are driving this story.
Statistically, the number one reason that a woman like Whitney, of her age and background, would die at this age is: heart disease. Plain, old fashioned, anyone-coulda-been-affected, HEART DISEASE.
Cause of death is certainly NOT “heavy marijuana use” which I’ve read repeatedly. Absurd.
But what about the cocaine, you ask? Isn’t that the culprit?
Well, sure, there’s a statistically-unlikely chance that Whitney OD’ed on the spot with a needle in her arm. But that is a far less likelyscenario than a middle-aged woman simply having a heart attack.
“But it was the cumulative use!” you say, stressing your National Enquirer disapproval.
Okay, cocaine, like any speedy substance, is a strain on the heart. But SO MANY people have done way more coke than Whitney Houston, and yet did NOT drop dead at 48.
So, back to your drawing board. Why is it important for Whitney to die young because she wasn’t a “good girl”? Because we want prima donnas to bleed?
I’ve done all kinds of recreational drugs— I bet you have too, Amerika. But the actuarial table of why ‘Susie Bright is going to die” will not point to my drug use as cause of death. My fatal risk for heart disease, cancer, and pulmonary issues is far greater, and it has little do with anything except my childhood and hereditary factors— hedonism barely figures into it.
It’s the same for any of us. Our death is ordained by our natal DNA, by childhood and formative exposures. Our vulnerability to pollutants in our air, water, and food supply is a thousand times more dangerous than the fact that we snorted cocaine off the kitchen table in the 80s. Jesus! Get off the fucking drug-scare-pulpit.
How about other causes of death that aren’t as sexy as getting high? Houston showed signs, from a young age, of eating disorder. She was groomed as a child to be a model— need I say more? Her anorexia/bulemia would’ve had a bigger effect on heart problems than anything else she did, besides genetics. She also smoked cigarettes; she had a serious habit. Nicotine would’ve loomed large in heart disease. But it doesn’t sound titillating for the tabloids.
Or— forget heart disease for a moment. Of all the recreational drugs Houston ingested, surely alcohol leaves the most lasting damage. Busy-bodies, according to the gossip wags, saw Whitney DRINKING the night before she died, shock of shocks. Everyone in Hollywood who’s attending the Grammies is having a rather grand time this weekend.
The reason you will see the music community defending Houston and closing ranks, is because the people who worked and made music with Whitney knew that she was NOT a pathetic human being wallowing in abject misery. Far from it.
I didn’t know Whitney. I don’t have the coroner’s report in hand; this is all speculation. But I do know artists, from the successful and influential to the poor and unheralded. Artists read all this crap about “The diva did drugs! Bad girl! Boo hoo!” and just wanna throw up.
Women in pop culture are particularly framed with this “poor little prima donna who destroyed her talent” garbage. When great male musicians die, it’s unusual to have their substance issues splayed forth in the obit headline.
Is that what happened when George Harrison died? The Beatles, every one of them, could’ve given Whitney Houston a clinic in drug abuse. When Keith Richards dies, are they going to lead with “heroin destroyed his career”?
Why was Billie Holliday’s love affair with heroin so tragic, but Miles Davis and John Coltrane … not so much? Why is Sinead O’Conner a nutcase but Van Halen is just a darling bunch of naughty rockers? Why is Madonna’s mental state on the front page every day, but not Justin Beiber’s? Fuck that noise.
Everyone in show business has had their day with getting high and taking risks… they often had a ball doing it. Or they were high functioning despite their vices. Or they carried on for uneventful years that never saw their names in the paper.
Most successful artists have had lifelong health issues that don’t end up in the tabloids… lucky for them. Or their crazy moments were swept under the rug; now a footnote. Many of them will be performing tonight, in top form. Our nightingales.
Finally, there’s mental illness, all by itself. What do we make of the stress in molding children into billion-dollar showbiz machines— does that matter when they keel over from a heart attack forty years later? If Whitney had been a virgin and only drank milk… oh yeah, right. Superstars like that don’t exist.
The tragedy of Whitney’s death is our loss, just as it is whenever we lose a friend, an inspiration, someone who makes your life more meaningful. It must be grueling for those close to her, who can never respond properly to media cannibalism.
I have been through this a hundred times with friends whose deaths were turned into prurient tabloid fodder—no one wanted to hear they died of natural causes. (My story on Marilyn Chambers comes to mind). Whitney’s case is not iconic to me— it’s just one more reminder of how much I hate the petty and puritanical conclusions our society jumps to. I, for one, am stepping away from the trough.
Whitney Houston’s legacy is not a finger-pointing pity party to assuage our envy and condemnation of a bigger-than-life woman. She flew close to the sun? So what! She was brilliant at it. It may not have been the thing killed her; it may have sustained her. Look in the mirror. Whitney lived large and she lived aware of her creative genius, her capacities. It wasn’t God-given; she brought it to life. She has nothing to apologize for.
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