On Saturday, February 11, 2012, at 5:07PM, the first of many e-mails announcing Whitney Houston’s death began flooding my in-box, continue to the present, and bright headlines will surely plaster the tabloids for weeks to come.
My own last quarter of 2011 was laden with personal losses, and Ms. Houston’s sad demise made me contemplate the concept of “tragedy.”
Yeah, many will think me a cold cynic, insensitive to concentric circles of grievers ranging from Ms. Houston’s immediate family to a collective global sadness about the tragic demise of a truly gifted artist…
…to the highly-paid “expert” counselors, doctors and shrinks who shepherded Ms. Houston from one relapse to another…
…to the “friends” who made sure Whitney’s supply of prescribed and other anesthetic tonics was always at the ready…
…to the “grieving” industry that surely wept as Houston’s greatest hits collections skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes charts before the bathtub Houston died in was even drained…
Houston’s death wasn’t sudden, and I wondered where all the folks presently paralyzed with bereavement or otherwise “shocked” have been hiding while dozens of panic buttons were being desperately pushed, and red flags of deterioration littered Whitney’s precipitous spiral.
Indeed, the show must go on, and within hours of Houston’s death becoming “official,” Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich regaled CNN about the music awards show’s plan to honor Whitney, “but it will be something respectful.”
This translates to interns scrambling to edit the last-minute presentation to carefully avoid the abundance of Houston’s “dour and dazed” photos taken over the last decade.
Clive Davis was so “devastated” that he couldn’t afford to cancel his annual pre-Grammy gala, repurposing it as a “remembrance” of the most-awarded female act of all time that he had discovered and – gee, ya think? – perhaps profited from.
At Davis’ Beverly Hills Hilton fete, grief-stricken luminaries grazed on room temperature surf and turf while Houston’s body lay in wait several floors below.
If your immediate grief is too overwhelming to watch the Grammy’s, you can wait until Valentine’s Day: 20th Century Fox is considering a Whitney tribute on Glee, surely to bolster ratings for an already in-the-can episode featuring Amber Riley singing Houston’s trademark ballad “I Will Always Love You.”
There is no question that Whitney Houston’s death is the loss of, as Ricky Gervais wrote, “An amazing talent & a tragic soul.”
What saddens and sickens me, however, is a global warm, fuzzy and opportunistic climate where a beautiful person with a god-given gift of good pipes deteriorates to a perpetually relapsing drug-and-booze-addicted train-wreck, caught in a loop of falling from grace until she finally dies in a tub, and she’s “suddenly” a tragedy.
Houston’s tragedy is a long-in-the-making but sudden spike of cyber/media grief frenzy that will disproportionately disappear like a bulb burning out on a theatre marquee.
After all, we’ve got the Oscars coming up – and who knows what the vast red-carpet potential of other “tragedies” might offer in terms of newer, shinier moments of sadness.
If there are tiers of tragedy, the most resonant is that Whitney Houston had to die to get the attention she had been crying out for for a long time.