Whitney’s last song . . .

This photo was taken on the beach when Whitney Houston and her then husband Bobby Brown rang in the New Year at the Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in Saint Lucia in 2005.

Last Saturday evening, my friends and I were imbibing local spirits, savoring seafood delicacies in the yard outside my home and listening to a Whitney Houston album that one of my sons had put on to test the new computerized and digital stereo set he’d replaced my old radio/cassette/CD home system with. The song was the singer’s all-time hit “I Will Always Love You.”
(My friend) Nigel’s mobile phone rang. He stepped away to take the call, but his face turned sour the moment he answered. He asked, somewhat loudly: “What?”                 Then he looked me in the eyes and pointed to the window. His telephone still alight in the pointing hand, Nigel told us, still sounding somewhat deflated, “Somebody just told me Whitney Houston just died. She said they said they found her dead in a bathroom in a hotel in Beverly Hills.”
The rest of us didn’t know whether to laugh or not. It sounded like a joke, but Nigel’s face was dead serious. Another two calls came in to others, both with the same news—and we knew it was true: yet another top internationally acclaimed female singer of world fame and fortune had died suddenly. The last was Britain’s superstar Amy Winehouse, who virtually drank herself to death
in the prime of her time. Before her, it was Michael Jackson, who’d become addicted to sleeping drugs. And there were so many others before them . . .
Fame, fortune and addiction continue to take away the best of the best in the music world in the prime of their time. It’s been happening from Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in the 60s to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the 70s, all the way up to Jackson, Winehouse—and now Houston—all in less than two years. Each had an addiction to some escape drug or substance.
Coroners have ruled out violence or foul play in Houston’s death, but she was found under water in her hotel’s bathroom. Her exact cause of death will not be officially known or determined until the results of toxicology tests than can take weeks. But her self-confessed addiction to drugs and its effects on both her health and her singing have been matters of public record as the world watched her deteriorate of late.
So, what is it that drives the best of the best to the worst end they could ever have imagined at the height of their fame and fortune? Sociologists, psychologist and researchers into the lifestyles of the rich and famous say their fans never know or understand the loneliness, broken lives, heartaches, headaches and other personal pressures that great performing artistes sometimes endure. Not all do, but many live from personal crisis to crisis that breeds a deep level of personal unhappiness that requires solutions that money simply can’t buy.
In many cases the crises evolve around failed marriages or relationships, multiple failed business partnerships, or even the stress of overwork from stage and studio performances between social celebrity flings and the other excesses that go with life in the Hollywood fast lane. These stars are presented and seen in all their glitter and glamour, but in many cases their voices and faces mask the real broken feelings that they live with from day to day, city to city, country to country, gig to gig.
The pressures of merely surviving to stay alive most times forces them to end up hiring high-priced doctors to invent ways and means of legally feeding their dependent drug fantasies or addictions, whether through under-the-counter, non-prescription drugs or through use of very expensive and rare but potentially deathly clinically prescribed drugs.
The sporting world has shown how even some of the best athletes use similar though less deadly performance enhancing drugs, leading to the anti-doping bodies having adopted policies and penalties that can and do result in lifetime bans, at worst. But not so in the world of music and movie stardom, where performers adored by millions hardly recover from drug overdoses or other complications that snuff their lives away, much earlier than expected.
Whitney Houston was only 48 when she died at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on the evening before she was to attend the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. She’d sold over 170 million albums, won five Grammy Awards and won more than 22 types of international music and film awards. She sang to audiences the world over— including China in 2004—and was admired by millions in Asia, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean.
She lived the dreams of others, but the hugely popular singer’s 14-year marriage to fellow star Bobby Brown was a very long nightmare. She sought salvation from drugs and in 2001 she appeared so thin at a Michael Jackson concert that it was rumoured the next day that she had died. Then in 2002, after confessing she took cocaine, Houston told America’s ABC News TV presenter Diane Sawyer: “The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
The enormously talented and popular singer started heading downhill lately. Houston entered and left drug rehab programs repeatedly as she struggled between reality and fantasy at the turn of the century. She tried new relationships that didn’t last. Her performances were lacklustre. Unable to sing in her trademark high tone, she eventually needed hi-tech applications to soothe and smooth her voice out.
Just hours before her death she had been
filmed leaving a late night outing to head to her hotel before a star-studded Hollywood party later that evening (at the same hotel) that’s thrown every year, in her honour, by the mentor Clive Davis, who discovered her as a talented young gospel singer at age 19. She was also to appear at the Grammy awards the following evening.
Houston grew up in good singing company: veteran American Soul singer Dione Warwick was Houston’s cousin and fellow diva Aretha Franklin was her god-mother. She had all the money and fame and basked in the glamour of her well-earned earned glory.
By the late 1980s, she had become one of the world’s best-selling artists and the most successful soul singer of all time, notching up worldwide album sales of US $200 million.
The singer also became a successful Hollywood film star. In 1992 she starred in “The Bodyguard” alongside Kevin Costner, from which emerged her memorable all-time hit “I Will Always Love You”, which won the Grammy Record of the Year and remained at the top
of the US charts for several weeks.
Yes, Whitney Houston had it all—except happiness. She rose to the top of the musical world and remained there for more than half her life on earth. But it was the very excesses that go with the lifestyles of many of the most rich and famous, that sent so many like her to their earthly graves.
In pursuit of elusive happiness, troubled stars sometimes seek solace elsewhere. As it turned out, both Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse chose St Lucia to spend recovery time at the height of their troubled times. Houston and (then husband) Bobby Brown visited the island for the New Year celebrations of 2005 for some private time off; and Winehouse also repeatedly spent several weeks in recent years on what she several times described as her “adopted island”, the last just mere months before her death in London last year. But neither lived to return for their self-prescribed prescribed rest and relaxation in the tropical suns or the hot sand and blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
When I started listening to Whitney singing “I Will Always Love You” last Saturday evening through my window, I could never have imagined learning she was dead before the song ended. But that’s a human frailty that can easily come with life in the fast lane on the highway to success, if one isn’t prepared always to confront the twists and turns and the precipitous fallouts that come all along the way, from beginning to end.
Whitney Houston will always be remembered because before her
last song, she’d already sung her way into the hearts and memories of millions everywhere.
And yes, we did not have her for Valentine’s Day yesterday, but like she did us, we will always love her!

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