It intrigues me to watch how the world reacts to the sudden death of a celebrity. There is usually an outpouring of fan grief (oh no, not WHITNEY?!), the stirring of rumor mills both old and new, the commentary from both prime-time and arm-chair pundits who don’t need to ask the question if its “too soon” to express their scathing opinions about that celebrity’s life and the often murky circumstances surrounding their death. So it doesn’t surprise me that I see all of these behaviors surrounding the recent death of Whitney Houston. Whether favorable, unfavorable, or profitable, everyone seems to be talking about her music, her struggles, and her untimely death.
The most common theme I hear about Whitney in the wake of her death centers around the contrast between her superstardom in music and film, and the personal battle with addiction that sent her life and career into a tailspin from which she never truly recovered. I have heard all kinds of commentary on this. Some people blame Bobby Brown for her downfall, while others have said that its unfair to blame Bobby Brown because people are responsible for their own actions, citing rumors that Whitney was addicted to drugs long before she married the abusive and adulterous R&B star.
As I listened to these debates, I became distracted by two thoughts. First I thought, how sad is it to be a celebrity. It seems that in gaining the privileges of celebrity you lose the privileges of humanity in the process; one such privilege being that when you die “human”, people actually mourn you. When celebrities die, people prod their lives, analyzing and reviewing them like a plane that has crashed, seeking answers and offering perspective, rather than expressing grief over the loss of a person. Entrepreneurs offer merchandise. Politicians offer speeches. Christians offer insight as to whether the person went to heaven or hell. Fans buy keepsakes. In all of that, a mother has lost her child, and a child still has to bury her mother—but that is small news. This thought gave me a deep sense of gratefulness for the fact that I don’t have deep ambitions for fame.
The more consuming thought, however, was far more selfish. I found myself thinking about me. Not Whitney, or Bobby Brown, or Bobbi Kristina, or anyone else directly impacted by the event. I was consumed with me. You see, what intrigues me the most about celebrity deaths is how seldom these moments cause people to stop and really think about themselves. Whitney’s death made me consider my life. I began to wonder if there are any relationships in my life that are influencing me down a path toward an untimely death. I started to think about the decisions I’ve made in life, and how little attention I’ve given to the fact that many of those decisions have irrevocably altered the course of my destiny; for good and for bad. I reflected on the conflicts that exist between my life calling and my personal struggles; how that conflict strangely produces things that are both praiseworthy and condemnable all at the same time; and how, under the right set of circumstances, this conflict can either bring profound beauty or deep sadness to the world.
I’m certain that the pundits will continue to talk, and fans will continue to buy their favorite Whitney Houston songs and movies. As the public does what it always does to reconcile its deep disappointment in yet another tragic celebrity death, I submit that at the core of this disappointment is a belief that celebrities are somehow special, superhuman, or even invincible, and they shouldn’t live OR die that way. Tragedies like this should happen to regular people, not celebrities! The truth is that despite her gift, and her notoriety, and her place in entertainment history, Whitney Houston was a regular person—just like you and me—and tragedies like this shouldn’t happen to anyone. And the more we realize that, the less we will wait for celebrities to die before we contemplate both the value and the frailty of our own lives.