News media and social networking sites have been inundated with the news of Whitney Houston’s death. A tragic end to a great talent, many have been left shocked at the loss of the ‘I Will Always Love You’ star. The much publicised Grammy Awards have been marked with tributes, just as fans have paid tribute to the singer worldwide. However, as the circumstances surrounding Houston’s death emerge, it is important to realise that she represents just another addition to a long legacy of fallen stars that taint the entertainment industry.
Beginning as a great artist and born of a family of talent, she left a mark in music that can scarcely be erased. However, Houston’s later career was stained by the ailment suffered by so many of her kind; alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse. The late singer joins a long list of revered artists whose lives were as controversial as their careers successful. Elvis Presley, the ‘King of Rock and Roll’, was a known abuser of prescription drugs that led to his sudden death. Drew Barrymore, unforgettable for her adorable role in E.T., was soon to be drinking at age 9, taking drugs at 13 and attempting suicide at 14. And the numerous scandals surrounding Britney Spears, the fresh-faced teen talent of the 90s, need hardly be repeated here. Houston’s death also follows closely that of Amy Winehouse, another singer as prominent for her music as her substance abuse, who passed in similar circumstances. More recently, the veteran American singer, Etta James, also died after a long and eventful career. Although her cause of death was illness, James’ was also a lifestyle tainted with drug addiction.
In spite of this, the glamour of their status, the popularity of their career paths appear to grow unabated, with an ever increasing stream of young people taking them as role models and vying to be the “next big thing” in the entertainment industry, be that singer, actor or model. It would appear they are either ignorant or deluded in their notions of grandeur and fame; yet, who can blame them, given the constant media barrage convincing them that it is so? The blinding allure, in spite of the almost inevitably destructive path that this industry seems to lead so many of its entrants, is something that can no longer be disregarded. Constantly fed hollow and superficial values that feed a deep sense of inadequacy and a heightened consciousness of external (often damaging) beautification over internal excellence, the impact, particularly upon the young in society, is deeply worrying. As each newcomer joins – fresh, young, innocent, and beautiful – one’s heart cannot help but sink at their fate in the corrosive new lifestyle which they take upon themselves.
Talent is something that should draw praise, yet it is important to not forget the people who embody that talent and the examples they set society. While Houston entranced her fans with her powerful voice, her private life was often reflective of all things inadvisable, from a partner choice that led to a turbulent marriage, to the abuse of substances that led to the damage of the very talent that earned her her status. As tragic as her loss is, Houston’s lifestyle was hardly something to write home about and was inextricably intertwined with the career path she chose; this factor is as important to highlight as her successes. Yet with remarkable irresponsibility, the entertainment industry actively promotes itself and its artists to an unbelievable degree, casting a veil over the realities to create an image of carefully airbrushed glamour. And the young are left betrayed, their aspirations misguided.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Houston’s story, and so many others like her, is her enslavement to an industry that exploited her to the utmost, even after her death. As demand for her records increased over the past couple of days, Sony Entertainment controversially raised the price of her albums in what would appear a callous attempt to make good on her boosted popularity. The ethics, or lack of, of the music industry is something that never fails to astonish. As each new member enters, they are stripped of everything from privacy to personality, sold as a commodity to a public made ravenous by aggressive marketing. Clearly nothing is a hindrance to this, even death.
As the world bids farewell to another fallen angel of music, it is hoped that Houston’s memory will linger on the period of exemplary height in her career, while lessons will be sought from those less memorable times. More importantly, it is hoped that people will learn to hold accountable an industry that raises unhealthy ambitions, particularly among the future generation, while destroying those it adopts and exploits.
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