By PAT WATSON
Whatever the exact cause of the death of Whitney ‘The Voice’ Houston – and it has not been officially declared yet – it will be understood in the context of her tumultuous final years.
There is much grief at the loss of this particular high profile, tabloid-ized life, as people who lived their lives to the soundtrack of her vocals try to make sense of her sudden tragic finale at age 48.
Yet, in a certain sense, Whitney Houston, the girl from New Jersey born into a talented family, lost her life almost 30 years ago when she was first pulled from local recognition and transformed into a worldwide commodity. Maybe she wanted to be taken there. But then, it took her.
We can see that, for all the fame and fortune that voice brought her, and it was unquestionably magnificent, her singular talent also robbed her of any real opportunity to be just Whitney; to be understood and appreciated as a whole person for other aspects of who she was or, for that matter, who she wasn’t.
When we lose sight of any person, especially those who are themselves paradoxically over-shadowed by their own talent, it can all too often lead to such tragic loss.
The need for authentic identity in an environment where these individuals are regrettably seen as commodities because of their talent can send them in search of someplace to feel all right. As a kind of public possession, it can sometimes be difficult for such individuals to tell who is a genuine friend and who just sees them as a product.
Often enough, the search for release from this psychic dissonance leads to mood altering drugs. Yet, the relief and dependency that comes with resulting addictive behaviour too often carry an unexpected price.
Maybe it was that Houston didn’t have enough of an existence outside of the one in which her talent placed her during the years when most people her age were growing into their post-teenage personalities. But the desire for some kind of broader experience took her down a road on which she likely was just as surprised to have found herself – or rather lost herself – as any of her fans were.
A person can have all the trappings of success and still feel like a failure if they are not grounded in what they understand to be a real and caring community. Could this have been at the heart of Houston’s demise? For this woman didn’t so much lose her voice as walk away from it.
It was only last week that the death by suicide of impresario Don Cornelius, at age 75, was sinking in. Many who felt his loss tried to make sense of his decision to end his own life. And while Michael Jackson’s death was not a suicide, the slow disintegration of his professional life seemed to have impacted his final years in totality.
In whatever way such persons adapted to the changing tenor of their lives, from the voices of those left to mourn them, there is a theme that emerges which is that these individuals were adrift. They could find no comfort or anchor in a solid core, whether family or an acquired circle, and trying to recapture their glory years proved fatal.
In our ‘wired’ world we are losing sight of the need for human connectedness. To be socially integrated is basic to being human. Consequently, the many who become disconnected respond by seeking out some form of relief, even if some choices mean eventual danger.
So, some will smoke or gamble to excess, max out credit cards, use both legal and illegal drugs – or even join gangs.
And that’s why, despite all the warnings to the contrary, the ‘War on Drugs’ is a failure.
It may be facile to reject out of hand the path someone like a talented Whitney Houston took toward her final day, or to condemn excesses of vice or socially sanctioned risky behaviour, because dichotomies – seeing things as either black or white – are easier to digest. Life itself is, however, decidedly nuanced.
The late civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, borrowing from American politician, Edward Hoch, pointed out: “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”
What we know intuitively is that unless we hold onto each other, we will end up falling into the abyss.
A note on a feel-good survey…
A recent Environics survey found those who are Canadian-born view naturalized Canadians favourably as being equally good citizens.