*The instant the world heard the news of Whitney Houston’s death the predictable happened. The whispers quickly became loud gossip, endless speculation, and mindless chatter that her death had to be from drugs. Houston’s dedicated fans, Grammy officials, and Houston’s entertainer associates were in agony. They were careful to express their respect and admiration for her prodigious talent and influence on the musical and entertainment industry. But for much of the public and the media, that took a backseat to the mad dash to spin Houston as a washed up, self-destructive druggie.
Pop mega star Celine Dion reinforced that line when she prattled on ABC’s “Good Morning America” about drugs, the destruction, havoc, and chaos that they wreak among entertainers and that she stays away from the show business scene because of the danger. Dion was, of course, talking about Houston. Then there was the headline in national newspapers” Whitney Houston death: ‘too early’ to confirm drug link. “But it wasn’t too early for the press to replant the seed of suspicion in the public mind that drugs were indeed the link to her death.
Beverly Hills police and L.A. County coroner officials could’ve dampened the loose trash talk of Whitney and drugs by issuing a firm statement that her death is under investigation and the public should draw no conclusion from the cause of death until the investigation is concluded. But that didn’t happen and the blogs, websites, and in reader comments on Houston, the malicious line that Houston was a victim of her own damaging, and downward spiraling lifestyle and career killed her was set.
In years past the American way of dealing with celebrities who died tragically was not to rush to judgment and defame. The ground rules, however, radically changed with Michael Jackson. While millions of Jackson fans mourned, the intense prurient undercurrent was that Jackson was a victim of his own destructive and bizarre lifestyle. A sex, celebrity gossip, rumor and innuendo starved and obsessed mainstream media salivated at the prospect of scandal and titillation at the demise of Jackson and other celebrities. The Houston’s family gracious thanks for the tributes and kind remembrances of her have not derailed the rumor train from its runaway and destructive path about her.
There are two reasons for this. At her peak, Houston’s fame, fortune, and talent were too irresistible and compelling to ignore. She became the gatekeeper for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of an entertainment crazed public seeking vicarious escape, titillation, and excitement, She was also a cash cow for advertisers, the record and film and entertainment industry executives. She was the ultimate diva hero who fulfilled those needs.
She was expected to move in the rarified air above the fray of human problems while raising society’s expectation of what’s good and wholesome. She was handsomely rewarded for fulfilling that fantasy. But the fantasy was rudely marred when the media latched on to and played up the endless stories about the alleged drug orgies, physical assaults, and public squabbles between her and musician husband Bobby Brown, and later Houston’s daughter’s alleged battles with drugs (the like mother like daughter theme). The image and spin of Houston as superstar gone awry was rammed onto the public. News accounts of her career and attempted comeback spent as much time talking about her past and drugs and her supposedly lost talent. When Houston was mentioned it became virtually an article of public belief that she was only one drug take—legal or otherwise—away from the end.
The other reason for the Houston trashing tracks back to the image that has been long been embedded in the public view of African-American entertainers and celebrities. That is that they are overpaid, irresponsible, out of control, pampered and self-indulgent. This stirs perennial suspicion that they always teeter on the abyss of self-destruction, and inevitably will tumble over the edge into it. This was evident in the constant carping from many about how spoiled, pampered and overpaid Jackson was. The handful of black celebrities that conform to the vicious stereotype and their antics are always amply played up at every turn and provides just enough fuel to perpetuate the negative image of bad behaving black celebrities. This always ignites a torrent of self-righteous columns and commentary on the supposed arrogant, above the law black celebrity.
Houston made millions for the record and entertainment industry. She gave freely of her time, talent and made contributions to many humanitarian causes. How or why she died is not known. How she lived is. It will take weeks, maybe months, for L.A. County officials to rule on the actual cause of Houston’s death and the circumstances around her death. The long time lag though is tailor made to gorge the tabloid gossip and rumor mill to further trash Houston.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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