Not even a week has gone by since singing legend Whitney Houston was found dead and submerged underwater in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills hotel room, and already the rumors are swirling.
Everywhere I turn, people are whispering about the tragedy and whether there were drugs involved. When I turn on the TV, it’s all I see. Radio stations flooded with Houston’s hits and tales of past dramas and drug use with her ex-husband, singer Bobby Brown. Coverage of the singer’s death has spun into a vicious media cycle, and unfortunately for Houston and her family, such coverage and societal talk has taken on a negative connotation.
When a celebrity dies, America as we know it ceases to function — especially when an overdose on drugs is the suspected cause. Before Michael Jackson’s death was officially ruled a homicide, it was suspected that he overdosed on lethal amounts of prescription drugs. For weeks on end, the U.S. tuned in to coverage about his death that ran on loop. Similar chaos ensued when British singer Amy Winehouse and actor Heath Ledger were found dead — Winehouse of alcohol poisoning after weeks of sobriety and Ledger from an accidental overdose on sleeping pills. Like it or not, death is the kind of event that makes people turn up their televisions in the middle of a conversation.
Everyone pays more attention to a person in their moment of death than they ever did when he or she was alive — and more out of sheer nosiness than genuine concern for the well-being of their loved ones. Although the celebrity’s work might be praised for a moment, it’s often in a flicker of recognition before people’s attention quickly turns back to the star’s latest scandal, which for Houston was her alleged illegal drug use throughout her marriage to Brown.
Why is this true? Why do average people suddenly gain curiosity when a stranger’s time on earth has expired? It’s not as though most people who catch wind of the news knew Houston personally — or any famous individual who recently has passed, for that matter. So why all the fuss and rumors?
Perhaps, because of the pedestal most celebrities are placed on by the media that haunts their daily lives, scandal and death give us the only proof we have access to that the person is human, just like everyone else.
When it comes to musicians, all we know of them is their work and any on-air interviews we happen to catch. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the idea that such celebrities are perfect, when in reality, such a flawless human being does not exist. Sure, there are people out there who enjoy these stars’ music, but we often look at musicians in such a superhuman way that when we hear of their mess-ups or sudden deaths, it gives them an element of humanity that we never saw before.
But instead of focusing on the minute details that do not affect our lives anyway, perhaps we should take a step back and really ask ourselves why we’re paying attention in the first place.
Being that the most we know about any particular artist is usually taken from their latest single — their true talent — that is where the forefront of our attention should stay. Although many musicians use their music as an avenue to reveal their vulnerabilities, we have no way of knowing what daily life is like for them. We do not get to see the more intimate moments, nor do we know the last thoughts that ran through their mind. We do not have these facts — what we do have is artists’ work, and that is truly what they should be remembered for.