Some Celebrity Deaths Expose Our Hypocrisy.

Oct 24

I first wrote this piece one day following the news of the death of pop singer Whitney Houston.

Houston, one of the biggest stars in pop music from the mid-1980s through the late-1990s, spent the final decade and a half of her life addled by drugs and alcohol. The press claimed she was “battling” those addictions, but that suggests she was trying to get clean. Though she had at least three trips to rehab, none of them helped. If she was battling, her fight was halfhearted.

That assessment may be cruel, but it’s been my experience that when someone is determined to destroy themselves with drink and drugs, there’s no stopping them, no matter how hard you try or how many rehab clinics they’re packed off to. Theymust want to quit, and Houston simply didn’t want to. Not even Houston’s family – not even her only child – was enough to convince her to clean up her life.

It’s sad, of course, that she died, and it’s natural for someone that famous to be mourned by their millions of fans.

Still, the outpouring of grief conveniently masks the years of mockery she received by many of these same fans, who in her later years came to see her as a pathetic joke, tottering through public appearances looking like shit, her powerful singing voice ravaged by substance abuse, her face and body bloated from years of addiction. Much of the grief and praise came from a media which only too gleefully danced upon her grave long before she did them the service of toppling into it.

It exposes just how hypocritical society can be toward its heroes and icons. We build them up, with the help of the media, only to happily tear them down if they prove too human to handle the adulation.

Whitney House, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, before they succumbed to the insanity of fame.

Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, before they succumbed to the insanity of fame.

The same thing happened with Michael Jackson upon his death. During the final two decades of Jackson’s life, the self-proclaimed “King of Pop” was mocked for his surreal lifestyle and derided over allegations of sexual abuse of young boys offered up to Jackson, many by their families hoping for a cut of his wealth, one way or another.

Like Houston, Jackson hadn’t made a meaningful album in some time, and was remembered more for his early work than anything in his later years.

Jackson, as has been well-documented, lived a fucked-up life since he was pushed onto a stage at age five with his older brothers by his abusive greedhead father. By Jackson’s mid-twenties, when his “Thriller” album catapulted him into the rarefied air of the truly great musical stars, he had been trying in small doses to recapture a childhood stolen from him.  ”Thriller” enabled him to do it full-scale, pushing Jackson over the edge of sanity into a fantasy world of his own making, while in the real world he became a sick joke.

Upon his death, however, the weirdness and allegations of child sex abuse were buried in an avalanche of glorification of his one-time greatness.

This phenomenon really isn’t new. Elvis Presley, for example, was a fat, prescription drug-abusing, voyeuristic glutton, washed up at 42 and with only a few million dollars of his once-vast fortune remaining in his estate when he suffered a heart attack on the toilet, dying alone on the cold tile of his bathroom floor.  A king literally knocked off his throne with his pants around his ankles.

Yet none of that was remembered in the wake of his passing, as an orgy of deification occurred among his millions of fans and a media nowhere near as intrusive as it is today praised The King of Rock n Roll to the heavens.

Most of Elvis’ foibles would emerge later in “tell-all” books, yet despite their titillating accounts, his legend – stoked by the impressive body of his early work and the shrewd management of his estate by his ex-wife Priscilla – remains as enduring as ever.

Still, even Elvis had to suffer the indignity during his later life of the National Enquirer publishing pictures of his bloated, sweaty body squeezed into sequined karate jumpsuits, gleefully printing that he ripped the ass out of his pants onstage more than once .

The foibles of Jackson and Houston were already well-known thanks to today’s more intrusive media, but there are biographers sifting through the well-picked wreckage in search of some nuggets of as-yet unknown scandal which can pay off.

Jackson and Houston suffered far worse indignities than Elvis, though in their self-deluded worlds, they either paid it little attention or used it as an excuse to burrow deeper into their respective cocoons on madness.

It’s a pity we wait until a celebrity dies before we remember what we loved about them in the first place. Of course, that removes the fun of pissing on your idol when they either get too big for their britches, or too human to handle the fame thrust upon them.

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