What odious, hypocritical outpourings have accompanied the untimely death of Whitney Houston, and how predictable.
The show business luminaries who make such an extravagant public display of grief for her, and who will no doubt turn the Grammy Awards presentation ceremony into a tacky mourn-fest of the type Hollywood delights in, are by and large the same people who sustain the greedy, amoral system that chewed her up and eventually spat her out.
No doubt her record company, even as its executives are beating their breasts and issuing pious tributes to her luminous talent, is cranking up the production lines with a view to cashing in on renewed demand for her CDs. Nothing sells records like a lonely self-inflicted death in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
One constant in the world of pop music and movies is that psychologically fragile stars like Houston are destroyed while the grasping, manipulative record company presidents and promoters who profit from their talent survive into comfortable (and usually very prosperous) old age. When did you last hear of a tormented impresario or record company executive taking an overdose or shooting himself?
What ruins stars like Houston? The great cliché is that it’s the bitch goddess of success – the lure of wealth, fame and celebrity that the American showbiz machine dangles in front of the ambitious and vulnerable. As with many clichés, it has a core of truth. It takes a strong individual to resist this Faustian pact, with its inevitable relinquishment of personal autonomy. No one who has read about the machinations of the US record industry can fail to be aware of the relentless pressure on stars to keep the hits coming. Once they dry up … well, you’re on your own, baby.
Some singers handle the pressure. Brian Wilson is one who has survived against the odds. Others such as Elvis Presley, Judy Garland and Michael Jackson, to name some of the more obvious examples, spectacularly succumbed. Others again have sought refuge in the twilight world of the Las Vegas Strip, the showbiz equivalent of the dementia ward.
An unanswered question is whether highly talented and creative people such as Houston are intrinsically frail psychologically and therefore pre-disposed to an early death (Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Kurt Cobain spring to mind), or whether it’s simply the remorseless pressure of their career that leads them down the path of self-destruction. My guess is that it’s usually a combination of the two.
Whatever, Houston is gone – but never mind. Pop stars are like buses; there’ll be another one along soon.