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Today news broke of the untimely death of ballad-singer Whitney Houston, aged 48. Houston had a well catalogued history of heroin abuse and was often checked in and out of rehab in her later years, much to the delight of the tabloids and paparazzi. The circumstances of her death are currently unknown but several decades of hard substance abuse has led to speculation on internet forums that it played some kind of role in her demise, but this is not what irks me so. News stations tell us how “tributes are pouring in”, friends on Facebook who have never had no much of a sniff of Houston on their iPods suddenly mourn the loss of one of the greatest voices the world has ever seen. It is as if a woman in her musical prime had been snatched from us, and that plainly is not true.
Of course this woman was a human being who perhaps fame affected adversely and of course we should feel just as upset with this news as we would if we heard news of anybody dying; but in my opinion Whitney Houston has been dead musically for many, many years. ‘I Will Always Love You’ is the highest selling single from a female artist of all time, this is pure fact. What is also pure fact is that Houston’s version of the song was released in 1992. The same year she starred in the Bodyguard. The year after she sang at the Superbowl. Twenty years ago. I challenge any lay person to recite any subsequent hits from her. Years of drug abuse subsequently ravaged her once exceptional voice – numerous comeback gigs in the last ten years resulted in fans literally walking out, such was their disappointment in their present day Whitney Houston and the gulf of difference between the woman who won six Grammy’s and the woman that they saw before them.
This irritating trend of glorifying dead musicians spreads back several years also. When Michael Jackson died in 2009 the world erupted with cries that the musical world had lost a great talent, gone too soon. While the Jackson of the 1980’s was blessed with hit after hit and tune after tune-still enjoyed today- the latter day Jackson was famous for having sleepovers with children, appearing on somewhat negative documentaries about himself and owning a themepark in a mountain of debt. Ultimately, and from a purely musical perspective I hasten to add, it would have made very little difference if Jackson had died in 1999 or 2009 to the vast majority of music fans, and it is shallow and false to suddenly gain an appreciation of a musical artist simply because their heart has stopped beating. Yes the death of any person, old or young, is something to be mourned; but let us avoid the misconception of glorifying their whole lives while their musical career merely lasted part of it.