Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

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If there’s one word I hate hearing in connection with performers, it’s “entourage”.  So it’s fair to say that when I heard that Whitney Houston had been found dead by a member of her entourage, it pushed all of the wrong buttons.  I just wish that artists like Whitney Houston and all of the other fractured divas were able to look at their retinues and separate the ones they really needed to help them with their careers from the leeches who attach themselves to anyone who looks likely to achieve any kind of success.  So how did the young newcomer from the 80s come to this?

In 1985 I got my hands on a promo copy of a 12-inch vinyl sampler by a new young singer who was the next big thing.  I won’t bore you with the family connections that were being used to launch her career; you can find them anywhere online and they were completely redundant.  It didn’t matter who she was related to, she had a fabulous voice.  The lead track on the sampler was a song called “Someone for Me” which I loved, but didn’t even get a single release.  Another track on the sampler was “How Will I Know”, which I wasn’t that bothered about; shows how much I know.

What was obvious from the four tracks on the sampler was a voice that you couldn’t ignore under any circumstances.  I’m not claiming any credit for spotting a talent before everyone else because it was obvious to anyone who didn’t have tin ears that Whitney Houston had a phenomenal voice.  Everything which happened after that promo was obvious; huge success as a singer and then as an actress (following the Diana Ross trajectory) and the almost inevitable accumulation of a retinue of stylists, arrangers, procurers and Dr Feelgoods.  And that’s before you get to the unsuitable partner.

For 10 years Whitney Houston could do no wrong; then, as the hits began to dry up, the gossip started.  Drugs, domestic violence and diva behaviour all became subjects of speculation in the media, gradually eroding the wholesome all-American reputation the industry had worked so hard to create.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t just speculation; the truth was probably a lot worse.

After the acting and singing success of “The Bodyguard” in 1992, it was difficult to picture a continuing upward path; how could anyone top that?  By the late 90s the preppie, good girl reputation had been shredded; unreliability and instability were now the norm and bad news stories were everywhere.  From there on in, Whitney’s history was a cruelly long suicide note; everyone knew the ultimate outcome but tried to pretend that everything would work out fine.  Which brings us back to the entourage.

Whitney Houston had obviously been battling with her personal demons over a long period of time but there isn’t much hope of winning this battle if no-one close to you is willing to confront you with your problems; denial becomes a very easy option and the outcome is inevitable.  It’s such a pity that the circumstances of her death leave us digging over her problems rather than celebrating her many achievements.  As an antidote to all of the negativity, try having a listen to any of the greatest hits collections and remember how great that voice was; that’s a fitting tribute.