Sunday, February 12, 2012

The same old sad story

The news broke last night that Whitney Houston has died at the age of 48 years, a career cut short; apparently it was drug- and/or alchohol-related.  This is, unfortunately, just another sad tale in what has seemed to me to be an endless series of sad tales about successful entertainers, especially those in the music business.  The list is long and the names are legendary: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, John Belushi, John Candy, Jim Morrison, Len Bias, Mike Bloomfield, Lennie Bruce, Kurt Cobain, Jon Entwistle, Chris Farley, on and on and on.  The news always is shocking when it breaks, but with such a long list, perhaps no one should be astounded when a popular entertainer dies under such circumstances.  Being successful in the entertainment business can bring sorrow and death.

To seek fame and fortune is a component of the American dream, and the question of "Why?" is often asked when news of the untimely death of an entertainer breaks, even as they have achieved the fame and fortune they sought.  They seemingly have it all, and yet throw away their talent and their life.  No one becomes famous by accident, although luck clearly has a lot to do with who is selected on the path to becoming a "star".  People become famous because they seek fame, with their actions along the way the reflection of a sometimes desperate compulsion for recognition.  Most of us at least can understand this drive, as I suspect many of us envy the rich and famous precisely because of that public recognition and that seemingly endless wealth.

But the seemingly endless string of entertainer deaths as a result of drugs and alcohol is strong evidence that fame and fortune are not what we "ordinary" people think they are.  When achieved, fame doesn't seem inevitably to bring happiness and contentment for the famous.  The associated wealth can represent for some a path to a limitless drug supply with which to blot out the unhappiness they've discovered at the end of the fame rainbow.  I've always loved the line from the movie Krull: 

Prince Colwyn: The reward is freedom... and fame!
: Freedom? We have it! And fame? Nah. It's an empty purse. Count it, go broke. Eat it, go hungry. Seek it, go mad! 

Perhaps we should be grateful when fame and fortune pass us by!  They might well be the grim reaper in an attractive disguise!  Are wealth and recognition such blessings we should envy those who have them?  For some, they surely are not blessings - if they were, these rich, famous people wouldn't be so eager to drown themselves in drugs and alcohol.  A life spent in middle class anonymity, caring for loved ones, enjoying time with friends, and trying to contribute something positive to the world into which we were born, isn't a life without meaning or happiness just because we don't receive widespread public recognition and vast financial rewards for it.

I've never had a moment's temptation to try heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine, for the simple reason that the evidence is there for anyone to see: almost no one can avoid becoming addicted to these drugs, and the reward for that addiction is degradation and death.  Whitney Houston's untimely death should be a warning to those of us who feel a strong compulsion to possess fame and fortune - be careful what you wish for!

1 comment:

Garrett Fornea said...

Not only do I associate the things you listed here with fame, but there are other negative things I associate with fame. Many of the celebrities I read about have had multiple spouses, so it seems the pressures of being famous make for an unstable love life.

Another problem that I would think comes with fame is that everyone - or nearly everyone - has their eye on the celebrity in question. Make one big mistake, or suffer some big tragedy - that celebrity will be hounded by media across the country. So I would think that losing privacy - yes, that integral part of America - is another sacrifice of becoming famous.

As for desiring riches, can it not be compared to King Midas's golden touch? At first everything seemed enjoyable, but then he tried to eat. His food turned to gold. Next he tried to hug his daughter, and she turned into a gold statue. I only want enough to support my family - when and if I have one of my own, I'm not even twenty yet - and perhaps live comfortably.

I'm tempted to bring the attention-seeking "extreme" storm chasers into this, but I shall refrain.

R.I.P. Whitney!