Whitney Houston’s death highlighted the reality of being a high-profile celebrity and reminded us that when facts are scarce it passes for news.
During the first few days of the death of pop icon Whitney Houston, fact and rumor were nearly interchangeable. In the rush to be first or to trend online, the facts became road kill for journalists and bloggers who tweeted and spread rumor instead of facts. From rumors of suicide to a funeral in Atlanta, she dominated a great majority of the news last week including her past addiction to drugs and what she may have been doing in her last days.
The public mourning for the singer begs the question if we can celebrate a person’s accomplishments while acknowledging their shortcomings or mistakes without vilifying them. CBS Sunday Morning’s Bill Flangan wrote a commentary the day after her death that spoke to the frustration so many of us shared. “Whitney Houston was a public figure her whole adult life. She battled her demons in the public eye…… In the next few days she will be eulogized. That’s as it should be, she deserves it. But wouldn’t it be great if all of us could then leave it at that? Let’s ignore the gossip press and scandal media that will try to exploit her memory now that she can’t defend herself.
Whitney Houston touched millions of us, but she does not belong to us. She was someone’s daughter. She was someone’s mother. Her memory, like her love, belongs to them. The rest of us will always have her music.”
For some of the nearly 14 million people who watched the televised “home going” for Whitney Houston they got a peek into a long cultural tradition at many African-American Baptist funerals. It was personal, soulful and spiritual. The program with its speakers, singers, processional/recessional and personal testimonies were familiar for many African-American viewers. These home goings are cathartic for the mothers, fathers, families and friends sharing their unconditional love and last goodbyes.
The media stories will continue for weeks; the toxicology report, her estate, her record sales and of course her daughter. Her child, who has never recorded a single song, or won a Grammy—yet she must bear the burden of being the daughter of a woman who shared her gift and her life under the scrutiny and judgment of the public. It is not a curse I would wish on anyone, especially an 18-year old-young woman who is struggling to find her way in the world without her mother.