As Whitney Houston's loved ones prepare to lay her to rest, the circus that has been surrounding the pop music icon's death shows little sign of abating. It's become a show unto itself.
For instance, among the hundreds of beautiful and thoughtful statements from her colleagues, there've been a few that stopped us short. We love Tony Bennett, but every so often he says something way out there, like entreating the folks at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy party to fight for legalization of drugs like they have in Amsterdam (per Tony's declaration) "so they have to get it from a doctor, not just some gangsters that just sell it under the table." Tommy Chong chimed in later, on Twitter, that if only Whitney had stuck to pot, she'd be with us still.
The media frenzy went beyond the pale immediately, and it relentlessly continues. We blanched at the "Entertainment Tonight" email announcement with the subject line "ET EXCLUSIVE PHOTO — WHITNEY'S BODYBAG," touting the show's footage inside the coroner's van. That's the kind of thing we expect from wolf-pack leader TMZ, of course, which provided — among dozens of other things — images of the gurney with the singer's covered body being wheeled out of the hotel. And then there's CNN, with Tweets like this: "View stake-out camera at funeral home where #WhitneyHouston body is expected to arrive in New Jersey. Watch live." Perhaps not the best choice of words.
There are worse things than the ghoul patrol, though. Such as, perpetual "Look at me" commentator Bill O'Reilly and his completely unnecessary and cruel comments about Whitney being a drug addict and wanting to kill herself.
And then we have the Barney Fifes of the horde, transforming into swaggering amateur forensic scientists and detectives before our eyes. Going all noir on us, we heard one declare the other night, "It'll be weeks before we get the tox reports, as they say in the biz." And how about those on-air interviews with seemingly anyone and everyone associated with Whitney — or not? Among our favorites: a local news interview with a backup singer who extolled the star as an angel but finally admitted she'd never actually talked to her.
Although Brian Grazer and Don Mischer are keeping details of this year's Academy Awards show under wraps, you can be sure Houston will be duly acknowledged on the Feb. 26 Oscars as well.
This ridiculous and sublime, beautiful and awful response to Houston's passing is appropriate, because it certainly is in keeping with her life of extremes. Consider these highlights and lowlights:
—1985: First album, "Whitney Houston," released, becomes best-selling debut album with 13 million sold. Wins Whitney first of multiple Grammys.
—1987: Second album, "Whitney," becomes first album by a female to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's pop chart, garners four No. 1 singles.
—1991: Whitney's rendition of the National Anthem, recorded at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War, becomes Arista's fastest-selling single in history.
—1992: Marries R&B/rap hybrid artist Bobby Brown of "My Prerogative" fame. "I may be a B-Boy and she's America's Sweetheart, but it's love," says Bobby. In November, "The Bodyguard" is released, goes on to gross over $400 million, yields best-selling soundtrack in history.
—1993: "I Will Always Love You" becomes longest-running pop single in the rock era. Daughter Bobbi Kristina is born.
—1995: Two hours late to perform at a White House Dinner for Nelson Mandela, testy onstage — "stuff happens" — when she keeps audiences waiting more than an hour. Whitney and Bobby separate for two months. "We will work our problems out," she tells Vibe magazine. "...He doesn't like to be disrespected. He has a temper from hell."
Brown enters Betty Ford Center in October, facing legal woes, including allegedly beating a man over a woman, kicking a security guard and urinating in a police car. In December, she's seen drinking beer at a party preceding release of "Waiting to Exhale."
—1996: Bobby denies reports he called Whitney gay, a rumor that's dogged her for years, while in rehab. Whitney makes "The Preacher's Wife" with Denzel Washington. Image-repairing interviews include TV Guide, which says she shows no sign of being the "diva-in-distress we've heard so much about," as Whitney talks about her Whitney Houston Children's Foundation, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.
—1997: A no-show at the Essence Awards, where she was to be honored. Reports out of Honolulu of Bobby hitting Whitney denied. Produces and plays Fairy Godmother in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" with Brandy. Kevin Ammons' book "Good Girl, Bad Girl" contends that her throat problems stem from too much pot smoking and that she spikes her pot with cocaine. Italian police investigate 2-inch cut on Whitney's face after Mediterranean yacht trip with Brown.
—1998: "My Love is Your Love" album a hit, earns some of Whitney's best reviews ever.
—2000: In January, Houston leaves a bag allegedly containing a small amount of marijuana at a Hawaii airport, which leads to a petty misdemeanor drug charge. She avoids jail time by promising to pay $4,000 and agreeing to voluntary drug testing over the next few months.
Whitney's rep as pop's "lost-it girl" worsens when she's very publicly let go from the Academy Awards two days before show time for flubbing the lyrics to "Over the Rainbow." She tells Jane magazine that meeting a president and meeting a junkie are the same: "They're just men, you dig?" Brown spends 26 days in jail for violating his probation for a 1996 drunk driving incident, in which he had tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.
—2001: Whitney's anorexic-looking form at Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary concert special taping for CBS shocks fans. Reports have it that her emaciated arms and shoulders are digitally filled in by the time the show airs.
—2002: In August, her father, John Houston, sues Whitney for $100 million, claiming she owed him the sum for his salvaging of her career following her marijuana arrest in 2000 and his helping her land her $100 million recording contract with Arista. The action reportedly devastates Whitney. In December, she exhibits flippant and unapologetic attitude in a chat with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Primetime Live," including her weird claim that she wouldn't do crack cocaine because it's a cheap drug and she makes way too much money.
Singles flop and "Just Whitney" album stalls. Whitney had reportedly taken a $20 million cash advance from Arista against future royalties.
—2003: John Houston dies in February. Whitney is reportedly so disoriented at her 40th birthday party in August that she has a hard time taking off her jacket.
—2004: Whitney enters rehab.
—2005: "Being Bobby Brown" reality show airs June 30 through Sept. 8, and viewers watch in horrified fascination. As EW's Michael Slezak put it, "Changing the channel isn't an option. Not after Bobby discusses using his fingers to help wife Whitney Houston with her constipation." The show spawns new Whitney catch phrase: "Hell to the No." Her "Kiss my a-" clip plays repeatedly on E!'s "The Soup," which designates it as Clip of the Year. Whitney declines to appear in a second season and prevents DVD release in 2008.
—2006: Splits from Bobby Brown, gets custody of Bobbi Kristina. Brown sues to change their divorce agreement and tries to get spousal and child support.
—2009: A comeback, as she wows the elite at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy party with her performance, and the buzz grows for her first studio CD in seven years, "I Look to You." Davis godfathers the album, and a first-class set of contemporary producers lend their talents. The album is released in August at No. 1, with largely positive reviews, but not raves. Eventually sells 2.5 million units.
—2010: The rollercoaster heads downward again, as Whitney's first world concert tour in 11 years goes wrong. She's described as a "hot mess" during Australia concerts. In Birmingham, England, she gives what headlines scream was an "appalling performance," 20 minutes in length, filled out by her backup performers and video clips. Cancels concerts due to "upper respiratory infection," but by October, she and her mother Cissy look great at Alicia Keys' Keep A Child Alive benefit.
—2011: Whitney goes back into rehab in May. In August, she celebrates her 48th birthday. In November, she wraps "Sparkle" with Jordin Sparks. Word is, the film could mark another comeback.
—2012: On Feb. 11, Whitney is found dead in a fourth-floor suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. On Feb. 12, Whitney is paid loving tribute at the 54th Grammy Awards.
To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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