23 February 2012


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 24 February 2012

"No, I'm not a drug addict, and neither is my husband. If that were so, you'd get a lot less work out of me. It would show in the performances and in the work." Whitney Houston

So popular was she, Whitney Houston did not need her last name. 'Whitney' alone enjoyed the name recognition like Madonna or Elvis or Cher or Sting.

Whitney Houston was a beautiful woman. Whitney Houston had an out-of-this-world singing voice. Whitney Houston made a fortune with her looks and her voice.

Whitney Houston was, quite frankly, spaced out. She was a drug addict. And whether she was addicted to illegal or legal drugs, or both, is moot. Whitney Houston self-destructed. Whitney Houston is dead--she killed herself.

Who knows the depth of Whitney Houston's problems. Some--drug abuse, a turbulent marriage, and a voice that once was was no longer--were played out in the public arena. But the public did not know everything.

Whitney Houston's death was not so much a surprise. Ho hum. Another seemingly invincible person, every bit as human as the rest of us, lives recklessly and bites the dust. The list is endless--coming to mind, Jimi Hendrix; Janis Joplin; Elvis Presley; John Belushi; River Phoenix; Michael Jackson; and Heath Ledger.

But I did pause a moment to wonder if anyone close to Whitney, when realizing she had a problem, ever grabbed her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, demanded her undivided attention, and said, "Houston, you have a problem." Or better yet, "Houston, we have a problem." And then stayed engaged to see her through it.

You'd like to assume at least one person who truly loved and cared about her did exactly that.

But who knows.

Apparently not.

Then again, did anyone have a responsibility to protect Whitney Houston from Whitney Houston?

Ours is a cruel world and it can be awful lonely--even when famous and rich and surrounded by crowds who are there only to exploit, to take. Certainly there's much more to come about the troubled life of Whitney Houston. Maybe some will learn from her mistakes and not repeat them. Maybe.

The week leading up to her funeral Saturday past was a media circus. According to some coverage, so was her funeral. Hailing from New Jersey, Governor Christie directed our national ensign be lowered to half staff, throughout the state, to honor Whitney Houston on the day of her funeral. His decision sparked anger and protest in some--especially from the military community and the loved ones of those who lost their lives on the battlefield; they were appalled and offended by the comparisons in death. Understandable. Whitney Houston was only a celebrity. Their kin (and friends) are American heroes.

The governor defended and rationalized his decision by noting all the good Whitney Houston had done for our country and the world. He felt she should not be judged solely on the terrible circumstances of her death. Sounds logical. Understandable.

However, I can cite cases of Marines known to me (and certainly the Corps is not unique) who served for years and years honorably, doing much good, and then did something incredibly stupid that abruptly ended what was otherwise a stellar career. In some cases the abrupt end involved harsh punishment and immediate end of service (due to misconduct not even a crime in the civilian world). And some of those terminated received a Dishonorable Discharge or Dismissal--both carry the weight of a felony conviction. And, those Marines were unceremoniously shown the gate--careers in shambles, and lives, including some beyond their own, ruined by poor judgement. So what about all the good they did? Those people, in life nor upon death, are not likely to see colors lowered to half staff in their honor.

There's no argument Whitney Houston did some good in this world. But let us keep her life in perspective--she was a singer and an actress. And she was a troubled soul who, by choice, ended her own life. She may have been an American icon, at one time and maybe still in death, but she was not a hero of America.

Calling Whitney Houston's death a tragedy is a mischaracterization. Sad. Okay. But sad mostly from the perspective of what a senseless waste--of looks, talent, and money.

This is simple, as a Marine friend from long ago, when leading a rifle platoon, rhetorically asked when schooling his young Marines about the pitfalls of drug (illegal or prescribed) use and abuse, "Why do you think they call it dope?" If there's any sanity left in this nutty world then Whitney Houston will become the consummate role model--of exactly what not to become.

American Idol, America's Got Talent, and The Voice (and like shows around the globe) are simple entertainment searching for tomorrow's stars--unknowns dreaming to follow in the footsteps of Whitney (Houston) and the likes of her. But let's not play games, those programs exist for one purpose: to make money--not to make stars, though it can happen.

Americans, many the same age of the reality show contestants and wannabe stars and some with even more talent, who opt to don a military uniform knowing they are going to war did not swear an oath of allegiance to our country for the money. Their reality was (and is for as long they wear a uniform) volunteering to sacrifice up to and including their life.

For example, Lance Corporal Osbrany Montes De Oca, U. S. Marine Corps, a 20 year-old Marine from Bergen County, New Jersey, while serving with 2nd Battalion/6th Marines (to which I proudly claim membership), was killed in Afghanistan on 10 February 2012 (the day before Whitney Houston died).

Whitney Houston was a larger-than-life personality living in a fantasy world. Lance Corporal Montes De Oca was a typical American who lived in reality, and died in reality--in a primitive country on the other side of the globe. So, let us not confuse silly "reality" television shows and fantasy lives with life and death in the real world.

When a citizen, a representative of our government, is killed on the battlefield the standard for proper national honors for a hero is clear. But celebrities, despite any egotistic or narcissistic self-assessment of importance or misguided perception of same by others and whether on a field, court, course, track, set, or stage, are not heroes.

So what, exactly, is the standard of service, of sacrifice to country, for celebrities to merit national mourning as symbolized by lowering colors? Whatever it is, if one exists, there's an excellent argument to be made the life Whitney Houston led and the circumstances surrounding her death fell well short.

And, so, what's Governor Christie to do? He had options: offer a proclamation recognizing Whitney Houston Day; deliver an eulogy; order state flags to half staff; or any number of other things to fittingly acknowledge the noteworthy achievements and contributions of a well-known native daughter. 

But, what's done is done.

Today's Commentary was delayed a week to see if initial negative reactions to the decision to half staff colors would temper with some time. They did not. As for the governor's big-hearted, well-intended gesture? Good initiative--poor judgment. And that's that.

Post Script

Lance Corporal Montes De Oca--Taps.

Whitney Houston--Rest in Peace. 


Thomas E. (Ed) Gregory, Col. USMC (Ret) said...

Technically, Governor Christie overstepped his authority to have the US flag flown at half staff for Whitney Houston. US Code, Title 4, Chapter 1 (aka: Flag Code)allows state and territorial governors to authorize flying the US flag at half staff ONLY for deceased military and government officials. No allowance for celebrities, sports heroes, etc. To your point, concur that she was failed by her friends, family, and church, who all bear responsibility for death. Harsh, but life's that way.

Anonymous said...

Too bad our Flag Code does not recognize that there are many ways to serve one's country other than in the military. Many people serve every day yet they wear no uniform and carry no weapons. And now that we use so many civilian contractors to do what the military used to do, why can't they be so honored if they lose their life in the line of their duty? And alas, being a government 'official' does not necessarily designate either service or honor.

Andy, when Bob Hope died, the flag should have been flown at half staff given all he did. Whether it did, I don't know but would you have objected?

A Colonel of Truth said...

Bob Hope died on Sunday, 27 July 2003.

From the AP: "President Bush joined the nation in mourning the death of Bob Hope on Monday and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on all federal buildings, naval vessels and U.S. posts around the world the day of his burial."

Hope, like us all, had his faults. He did much good. A hero? No. Enough said.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see the difference in our views. To me, the flag at half-staff says 'our nation mourns' and expresses the unity of feeling many of us (not all perhaps) feel when someone who has enriched the lives of many in our nation as Whitney's music did. To you and the Flag Code, it says, 'a soldier died.'

I'd like our country to be generous enough in its recognition of loss to have a means to express both, to express both as a nation. Why not with our beloved flag, a symbol of our nation?

Oh, btw, Whitney's mother did at one time insist that Whitney go into rehab. And Whitney did. I do not frame her death as something others have responsibility for. (To do so would be to rob Whitney of all power over her life and heartlessly add to the grief of her family and friends.)

I do blame big pharma because it's rumored the cause of death was Xanax combined with alcohol. Xanax kills everyday. It killed my brother. It is highly addictive and does little good (no good in my view).

One does not have to be a person of no worth or to be a person failed by friends and family to die from drug misuse.

And Xanax is a prescription drug, I might add, one I'd like to see removed from the market along with all its cousins.

A Colonel of Truth said...

"Anonymous" you have drawn premature conclusions and made false assumptions (about my position). But you were civil so I published your perspective. In short, for honors to mean anything there must be a standard. No matter how rationally I look it, Whitney Houston did not merit high honors of half staffing our colors. And there I shall leave it. Thanks for opining. All perspectives, presented with civility, welcome.