Celebrities Are Not Heroes (Unless They Do Something Heroic)

Several years ago, I wrote the following note on Facebook shortly after the death of Whitney Houston. Just a little over three years later, I am republishing it here, mainly because I believe the underlying message still applies. 

Whitney Houston died on Saturday. Did you hear about it?

Of course you did. How could you have missed it? It’s only been on every news and faux-news program and television station over the last few days. The praises have gone up one wall and down the other for Whitney, the great singer with the amazing voice. Seller of 170 million records.  Lately though, there has been some backlash against all this media coverage. Some people are feeling it necessary to remind those who would celebrate the talent of an amazing artist that she was addicted to drugs.

Really? No kidding!

Sensible people, those that look over a life in full, know that you have to weigh the good and bad of a person’s life. In Houston’s case, that means admiring, appreciating, even celebrating her amazing voice-even while recognizing that she had a drug problem. Same was true of Amy Winehouse. When Amy Winehouse died, there were plenty of “tributes” to her talent. She too, was a drug addicted singer. Steven Tyler, when he dies, will have plenty of tributes to his perserverance and his hits with Aerosmith. But he too, was a drug-addicted singer. Keith Richards, who when he dies will probably have plenty of jokes about how he lasted so long, will be remembered as one half of the writing partnership behind the one-time (and maybe still) greatest rock band in history. But he too, was a drug addicted singer.

The point I’m trying to make is that all of these people (and many more, like Etta James, Ray Charles, Frankie Lymon, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison) either did drugs or became addicted to drugs. But all of them were amazing talents of their (and in some cases our) time. Each and every one of them were justly celebrated for their talent. The difference between a lot of the names I’ve mentioned of those who have passed on long ago, and those who recently passed, is that there is a WHOLE lot more media coverage, which means that there are more and more outlets each trying to get out the same story. The day Houston died, I saw stories from CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, ABC News, Washington Post, and the Associated Press, just to name a few. The noise from these outlets, coupled with people mentioning it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like can be, and often is, overwhelming.

Sometimes, and I may be way off about this, all this media coverage tends to make it seem that these people were more important than real actual heroes. Many people making remarks about Houston’s death are appalled that she is receiving so much coverage, when soldiers, policemen and firefighters have to place themselves in harm’s way for little or no recognition. Sadly, this is true; but I have yet to hear any anchorman, reporter, journalist or commentator-even regular folk on Facebook or Twitter-give Houston more respect than those people who risk their lives to protect our freedom. Not once. Hasn’t happened, or at least it hasn’t for me. Maybe where you live, Whitney Houston is on a plane with no peer-but not in the world where I take up residence.

I already made these comments earlier, but I will say them again: it is not wrong to celebrate, appreciate or admire someone’s talent; there are lots of people of all different shades who have talents I can only wish I had. Celebrating what is good about people is natural, particularly if that person had some quality or talent worth celebrating. It’s what people do all the time. What’s wrong is when people make blanket statements where a person is only ONE particular thing, be it amazing singer or crackhead. Most people I know don’t fit under one blanket, or fall into one group. Whitney Houston (and all the other names I mentioned), as well as all of us, are human beings. And as human beings, we are not perfect, we are not without flaws, or imperfections. You find me a perfect human being, and I’ll tell you he or she is not real. We all have flaws. People who are famous have their flaws magnified…but regular folks have flaws too, they just aren’t broadcast or written about worldwide.

Sorry this note is so long, but I just felt it needed to be said. I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, or judge your opinion. But I can truly say that I’m one person who isn’t trumpeting Whitney Houston above anyone else. She lived. She performed well. She fell from grace. She died. The world loses a talented singer, a mom, and yes, a drug addict. She was all of these things, not just one. It’s easy to take shots at dead people, and it’s easy to overpraise them too. But in the end, they were people. Flaws and all.

And we are all people too. Please try to remember that there is more that unites us than divides us. If I cut you, and you cut me, what do you know? We both bleed RED, right?

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