Whitney Houston is being laid to rest today in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. I’ve been watching people like Alicia Keyes and Kevin Costner (who delivered a knock-out remembrance) pay tribute to the late singer, who was discovered dead last weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel today, and I have to say, the more I’ve considered this situation all week, as of course the media has kept turning it over so it’s always there to be considered, the sadder I’ve become.
My first reaction when I was told the news a week ago, the circumstances under which Houston’s body was discovered, was, “Of course.” How callous. How utterly devoid of emotion. How disconnected.
But the truth is, Houston has kind of been a constant in my life, as I’m sure she has for so many others. The 80s success instantly recalls my childhood. Her unbelievable performance of The Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV was actually played on the intercom of my fourth grade high school every morning in Virginia Beach. The “Bodyguard” soundtrack was massive and unavoidable in 1993, certain tracks becoming staples of middle school dances where I tried to pump myself up to ask this girl or that onto the dance floor.
Then, the fall. The long, slow, painful fall. It seemed the last truly sterling moment came in 1999, when she bubbled up at the Academy Awards with Mariah Carey to perform the soon-to-be-Oscar-winning “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt.”
Houston’s work has been ubiquitous this week. And I’ve realized it’s one of very few voices that can bring a tear to my eye in music. It wasn’t just the quality of the pipes, the high notes, the physical wonder. It was the emotion behind the words. Houston conveyed more than just candy for the ears. She told stories with the flutter of her voice, the pauses, the little moments within tracks that indicated a very thoughtful storyteller behind it all.
There was a “20/20” special on last night that was a pretty good distillation of the singer’s career, which in some ways (I almost hesitate to say this) was beautiful in its ultimate tragedy. As I watched all the various pieces of footage from the past 30 years, I found that I really liked this person. And it’s not just due to the natural affable shine a star can effortlessly put forth, but underneath it all, even as I watched her interrogated about her thinness by Diane Sawyer on a special from 10 years ago, wallowing in denial, I saw someone I wanted to pull for, someone I wanted to succeed even beyond her already towering achievements. I wanted the moon for her.
And I believe that quality was always there, now that I think back.
So with Clive Davis on the screen now offering his thoughts on the immense talent he discovered, I thought I should write a little something, too. Here is Houston and Carey from the Oscarcast 13 years ago:
And here is Kevin Costner’s eulogy for his “Bodyguard” co-star:
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