Long before I heard the tragic news last Sunday which made headlines all over the world, I always asked myself; what went wrong? She was one of the greatest singers of all time, and perhaps the last of the greatest singers of her generation. Just as we were beginning to think that her even greater comeback was yet to come, the unthinkable happened. Just six months after the untimely demise of Amy Winehouse and two years after Michael Jackson's sudden departure, she was gone. Who saw it coming? What went wrong?
Whitney Elizabeth Houston had it all - beauty, elegance, charm, and most importantly that voice, a belting voice which sounded mature beyond her years without making her seem old-fashioned and was able to reach our hearts without the use of Mariah Carey-style over-the-top vocal aerobics. A voice that would later be imitated but never duplicated by future X Factor contestants. She may not have been the greatest dancer but hits such as "How Do I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" secured her future as a true pop diva while filling dance floors everywhere. However, it was her power ballads that made her legendary, ballads which included "Greatest Love of All" and "Saving All My Love For You". Who could forget her biggest hit "I Will Always Love You"? Originally sang by Dolly Parton, Whitney made the song her own, which in turn made her an even bigger superstar. A truckload of awards which she added to her already crowded cabinet promptly followed. Had she been involved in the song-writing process, she probably would have matched the previous record of future superstars Lauryn Hill, Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse, and most recently Adele, all of whom would clean-up at the Grammys.
Whitney had it all. She was at the top of her game. But as most survivors know, once you're up there's only one way to go. Some superstars gradually go down with grace and dignity, others fall fast. Whitney belonged in the latter category. She came, she saw, she kicked some arse (I'm British, so I spell that word the British way). Then she landed with a thud.
1992 - the year The Bodyguard soundtrack was released - was also the year she shocked fans all over the world by marrying bad boy Bobby Brown. It was unbelievable; America's sweetheart spending the rest of her life with a guy whose reputation was as foul as his values (Already a father of three children, Bobby had fathered one of them while dating Whitney). For a while we all wished them the best and the couple gave us the impression that their marriage was strong but no-one was fooled. As Whitney continued to shine, Mr. Brown found himself playing the role of Mr. Houston as his own record sales failed to match his wife's success, and judging by his constant scowls in photos of the pair, it was clear the he was jealous. Towards the end of the nineties, there were rumours of drug-use; gossip which was not helped by images of Whitney's skeletal frame which was a matter of concern, yet Whitney denied the rumours by famously stating in an interview "Crack is whack". Unfortunately she was living in denial. Eventually she confessed that the rumours were true, duly divorced her husband, returned to the studio, and emerged with her highly-anticipated comeback album which did better than her previous album, but failed to gain a Grammy nomination. Years of drug-use had taken its toll on her once outstanding voice, and her worldwide tour was panned by the public who had once worshipped her. Still, this was Whitney Houston. She was going to bounce back, or so we thought.
Now Whitney is gone.
What went wrong? Was she a victim of her own success - success which had not prepared her for future downfall? Clive Davis, who had nurtured her from the very beginning, continued to support her through the bad times and till her dying day, but how many people around her were genuine? The music industry is full is fakes who will build you up and chew you up while filling their already bulging pockets, as Britney Spears would confirm. Talent will only get you so far in the world of entertainment, a world that is so fickle and full of jealousy - even her own green-eyed husband made her life hell over her popularity. She also tried to please so many ingrates. The Black American community constantly criticized her for being a cross-over mainstream artist. Translation: "You're trying to be White" - a accusation not helped by the fact that her love-interest in the "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" video was Caucasian; at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards she was heckled by an angry crowd who screamed "Oreo!" at her as she walked towards the stage, which was a reference to the popular American cookie, black on the outside, white on the inside. Sales of her next album, the Urban-flavoured "I'm Your Baby Tonight" failed to match the success of her first two smashes. The people who gave her a hard time should be ashamed of themselves - at least she was trying to break down barriers but they still ridiculed her, which shows how seriously they took Martin Luther King's words of wisdom. She couldn't do anything right in anyone's eyes, despite the accolades, and it broke her.
Was it the drug-use? As a Sun newspaper reader said yesterday, "It's very sad she's died but the real Whitney left the world behind a very long time ago". Her disastrous performance on the UK X Factor in 2009 proved that all that Whack Crack smoking had ruined her voice. What pushed her into drugs in the first place, the pressures of fame?
Was it her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown? While I am not blaming him for his ex-wife's downfall, we can't help but notice that her problems started after their high society wedding. Add to that the trashy reality show the couple starred in - was it a true reflection of their marital life? According the reccent reports, Whitney had only married Bobby to hide the fact that she was a closet lesbian. Prior to dating Bobby and comedian Eddie Murphy, it was said that her actual love was close friend Robyn Crawford who reportedly fought like a jealous lover whenever Whitney was in a relationship with a man. Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell had said that she was happiest in the eighties with a female partner ("Perhaps her inability to accept her same-sex love contributed to her decline"). I don't support Tatchell's decision to 'out' Whitney so soon after her death, but if the rumours were true, it's a pity, because while I believe that she should have been true to herself, there is no doubt that several fans would have been disappointed. Football Justin Fashanu came out during this time and dearly paid for it. It's so sad that certain people are, in the words of Lady Gaga, Born This Way, but could face prejudice which would eventually ruin them, but hiding in the closet could lead to even bigger problems. Either way, they can't win.
As Whitney continues to inspire a new generation of singers, let us remember her life and learn from what transpired. Deep inside she was a good person who got lost along the way, but she still touched us all. She will be missed. There will never be another Whitney Houston.