Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson
will be forever linked as they brought the world together and made a nation cry. They were God's gift to us mere mortals and in a very brief period of time, they made us believe. They were able to capture through music, what leaders desperately try. And though tragedy would clearly define them, their life and death mirrored a dark poetic beauty that bordered on the mystical; and it would seduce us. And while they tried to quiet the scream, we looked from afar and wondered.
As with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston's troubled life with prescription drugs is looked upon with both caring sensitivity and impatient disdain; with uncertain and unknowing questions, but also through the unenlightened eyes of racism. The questions continue to reflect our slight but growing awareness. How could someone with so much talent, with so much going for them, throw it all away?
But the very essence that is the brilliance of the rare artist is also the very characteristic that that can push the artist towards extremes, influence chronic bouts of depression, bring unbearable emotional pain and keep the emotions of the artist on the edge of a cliff. It is here, where artistic genius lies but the downside is an enormous one. And regrettably, the emotional sensitivity and awareness that is inherited, is the same chemistry that makes the artist vulnerable to addictions.
The artist is conscious that each time he or she creates from their individual creative universe; one must also confront the savage beast that hangs over their head like an aging guillotine. It's knowing that just around the corner, waiting patiently with a stalking vengeance is the next bout of depression that is going to envelop itself around the soul with a suffocating stranglehold. And once the artist knows there is something available that can bring exile from this debilitating madness, the choice once difficult, now becomes much too easy.
Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were only a visible reflection of a more significant problem in American society. And make no mistake, this is not a Hollywood problem, this is "our" problem.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 Americans die every day from painkiller drug overdoses, which is more than heroin and cocaine combined. In 2009, there were 1.2 million emergency hospital visits, which is an increase of 98.4% since 2004 due to the misuse or abuse of pharmaceutical drugs. American's take over 80% of the worlds pain medicines and 99% of all of the vicodin and related generics. The CDC has called it an epidemic of prescription narcotic overdose and it comes at a cost of 72.5 billion dollars based upon government and insurance company data. In 2010, there were enough painkillers prescribed to medicate every single American adult around the clock for one month.
In April of 2011, the Obama administration began seeking legislation that would require doctors to undergo further education and training before being able to prescribe painkillers to patients. The plan also requested the expansion of statewide prescription drug monitoring programs (PMDP's) but there are still those within the medical community that believe additional training for doctor's should be voluntary. We can only hope that those doctors are not our own.
As important as Houston might have been as the greatest songstress in our history, her immense gift was her humility and sensitivity towards her fellow man. It was her desire and compassion to help those with less and it was perhaps her greatest gift and beauty.
In 1989, she opened The Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, a non-profit organization that has raised funds for the needs of children around the world. The organization helps children with cancer and AIDS, children who are homeless and helps them with the challenges of self-empowerment.
She supported St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital that helps critically ill children without asking families for payment and is completely paid for through charitable contributions.
One of her very first performances was a benefit in support of the United Negro College Fund and she also raised a quarter of a million dollars for the UNCF at a 1988 Madison Square Garden concert.
She performed two concerts for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington DC with all proceeds, totaling a quarter of a million dollars, donated to this charity.
She donated all of her proceeds from the recording and home video sales of her Superbowl XXV rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" to benefit Gulf War troops and their families. Houston's record company followed suit. Houston was elected a member of the American Red Cross Board of Directors in 1991.