I remember attending American Music Awards rehearsals and shows during part of Whitney Houston’s heyday.
For coverage of Whitney Houston’s death and the aftermath, go to Beverly Hills Patch here.
My father worked on specials like the American Music Awards and Academy Awards for decades and is pretty much retired now, just consulting on the Oscars each year.
I remember thinking one year during AMA rehearsals how Houston had performed on the show every year in my recent memory. You couldn’t go wrong getting her to perform, whether it was an upbeat dance song or a soulful ballad.
But I got a chance to see an inkling of her downturn firsthand during rehearsals for an Academy Awards show in 2000. She had come in to rehearse singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for a medley with other artists singing famous songs from films. She started forgetting the words and was out of it to the point that she was pulled from the show just days before and Faith Hill was contacted to replace her. It was such a last-minute incident and change that I remember the show program still listed Whitney Houston as the artist singing the song.
As years passed the magnificent talent of this artist was sadly overshadowed by reports of drug abuse and her rocky relationship with then-husband Bobby Brown, only exacerbated by their reality show.
I remember thinking how tragic it was to see her fall, not just as someone who had a great gift that she was no longer sharing with the world, but as a human being. As a mother.
I feared for her and hoped she would break free of what was dragging her down. I wanted to see her sing again, as did many others.
As much as some people love watching a train wreck, they also love watching a comeback.
I got to see her comeback live at the 2009 American Music Awards. As myself and a packed house waited for one of her first live performances in several years, I hoped for the best, rooting for her to unleash that voice many of us had perhaps taken for granted before it was taken away for so long.
She sang a new song, "I Didn’t Know My Own Strength," appropriately, and we rose to our feet. I could tell she didn’t have the vocal range or power she used to, but nevertheless I teared up, grateful to see a legend who had struggled get back on the stage again.
I wanted, for selfish reasons and for her own sake, for her to return to her former glory and remember the gift she was given that she in turn gave to the world.
While Houston’s latest album and performances may not have been a “comeback” in the idealized sense of her sounding just as she had, to me, it was an inspiring personal comeback.
The world so often values professional, surface achievements, which are more easily defined, over life-changing personal achievements like overcoming drugs or learning to exit unhealthy relationships. I don’t think this is seen more clearly than in the entertainment industry where we have recently lost great artists like Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, who battled substance abuse.
Houston’s overall health and daughter Bobbi Kristina were reason enough for Houston to get sober, though that story’s not ideal glamorous tabloid fodder since it doesn’t seem to affect the rest of us as obviously as a new album or performance. But it sets an example.
I imagine the criticism of her comeback was difficult for her. She overcame so much and started to sing again, only to fall short by industry standards and the bar she had set so high for herself. Perhaps that only fueled her proneness to addiction and her death. I can’t know her thoughts, but I would imagine feeling hurt and lost when so much of my identity has been placed in something that’s no longer there.
You can see the music video for "Greatest Love of All," my favorite song of Houston's, attached to this article. The lyrics talk of loving yourself, something that Houston had perhaps forgotten amidst the noise of criticism and addiction.
While it would have been amazing to hear Houston sing with that Earth-shattering voice one more time, I applaud her for getting back to where she could, even if she fell in the end. I don’t take divorce lightly, but I applaud her for leaving what appeared to be a very destructive marriage. I applaud her for taking the tough road to get sober for as long as she could, especially in an industry so ready to enable a self-destructive celebrity’s every whim.
I celebrate her for showing up and singing, no matter what the critics said.
I will remember her for her contagious upbeat spirit and smile, her uplifting, awe-inspiring voice and music and her battle to come back to the end.
Here is hoping we can learn what we can from yet another tragic celebrity passing.
How did Whitney Houston affect you? What is your reaction to her death?