Don't Make Fun Of Whitney Houston

When Whitney Houston died on Saturday, my Twitter feed exploded. I had been at home watching Dawson’s Creek (I wish I was joking) when I went online and saw all of these tweets that said something to the effect of “OMG, Whitney Houston! So sad…” For some reason, none of the ones I read had specified that she died but I had a feeling that was the case. Just hours earlier, I was checking the gossip blogs and came across pictures of Whitney the night before she died. She looked like a hot mess with scratches on her wrist as she left a club in Hollywood, and I remember thinking briefly, “Oh, that’s sad. She’s clearly not clean,” and moving on. Photos of Whitney looking insane and possibly under the influence of drugs were not shocking to me and many others. Whitney Houston may’ve been legendary for her voice but in the last 15 years, she had become more known for her appearances on the short-lived reality series Being Bobby Brown and battling a drug addiction. Her arc was very similar to Michael Jackson’s in that way. Both had been untouchable stars in the ’80s and ’90’s who later became consumed with drugs. Right before they died, we assumed they were getting better but that clearly wasn’t the case. In the end, they would have a marred legacy. There would be no comeback for either of them.

I must admit that Whitney Houston’s death didn’t come as a shock. In fact, the most shocking thing about it was discovering that she was only 48-years-old. Years of drug use had aged her considerably and I had long assumed she was in her mid-fifties. But despite my lack of surprise, it still stung in a way that it always does when a celebrity passes away, especially one who’s as iconic as Whitney Houston. The thought of her puttering out alone in some hotel bathtub makes you realize she wasn’t so untouchable after all. On the contrary, she was more vulnerable than you and I could ever imagine. Whitney Houston being a beloved actress and singer couldn’t protect her from her own death. She was Whitney Houston, the drug addict who could never kick the habit. That’s the identity that won out in the end.

I’m not going to pretend I was Whitney’s biggest fan — I think I actually only have one song of hers on my iTunes — but I will respect her in death. I will always be sensitive to the plights of an addict. How could I not be? When she died, people on my Twitter feed were already making jokes about her crack use or confusing her for Whitney Cummings. It was a disgusting display of the Internet’s capacity for cruelty. Snark is the go-to emotion for most things on the web. Not even a celebrity’s death is invincible to it.

Anyone who grew up with an addict or struggled with drugs themselves would never make a joke about someone ODing. Or I would hope they wouldn’t. Because they know how bad it can get, they know how many things it can destroy before it actually destroys the addict. Whitney has left behind a 19-year-old daughter, Bobbi Christina, who will no doubt be battling some demons of her own for the rest of her life. As the child of an addict (a famous one, no less), she has already experienced too much. She never even got to see her mother triumph over her addiction and work through the trauma. There’s no closure for her. Just headlines.

Grieving a celebrity’s death is strange. On one hand, playing up your love for the person in the wake of their death seems disingenuous and lame. Really? You were Whitney’s biggest fan? Okay, honey. Let’s see those records then. I’m pretty sure I heard you making fun of her just yesterday. On the other hand, mocking their struggles on a public forum shows true insensitivity and tactlessness. Drugs claim the lives of so many loved ones. I’ve coordinated interventions for friends and sat through AA meetings for moral support. I’ve watched my mother collapse in my walk-in closet before sending herself off to rehab. Addiction is far too personal for me to ever make jokes about it. Drugs are insidious little bastards that rob you blind. What’s so hilarious about that? TC mark

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Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Jess


  • Tim

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    really amazing.

  • gabriela225

    took the thoughts right out of my mouth and somehow turned them into an eloquent piece. amazing. 

  • untimelymeds

    It’s unfortunate you’ve come across so many nasty comments about her, and I don’t query your sentiment.  I’ll just consider myself lucky that most of the opinions and thoughts I’ve heard/read in recent days about Whitney have been almost summarily positive, reverential, and fair-spoken.

  • Vanessa

    This is as good as this is going to get, bravo Ryan. When someone is so well-known/recognisable, they seem to just “stop” being someone’s mother, someone’s child, a friend… instead, becoming fodder for the public to sling whatever the hell they want at them. It’s so sad. Her daughter’s already been admitted to hospital since Saturday and as someone who’s extremely close to their mother, I can’t imagine what she’s going through. If people haven’t got anything good to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all.

  • maria

    I love that people see pictures and automatically think “oh, look at her. what a has-been, she’s obviously high.” I’m sure that along with those 4 pictures the paparazzi chose to share, there were many many more of her standing normally with her eyes open. I mean, there have been many times I’ve gotten my picture taken and realized I looked high or incredibly drunk. Or there have been times where I’ve left a bar/club from dancing and looked just like that.  Who hasn’t had that happen? I just happen to have the luxury to not share that picture or forbid my friends from sharing it.  

    Very few people know whether or not Whitney was truly getting clean. At least she was attempting, which is more than so many people can say.  But why would the media ever portray that? It wouldn’t sell. No one wants to hear about when people get clean. They want to hear about Robert Downey Jr waking up in someone’s basement or Britney Spears running red lights with her kids in the car. Crazy sells, not the journey back to life.  

    I do appreciate you shedding light on the fact that addiction is an ugly thing. It’s crippling and it’s a disease, whether or not people accept that. Those that think it’s a choice… well, I hope you never have the unfortunate opportunity to watch somebody detox. The way the body ravages itself is proof enough.

  • Paul S

    I’m sorry that Whitney Houston’s dead, but the
    complete overrating of her career is starting to bother me. She had an
    outstanding voice (15+ years ago) but she was never remotely comparable to
    Aretha Franklin as an artist. She never made a great album, never made anything
    even remotely edgy or challenging, never stretched herself. She was a cypher as
    a singer: all surface, never letting any of here real personality or personal
    troubles show through her songs. Her songs were all light pop affairs. She also
    consistently over-embellished her phrasing with constant extra notes and showy
    vocal gymnastics. People seem to have forgotten that she was not seen as a
    serious artist even at the height of her popularity and became a total joke by
    the end of her career. All of that has beeen forgotten and now she’s being
    portrayed as the successor to Bessie Smith, Etta James, Aretha etc. Give me a

    Perhaps most damning, she bears primary responsibility for the
    current “American Idol” brand of cheeseball vocal stylings.

    Again, I’m
    sorry she’s dead and feel especially terrible for her daughter but lets be
    honest about her actual career.

    • TuraLura

      I agree with most of what you’re saying, but she did have some real accomplishments that few others were able to match, and opened a lot of doors for African-American female artists. She sold over 200,000,000 records worldwide. She broke the color barrier for women on MTV. She smashed previous records for album sales, and was the first female artist to move 1,000,000 units in one week. She managed to be both a rising R&B/pop star and a super-successful teen model in the mid-80s, when there were very few young black women role models in the media.  

      Now I admit that most of these are business milestones rather than musical ones, but business and business people had already consumed the record industry by the time she was ready to hit the limelight. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Whitney because she drew Clive Davis as her mentor instead of Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. 

      Lots of pop divas are way overrated- Lady Gaga? Katy Perry? K$sha? Nicki Minaj?!?- but at least Whitney had genuine talent, unlike, say, Diana Ross, who has always been lovely to look at but never had much voice.

      The fact is, she IS the successor to Etta and Aretha. It’s just that the music industry didn’t stand still and wait for her to show up. But despite her mediocre material, every black chick singer today (and quite a few white girls) have been inspired by her. Whether you or I personally care for that style is immaterial.

  • Cameraman

    Well said. 

  • Garance

    I thought I was the only 20-something who still liked Dawson’s Creek. Thank you!!! (that line made me laugh out loud)

  • Anonymous

    well said.

  • Kathy U.

    Ryan, this reminds me of your earlier article regarding Amy Winehouse’s death.

    • KC Fitzgerald

      Me too.

  • biteme

    I really love it when something sincere pops up on ThoughtCatalog.

  • Rmartin

    Why people feel the need to voice negative opinions on the deceased, I will never understand.  Sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but what is the end game?   Are your harsh comments really going to make any kind of difference in the world, or is it just self satisfying?  Trying to take away someones fame after they have died is just unnecessary and cruel. 

    So thank you Ryan, for saying what should be said.  You are my favorite writer on this site!

  • T

    I’ve always been shocked and disappointed with how people can make distasteful comments about addicts and substance abuse without having ever had any real experience with it. It’s nice to see someone else actually speaking from experience and pointing out how ignorant and cruel it is to treat it like a joke. One of the reasons addiction is even such a huge problem is because people don’t treat it like a disease, they treat it like a fun fucked up lifestyle people actually choose to follow. 

  • Kyle

    In an effort to find edgy and therefore readable material regarding the passing of a celebrity that I don’t really care about I found that Vice’s piece was better.

  • Guest

    When I die, I hope all the people who hated me have the courage to hate me in death. Don’t lie. I remember that shit happening when a girl in my high school passed away. Be honest and if you’re going to hate me, hate me to the bitter end bitch.

    • guest

      what? why would you want that? unless you wronged them in some huge way like poisoning their pet or sth then maybe fine. but even so, what does “hating you to the bitter end” do for either of you?

  • Fww

    has anything ever been written on this site that’s not for an audience of self-obsessed 15 year olds? ever

    • Guest

      two words: stop reading.
      and four more for good measure: if you’re so bitter.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I totally agree, especially at the Grammy’s. It was kind of uncomfortable to watch sometimes. Other performers and musicians alike referring to her as if they were very close but have probably only heard “I will always love you” or “I want to dance with somebody”. And it was strange – I noticed on the red carpet interviews that the hosts mainly asked the African American artists how they felt about Whitney’s passing…just saying. SIDE NOTE: I LOVE dawson’s creek, sooo…people like us must stick together and remain proud : )

  • MEG

    Thank you for this. I was beginning to think I was alone in thinking jokes about addicts (living or dead) or people in recovery were in terrible taste.

  • xx

    Don’t tell me what I can’t do… Don’t tell me what I can’t do!

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