Is It Better To Burn Out or Fade Away?: A Two-Sided View of Addiction, Death and Public Reaction

By Courtney Enlow and John Hall | Celebrity | February 14, 2012 | Comments ()

By Courtney Enlow and John Hall | Celebrity | February 14, 2012 |

So, what makes me different from the rich and famous?

In the example of Whitney Houston, aside from the aforementioned riches and fame, maybe it's public perception. Or the presence of one at all. For the past decade or more, Whitney Houston was just above nothing to no one, a minor cautionary tale and some infrequently released pictures of a skinny yelling woman. Now, to some, she remains a joke; to others, she is now a martyr. I, as a recovering addict, see her as neither, and I admit that I have felt an embarrassingly cool nothing for the past few days. Because, as callous as it may sound, this is what happens to addicts. They get better, or they die. Some diseases don't get cured; some people don't get better. This is the only ending.

Let's be honest: was Whitney's reputation ever going to recover? Was she ever going to have that great comeback? Or was this it? Maybe if she'd gotten sober, things could have gotten better. But what if she'd gotten sober, and that didn't change things? Would it be back to addiction all over again, sinking further into the joke she'd become?

And, as someone who spent six years as the punchline, I can categorically say that, yes, people see addicts as a joke. They're fun, the way people thought it was fun when Whitney yelled "hell to the naw" at Bobby, or the way people thought it was fun when I was stumbling around at 4am talking gibberish because I was too drunk to form words. But when they're not finding you amusing, they're finding you sad. And not sad in a "I feel sorry for this person way" but in a "you're a pathetic waste" way. And you learn quickly that these are the only feelings most people have for you. They laugh and they pity. There's really not much else. And, up until Sunday, that was what people had for Whitney. It's not until there's no more hope that people realize what was lost. Then things are sad in the other way.

It would have been great to see someone like her sober up and have a good, long life. But stories like that are rare. Stories that end just like this are the norm. For the famous and non-famous alike.


The loss of anyone, whether it comes as a complete shock or can be seen coming from miles away, is sad to someone. There are always those left behind; family, children, fans. But, in the world of celebrity, a career can only go so many ways: it can end, or it can last. But the ones that last is a very slim slice of the pie. And in music, even more so. And even those whose careers last, they tend to do so only to the most devoted audience, with days reaching millions far behind them. Speaking in terms of career only, was death the best thing that could have happened to Whitney Houston?

People have often wondered where Kurt Cobain would be today had he lived. Would he have kept making music, continued on as this poet touching our lives forever? Or would we have turned on him by the mid-'90s, with any shred of love completely dissipated in favor of judgment and pity?

Maybe, the problem isn't always just the famous lifestyle of sex, drugs and a world of yes. Maybe it's us. Maybe no person can, or should, live forever with the whole world against them. We are cold and unforgiving, with only the very rare and certain getting through.

So, I'm sorry we saw you as a joke, Whitney. You deserved better, and we wish you could have been better.

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