Picture the scene: Beverley Hills, home to the rich, famous, successful – and also to the Real Housewives. With Paris and her family being regulars of the exclusive suburb, and it being the area it is, it’s hardly a giant surprise that one of the most successful hotels in the neighbourhood is the Beverley Hilton – after all it is the playground for the ‘slebs who have made it to the top of their game. And it was there that 48 year old Whitney died this week in a bathtub surrounded by a cocktail of prescription drugs, booze and the most gourmeted of fast food available in America. The first time anyone saw her after she died her tongue and feet had turned blue; it was a lonely death. This lavish disorder will help turn the Beverley Hilton into a vantage point for those fans obsessed with both scandal and anything vaguely ghoulish. No doubt in the future there will be confirmed reoprts that Whitney’s voice echoes around the 434 suite.
Tragic celebrity deaths I have discovered are salacious and they also manage to turn the public into vultures descending at the corpse for clues and further information as to the cause of the demise. In my writing alone, I have acknowledged the death of two juggernauts of the music industry because there seems a canon of things to say, something entirely readable and totally write-able to the author and the reader.
Why as an avid reader and analyser of celebrity culture is this the case? I’m gotta give it my best shot to explain why.
Hotel California lyrically seems to uncover fairly aptly what we love to hear about: avarice and hedonism, greed and destruction. Even the Hotel itself has mystical powers with the final line being “you can check out, but you can never leave”. This song is cloaked in mystery, with many saying it revolves around the ghosts of the Chateau Marmont in L.A, and others saying it has its meaning within the Illuminati (whatever the case, it definitely feels appropriate with how Whitney bowed out). But I digress, the point of such a song is the ability to break through the surface, much the same way we try and discover the secrets of celebrities, their scandal hidden beneath the surface. In the 30s and 40s, celebrities were part of the studio system, this system had the power, for its press agent were in total cahoots with the press, meaning that many of the scandals of the stars were discovered far later, and way past their heyday. In one particular book I read, I was stunned to discover that one movie icon, Lana Turner married a man after a date in Los Angeles in Las Vegas on the same night (and this was also the first date!) This act of rebellion was to assert some power and agency in her life. Stars nowadays have the freedom to do more of what they like (not completely; again, everything is shrouded in secrecy) but have to accept that their lack of privacy is just something they can whine about to Oprah and Vanity Fair. The website TMZ alone uncovers further celebrity clues by following inebriated stars out of clubs and restaurants showering them with the most personal and crass of questions A couple of years ago these same hacks hounding the stars got a collection of tits and ass shots of celebrities in a state of undress. The media, we can safely say is now boss.
It’s hardly surprising that Whitney dying alone in a bathtub, surrounded by drugs and alcohol is the scandal that has people paying attention here.
A two-way street for celebs in the digital age as shown by stars like Demi Moore in particular. She gives us the goods via a never-ending twitter feed only then to be deeply uprooted of privacy and respect when she has a mid-life crisis/breakdown. The shots of her devastated at a recent funeral for her ‘second mother’ were tacky, and the shots of her being shuffled into rehab were humiliating for her. Yet we still read all about it and are the ultimate voyeurs.
We do it because we are escaping reality, but we also get hot tips of current styles, brands and looks as well as knowing exactly where the celebrities are, whenever we need to know, whether it means anything or not.
With Whitney and voyeurism she fell into the second great voyeurs’ trap: reality television. In Being Bobby Brown (a typical kind of title hinting at everyday celebrity lives) Whitney commits the ultimate faux-pax by simply appearing in a programme where Bobby told the world and his mother about how he had to give Whitney an enema. This wasn’t the one moment in time Whitney wanted the world to know about. The biggest voyeuristic moment however is the shameless photo that emerged from the bathroom in the house where Whitney spent seven consecutive months hiding from reality. Sad… but we still lapped it up anyway.
It’s not right to condemn anyone really… but it’s okay if they’re a ‘sleb behaving badly. Just the other day Sean Penn waded in to the Falklands question by stating that Britain was behaving like colonists by keeping the islands British. A worthy sentiment I guess for an actor who wants to prove he has far higher intelligence than other actors his age (one-time-winning-now-obviously losing Charlie Sheen and Mickey Rourke – one word: the face) but how will this help Haiti? Celebs have a tough audience because everyone’s a critic. When Whitney utters a line like ‘crack is whack’ we can only aim and take fire. Whether it’s special treatment, bad surgery or bad career/romance choices, we the public, who buy into the brand believe ourselves entitled to give our two cents whether the celebs wanna hear it or not. Need I mention what the public originally thought – and is still thinking – of Bobby’s prerogative on life.
The Body Beautiful:
A shallow addiction but a shallower industry, we must have a 360′ came purely for the celeb body at all times. The reason for this is as simple as the philosophy that you’re only as hot as the next batch of celebrities entering the domain. Whitney’s gaunt emaciated figure only fuelled the obvious, that drugs were ravaging the body (much like they did Jacksons’). Again it is out role to inform the brand whatever way we can what’s hot and what’s really not. Whitney’s face, bloated like a soccer mum on a pit stop to Wendy’s was the clue that she was not looking after herself… and hadn’t been for quite a while.
Obviously a big thing without my having to reference programmes like SNL. Well it was American Dad that featured a desperate Whitney performing for Stan and Francine’s anniversary purely for a bag of coke. Whitney’s problems became tongue-in-cheek jokes across the country, even my friend gave me a poster once with the title ‘Don’t feed Whitney any more crack!’ Just before her death, another friend sent a link to her final outing with the text, you must write an article about this. That’s the life of the celebrity. Their messy antics make for great entertainment, it’s undeniable. Just the comments section of any website is the perfect example for people to make witty puns about stupid celebs. Again, we lap it up.
What we live for. A movie without the final scenes. Whether it be whether Marilyn was assassinated or committed suicide or whether Phil Spector really did kill that girl from the bar for another reason, we love the idea of stars leading double lives and are desperate to grab for the dirt. This manifests in Hollywood literatures (which I read and love) referring to all the characters going on crack binges, having affairs and backstabbing each other to buggery.
The conspiracy theories about Whitney that are my favourite: well, naturally that a), she was a secret lesbian and b), that Osama Bin Laden hated America as much as he did but loved the declining Whitney Houston, to the extent where he wanted to kill Bobby Brown. As long as there are unauthorised books…and there are rumours like those, we’ll always have time for gold – and I really mean gold – like that.
The sting of Hollywood continues as pills and liquor still rules the lives of many. And we will, for right or wrong, be there to follow these stars every step of the rehab-ing way. The gospel singer turned American starlet turned wife and mother ending on a wrong turn from those humble christian roots to rather sad crack addict. Luckily her attributes in voice will live on. Discos will continue to play I Wanna Dance With Somebody just as funerals will continue to play I Will Always Love You. Divorcees will still listen to Didn’t We Almost Have It All? and I’ll still listen on occasion to the ridiculously catchy My Name is Not Susan.
A fallen icon but a true Hollywood legend none the less with fans who’ll love her eternally. For many that’s the greatest love of all.