Through the years I have known quite a few drug addicts and alcoholics.
It seems that I gravitate towards people who like to drink and party. Far more than half of my friends throughout the years have been junkies or drunks or coke fiends (as I once heard them referred to in a movie). They are my favorite kind of people.
I've watched people recover from years of alcohol and drug abuse and go on to lead relatively healthy, normal lives.
I have seen people get sick, go crazy, lose everything, and become unemployable from years of drug and alcohol abuse.
I have seen people go to prison because of drug and alcohol abuse.
I have seen people die, die young, from diseases related to drug and alcohol abuse (AIDS, cirrhosis, renal failure, etc.); or the crimes and violence related to drug and alcohol abuse (drunk driving, shootings, robberies, etc.).
I was a volunteer in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for five years in the mid-1990s. I had regular contact with inmates in many different prisons. Although I never kept count, nor did I meet every prisoner in the system, I would say that more than 75% of the men and women I met were imprisoned for a crime they committed directly related to their consumption or, or relationship to, drugs and alcohol.
As I've aged (and probably because I've become more cynical), it appears to me that most shootings that take place follow a pattern: 'I got drunk, had an argument with my husband and shot him' or 'I got drunk and when I came home my girlfriend was in bed with her ex, so I shot her' or 'I needed money to cop, so I robbed a convenience store and shot the clerk,' etc.
Are these representative of all the shootings in America? No, of course not. But I believe they are representative of a huge percentage of shootings in America and the story almost always includes some relationship to alcohol or drugs.
I am no prohibitionist. I do not think drugs and alcohol are inherently bad. I do not believe they should be outlawed. In fact, I believe that the decriminalization of all recreational drugs would greatly reduce the number of crimes committed by drug users, and would not increase the number of automobile fatalities or family shootings we currently witness.
The older (and more cynical) I get, the more I believe drugs are illegal to help prop-up the prison population. Incarceration is, after all, a growth industry in the United States. It may be the only growth industry in the United States! But, a discussion of privately-owned prisons for profit is a different discussion.
This is actually a discussion about Whitney Houston.
Watching her travel life's road from massive success and perhaps the greatest voice of her generation to an incoherent and decrepit drug addict has been sad. Nobody actually knows what leads one person to addiction and not another person from the same station in life, but theories prevail. And these theories, as fascinating as they may be, are not excuses for the excesses and destructive behavior of a drunk or junkie.
I wasn't a bug fan of her music. I believe she wasted that amazing voice singing saccharine-sweet pablum, instead of good, hard rock and soul. She was more like Dionne Warwick than Tina Turner. I always hoped that Houston would release an album of covers from Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and other hard-rocking singers; but it never happened.
Her rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991 was so amazing that it was released as a single. It reached the Top 20 on the Billboard charts. The only other recording of the song to break into the Hot 100 was Jose Feliciano's, which reached #50.
I understand that more details of her death will be released later today, but they are just details. Did she die of an overdoes, or did she take an overdose and drown? Did she have an accidental overdose, or was it suicide? Did her body just finally give out after years of hard living and massive drug use? Those are just details, like the color of the bathroom tiles and whether or not she was found dead in the nude. Irrelevant.
The story is the death of a woman at the relatively young age of 48. It is a sad story. And, sadly, a story we hear far too often.
Now THAT'S how to sing the National Anthem.
There will probably never be another voice that will sing that song so amazingly.