Sophie Heawood: Glossy stars aren't meant to go like this

Houston had the lungs of America. Her sheen appeared to fans intrinsic, permanent

Related Topics

There was a radio phone-in the other day, on BBC 6Music, where people had to request songs by women with nonchalant or bored voices. Listeners asked for the sultry drone of Nico, or the icy electro of Miss Kitten. Somebody even proposed Grace Jones, pointing out she sang with a commanding air of indifference. Nobody, but nobody, suggested Whitney Houston. This is because Whitney Houston had a gigantic lightning strike of a voice, as far from nonchalant as any could possibly be.

Her's was a voice so large and so convincing – so very, very bothered – that it swept through all the awards and records held by female vocalists. Her version of "I Will Always Love You" became the biggest-selling song by a solo female artist in the history of several countries, including this one. I was 15 years old at the time, obsessed by the pop charts every Sunday, and when that song was still at number one after an unprecedented ten weeks, it felt as if Whitney had been holding that high note all the while. I had avidly followed her since I was much younger, reading all about her in my pop magazines. Well, as much as one could, since she didn't seem to have as juicy a popstar life story as some. A middle-class Baptist girl who had never so much as had a boyfriend or smoked a cigarette, she was a goody two-shoes, as pure as her voice that never diverted from its course. And yet, after marrying Bobby Brown and developing a drug habit, it did, and so did her career, and so did she. The causes of death are not yet known, but to die in a bathtub in a hotel room in middle age, only days after being photographed looking dishevelled and confused – well. Things are obviously not looking great.

For so many of her chart-topping heyday years she was a passionate musician, but not in the way that Piaf, or Billie Holiday were, where the cracks in their lives showed through – all those swallowed disappointments, nights of abandon and mornings of regret, all hissing through like radio static. Whitney did glossy 80s and 90s pop, R'n'B, soul, with its attendant seamless production values. She had the lungs of America. She spoke to women around the world about determination. She sang about men cheating on her, but also about her helping a married man to cheat. It was lustful and commanding. It was schmaltzy, cheesy even. Yet as one of the glossiest of 80s and 90s popstars, her sheen had appeared to her fans as intrinsic and permanent.

Even when the shame of her later years was compounded by the release of photos of her dirty bathroom, looking like one belonging to a crack addict as she was rumoured to be, it still wasn't obvious she would die such a sorry rock-star death. Glossy pop stars might go off the rails, but they do not actually leave us in this way. The least glossy end to an extraordinary life.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent