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

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

Share
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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington  

Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?

Grace Dent
 

Our political landscape is not changing anywhere near as much as we assume it is

Steve Richards
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible