It’s OK to mourn Whitney Houston’s death

Whitney Houston died last week and, like many people, I was shocked but not surprised.

I was, however, genuinely sad.

I found out about the 48-year-old singer’s death late Saturday afternoon, when, standing alone in my kitchen, an Associated Press News Alert flashed across my phone, placed nearby on the counter while I prepared appetizers for a friend’s party. I stopped to read the text—still up to my elbows in flour—and let out a gasp.

Oh no,” I said out loud, calling out to get my husband’s attention before remembering that he wasn’t home.

For a brief moment I stood there, feeling incredibly sad and alone. There was a catch in my throat, and tears welled up in my eyes.

I didn’t actually cry, but I came very close.

And that, at least according to some people, means I have some very misplaced values—crying over the death of a rich celebrity whom I never met and whom, by all accounts, spent the last decade or so unsuccessfully fighting an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Judging by some of the comments on Facebook, anyone who actually experienced sadness over Houston’s death must be a shallow idiot.

The status updates were harsh: She was just yet another entitled showbiz junkie—a pop diva relic who’d long ago shed any relevancy. Would I feel sadness over the death of any other stranger? Why not the homeless addict on the street? Why Whitney Houston?

Well, why not?

I was never a fan of Houston’s music, but her talent was undeniable, and her music and fresh-faced image were, nonetheless, an indelible part of my adolescence and young-adult years.

During the span of her musical career, Houston sold more than 170 million records and is noteworthy as the first female artist to have a record debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts (1987’s Whitney).

She also earned seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard singles—a feat yet to be matched by any other artist. And, of course, her role in The Bodyguard spawned a massive hit single—Houston’s take on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”—that spent 14 weeks atop the Billboard Top 100.

I’ve never seen The Bodyguard, and I don’t particularly like her version of that song, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect what she accomplished. And it doesn’t mean I don’t miss the artist she once was.

But that success and the bubbly personality I grew up with—the one exuded in music videos for songs such as “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”—are so at odds with more recent memories of the singer: Her odd demeanor on Being Bobby Brown, the reality show she appeared on with her former husband, the “crack is whack” comment she once made during an interview, the time-worn face, ravaged by years of hard living.

In the end, was all that talent and success just a waste?

No, because her music made a connection with millions of people.

Was her death ultimately little more than a remote blip in history?

Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.

No, I didn’t personally know Whitney Houston—nor did I know John Lennon, River Phoenix, Michael Hutchence, Jeff Buckley, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse—but I still experienced genuine, if fleeting, feelings of sorrow and grief when they died.

It’s not about misplaced values or superficial celebrity worship; it’s about mourning the loss of someone who, for whatever reason and to whatever degree, impacted your life.

That doesn’t make you a shallow idiot mindlessly immersed in the cult of celebrity.

It just makes you human.