Whitney Houston’s sad and sudden death on the eve of the Grammys after a well-documented history with substance abuse has plunged the media into schizophrenic mode as it wrestles with ways to praise her legacy while acknowledging her lurid end. The news on Monday, after hagiographic tributes at the Grammys on Sunday, dragged readers back to ugly reality: Whitney Houston was found submerged in her bathtub, police said. She’d been pulled from the bathwater and attempts at resuscitation were futile.
Before that, most news organizations by and large focused on her superstardom and on her climb to the top of the music charts with a uniquely powerful and stirring voice. In the first blush of death, the pop star’s final, drug-addled decade was a parenthesis. “The real sad loss happened ten years ago,” Leo Braudy, author of “The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History,” told The Wrap. “She was the walking wounded, but the press is not going to alienate her fans by writing that. So it becomes this mixed bag between weeping on the grave and dancing on the grave.”
The timing of Houston’s death, coming as it did before music’s biggest awards show and in the same hotel as her mentor Clive Davis’ annual bash, likely played a key role in dictating the coverage. “The confluence of the timing of the death so close to the Grammys with all of the people who knew her gathered in the same place where she died exacerbates the story,” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute. He added: “I wonder how the story would be different if this had happened four weeks from now. There would not be nearly the outpouring of statements and televised memorials. The story gets larger because of the event that surrounded it.”