Whitney Houston will be buried tomorrow on the other side of the country, so this post takes my topic of grave hunting a bit off the beaten path. Instead, I'm interested in examining why people like myself care, past basic curiosity, about watching her funeral before her family lays her to rest. Why do celebrity deaths matter so much?
By now it's common knowledge that Whitney died last Saturday in the bathroom of a fourth floor guest quarters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, just hours before she was to make an appearance downstairs at mentor Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy Awards party.
Incredibly, the event was not cancelled. In a bizarre set of circumstances even by Hollywood standards, guests took time out to memorialize their troubled industry icon while her barely-cold body remained in the room with investigators. Davis, with the apparent blessing of her family, said Whitney would have wanted the show to go on.
When it came to Whitney, the show always did go on. Always spectacular, always attention-grabbing. In the beginning it was breathtaking to listen to her forceful voice, a true gift from God, belt out hit after hit. Fresh faced, gospel-raised, emotionally relatable.
Whitney didn't write the melodies or lyrics that made her world famous but she sang them with a world class conviction that mirrored what millions of listeners were feeling inside. Her versions of songs from "I Will Always Love You" to "The Star-Spangled Banner" and everything in between became a gateway into some of our deepest, personal places. They became anthems for some, musically marking life's highs and lows. People let Whitney in through their ears and her ability to express common human feelings in an uncommonly talented way unavoidably and irrevocably touched our hearts.
We watched when her career was sidelined with marital issues displayed in the tabloids and on reality television, and uncomfortable struggles with drug addiction. Didn't we almost have it all? The ride with you was worth the fall.... We watched and listened when, after several attempts at rehab, she got back into the recording studio, again expressing human frailty and inner strength to overcome, with songs like "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" and "Try It On My Own" with a voice that had been damaged, but a spirit and feeling that was undeniable.
Like you and me, she was not immune to being kicked by some when she was down, albeit on a larger celebrity scale. Not everyone will always believe in you, superstar or average civilian. She lost the faith of some people who loved her during a time when she seemed to be superhuman. Those who loved the humanity in her remained loyal, and hoped that she would see truly brighter days personally and professionally.
So when people ask me why does the death of a celebrity matter, why all the fuss over someone most people never met and especially someone who seemed to have it all and equally seemed to throw it away (toxicology reports pending) my answer is this: Because at one point in your or my life they were a fellow human being who touched and inspired us. When they die, that part of us dies a little bit, too. If even they fail, then we might fail, too. Mortality reality check.
For some Whitney Houston is that celebrity. For others it may be a sports hero, an actor, a writer, a director, an artist, a comedian, a philosopher, a photographer...anyone who creatively or physically expresses what we feel and believe inside.
Why does their grave matter? Because it's the end of the story that you have followed. It's not always just a tourist attraction. You let that person into your world as if they were a friend or a family member. You cared while they were alive, maybe not every day of your life, but you did. And you need a place to say goodbye, and some need it to honestly grieve.
Graves are sacred places to give thanks to the departed, to remember them and honor them and to say goodbye. Celebrity graves are not so different from those of people you called family and friend. Not every celebrity grave will mean something to every person, but I guarantee that at least one out there will mean something to you if you give it half a thought.
Rest peacefully, Whitney. Thank you for sharing your gifts and your struggles. It all mattered.
According to Whitney's death certificate, she will be buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, N.J. where her father, John Russell Houston, was buried in 2003.