“I always compare her performance of that song with a great athlete hitting his peak — with Michael Jordan in the playoffs. It was the absolute pinnacle of what she could do, of what anyone could do — and then she had to keep on doing it. Everybody wanted to hear her sing that song, and so she sang it. It didn’t matter whether she had a cold, or wasn’t in good voice; she had to deliver it, and she had it arranged so she could deliver every last note. And even if the note wasn’t there, the feeling was. A lot of her songs were like that. They were a lot to deliver, but she delivered them every note, every time.”
– Robyn Crawford, long-time friend of Whitney Houston, telling Esquire Magazineabout what happened after the singer recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard”
In the wake of Whitney Houston’s death much is being written about drug addiction, alcohol abuse and abusing prescription pills. It is known that Houston struggled with addiction issues and many hypothesize that these issues may have lead to her early death. The prevailing thought that I see over and over again regarding addiction is often related to why other people have become addicts (self-medicating for a mental illness, addiction runs in the family, taking drugs to “cope” with emotional pain, etc.) — but the theories people focus on are the ones routinely romanticized by the public and addicts alike.
Even though there’s hardly anything romantic about the ravages of addiction.
It doesn’t mean that people don’t self-medicate for mental illness (see Kurt Cobain), that addiction isn’t hereditary for some (see Drew Barrymore), and that people don’t take drugs to “cope” (see Lyndon B. Johnson, smoking himself to death after the end of his presidency out of guilt over Vietnam.) All that is very true. But some people are avoiding the reason become addicts, and it has little to do with your familial DNA or life tragedy.
It’s about life and how (for a while) substances make it easier.
Now before you think this is going to be one of those “being in entertainment means becoming an addict” essays, let’s strike that one from go. It doesn’t. Plenty of people go off to work in high pressure industries like entertainment or journalism and don’t end up looking at the bottom of a pill bottle to solve their problems. But there are many fields of work, including the media and entertainment, sports, interstate truck driving, hospital work, emergency services, the military, or being an airport traffic control operator — that might make you consider taking drugs to help you do your job.
Any job that requires you to be constantly alert or perform at a high level for extended periods of time with little sleep will create stress. It’s not uncommon for those dealing with that stress (and doing their best to continue to succeed at their jobs in spite of it) will start taking a combination of uppers and downers to “enhance” their work performance. Or unwind after work. Or just to feel normal. Or to keep them awake even though they’re exhausted and don’t know anymore what city they’re in today because all roads and all hotel rooms look the same.
This type of drug abuse is what befell singer/actress Judy Garland, whose mother was feeding her pills as a child. Pills to get up. Pills to go to sleep. Pills to give her high energy when she had none so she could be on time, do her job, be a delight to work with and make money.
The only problem with taking drugs to enhance your work is that there’s a fine line between this form of self-medication and abuse. What starts as popping a Xanax before a performance to calm potential stage fright, what began as a drink or two so you’d be in the mood to schmooze and “be fun” to the delight of co-workers, industry insiders and fans alike at the after party, becomes something you need to do just to do anything. And soon that turns into addiction. And soon the drugs that once helped you perform all night and do things people couldn’t believe you could do, turns into the thing that robs you of that talent, skill and ability.