When will we ever learn? Or when, I should ask, will they?
Tommy Dorsey was 51 when he died in his sleep. It may sound like a peaceful way to go -- until you learn that the wildly popular orchestra leader choked to death because he was oversedated on sleeping pills.
Hank Williams' death is still shrouded in mystery, but his self-destructive behavior is legendary and the fact that he was taking morphine, often mixed with booze, is well-documented. Thus the world was deprived of Hank's genius far too soon. "Luke the Drifter" was only 29 when he died in the back seat of his own Cadillac on New Year's Day in 1953.
Elvis Presley was the king of rock 'n' roll, but he couldn't have looked particularly regal in death. He was only 42 when he died of a drug-induced heart attack, reportedly while straining to have a bowel movement. I know that's not a pretty image. It wasn't intended to be. I'm still mad at Elvis for dying so young. I loved Elvis.
The Doors' Jim Morrison died of a heart attack, too. He was 28. When a 28-year-old musician dies of a heart attack, drug abuse is a pretty safe bet. Sam Bernett, in whose club Morrison died, claimed that heroin was the culprit in this particular case. Come on baby, light my fire.
Heroin killed Janis Joplin, too. It's a long way from Port Arthur, Texas -- which was Joplin's birthplace -- to superstardom. It's not such a long way from heroin addiction to an early grave. Janis Joplin was 27 when she died. I can't help but wonder if she would have traded all her tomorrows for that single yesterday in which she first allowed someone to inject her with the drug that would eventually claim her life.
Jimi Hendrix wasn't in a purple haze when he died -- also at the age of 27 -- but he was in a stupor created by mixing alcohol and barbiturates. So still another genius was taken from us. The list, like Sonny and Cher's beat, goes on and on and on.
Kurt Cobain, 27, died of a self inflicted shotgun wound, while under the influence of heroin. Amy Winehouse, 27, succumbed to drugs just last summer. Michael Jackson made it all the way to age 51 before having his own physician administer a lethal dose of sleep medication.
Jerry Garcia, Ike Turner, Keith Whitley -- and let's not forget Judy Garland, who didn't find a pot of gold or dreams-come-true over her personal rainbow, but a barbiturate overdose.
And now, Whitney Houston's name has been added to the ever-growing list of young men and women who entertained us and mesmerized us with their incredible talent, but who could not cope with the notoriety and riches their fame and fortune afforded them.
Didn't she almost have it all? Ironically, she absolutely did. She was born into an entertainment family. Her father was a record executive and her mother was a singer. She had great bloodlines. Dionne Warwick was her cousin and Aretha Franklin was her godmother. Raised in Baptist and Pentecostal churches she got her start, like so many great singers, in gospel music and rose to heights that few have reached. She was an actress, a model, a recording artist -- a true entertainment icon. The Guinness Book of World Records called her the "most awarded female of all time."
She won Grammy Awards and Emmy Awards and Billboard Awards -- you name it and if it has to do with the recording industry, Whitney Houston won it. She had seven straight number one hits and came into her own in the latter half of the 1980s -- when my lovely wife, Lisa, and I were coming into our own as husband and wife. She played the background music while we began to raise our family. She convinced me, through song, that children really were our future.
And when our nation went to war to liberate Kuwait, she caused every American's heart to swell with pride prior to the 1991 Super Bowl with perhaps the greatest rendition of our National Anthem ever performed.
And yet, with the world at her feet, Whitney Houston couldn't keep from stumbling over her own successes. Her once sparkling image was tarnished as her behavior became erratic. She began to show up late for interviews and miss scheduled performances and had several brushes with the law. Her tumultuous relationship with husband Bobby Brown was well documented and eventually Houston admitted in interviews with Diane Sawyer and others, that she was a habitual abuser of drugs and alcohol.
And yet despite all the warning signs, the world was not quite ready to hear the news of Saturday last. Whitney Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton. Drugs had claimed the life of another pop music icon.
How many deaths will it take 'til we know? How many magnificent songs will remain unwritten and unsung? How many senseless deaths will we have to endure?
Too many, I fear. Far too many.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.