Whitney Houston’s sad story, which we’ve heard many times before

From Jim Morrison to Michael Jackson, from Janis Joplin to Amy Winehouse, perhaps the saddest part of Whitney Houston’s death is that she’s hardly the first great talent to burn hot and flame out.

So many people have already written smarter, better informed pieces about Whitney’s rise and fall than I could ever hope to touch, so I’ll just point you to a few:

Instead, since creativity is one of the topics I write about often, I’ll touch more generally on the painful correlation between creativity and drug abuse, often tangled up in depression or other mental health issue.

The blog The Creative Mind wrote:

Creative people are often highly sensitive to sensory and emotional input.

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. comments, “It is not surprising that artists turn to drugs, alcohol, and medications to control their arousal or to recontact their inner self. But the long-term effect is a body further off balance.”

In her article Weed Girl, Belinda Housenbold Seiger, PhD, LCSW writes about a client of hers she calls “Weed Girl” who “never learned how to cope with her own busy mind.

“Many gifted adults grow up doing exactly what Weed Girl learned to do, that is they learn how to ‘numb and dumb,’ their passion and sensitivity by smoking pot.”

It seems to me that we like to romanticize the tortured artist and the hard-partying musician — from Van Gogh cutting off his ear to the nutty portrayal of Mozart in the movie Amadeus, we have a long history of loving the story of the off-kilter creative genius.

Meanwhile, many creatives I know, from writers to musicians to artists, first turned to their art as a way to cope with some pain they felt. And since it’s incredibly challenging to make a living from the arts, it’s logical that only those most compelled to create would stick with it. The sensible ones would opt out of the poverty and rejection, leaving perhaps a higher percentage of people compelled by their demons to create.

The New York Times wrote in 2008:

Scientists have long studied the link between creativity and mental illness, and the lines between the two are often blurred. Studies suggest that creative people often share more personality traits with the mentally ill than “normal” people in less creative pursuits. One Stanford University study compared patients with bipolar disorder with a group of healthy people. They found that graduate students in creative disciplines shared more personality traits with the bipolar patients than with their healthy but less creative peers, according to a study published last year in The Journal of Affective Disorders.


Maybe we need to acknowledge our societal complicity in this pattern. We need to stop acting like it’s a noble part of creativity to be depressed or addicted or self destructive. While we’re at it, let’s not treat it like a joke when a talented woman sings about resisting rehab when she clearly needs it.

And creatives, I know some of you who are pretty darned together — some of you who run and others who’ve given up alcohol, you have steady jobs and pay your bills and also happen to be enormously talented. It’s OK, I won’t out you. But trust me, folks, they’re out there and they do great work.

I have known and loved addicts, so I’m all too familiar with the painful truth that no one can help them until they want to be helped. This isn’t about rescuing people who prefer the path they’re on as much as not enabling or encouraging destructive behavior.

Maybe there’s a chance that if we stop romanticizing the tortured artist, instead of fueling the next Whitney or Michael or Jimi or Kurt, maybe we can offer support in choosing a different path.

Have you listened to the lyrics of Whitney’s “One Moment in Time” lately? So, so sad now that she’s gone. Who’s next?

Each day I live
I want to be
A day to give
The best of me
I’m only one
But not alone
My finest day
Is yet unknown

I broke my heart
Fought every gain
To taste the sweet
I face the pain
I rise and fall
Yet through it all
This much remains

I want one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me
Give me one moment in time
When I’m racing with destiny
Then in that one moment of time
I will feel
I will feel eternity


Categories: career, creativity, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Thanks for the link to the blog “The Creative Mind”. Right before I left advertising and New York City itself, someone at my agency gave me the book “The Highly Sensitive Person”. Yeah, I’m one of those HSPs (love those acronyms). As for drugs and alcohol, let’s just say I’m glad to still be around.

  2. well said. Whitney may be an example not just of the tortured creative but an example of the difficulty of dealing with an immense talent that was for lack of a better term ‘god given’. I think dealing with that kind of gift, not to say that there wasn’t work involved in developing it, can be very hard. It also can be very hard to deal with the loss of some of that talent as one ages. Not to mention of course that we as a society are much harder on women than men as they age. Sinatra’s voice changed and he drank and smoked I’m sure but that just made him cool.

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