Editor's Note: Jane Velez-Mitchell is the host of HLN's "Jane Velez-Mitchell" airing weeknights at 7 p.m. ET.
We don't yet know the cause of Whitney Houston's death. We don't know if it was drug or alcohol related, as has been been widely speculated. But what we do know is that Whitney was recognized the world over for two things. The first was her voice, that one in a billion sound that influenced literally every singer who followed her. The second was her addiction.
I’m not going to mince words: Whitney Houston was an addict. And everyone knew it. I knew it, you knew it, everyone who knew Whitney knew it. And we just watched.
We watched her hit the highest highs, becoming not just the most successful singer of her time but also a hit actress and powerful Hollywood producer. It’s easy to forget just how phenomenal a presence she was, not just on stage but also in movies like The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale. She had such grace, such charisma, such – I guess there’s only one word for it now. She had such potential.
Her career declined, but we still watched. We watched her sink lower and lower into the depths of addiction. Frightening weight loss. Canceled concerts. Drugs found at airports. Constant denials and statements like “Crack is whack” even as it became increasingly obvious that she was hiding some serious demons.
We watched her legal troubles, appearances in and out of court rooms, divorce proceedings, custody battles – it never seemed to end. We watched her embarrassing appearances on the reality show Being Bobby Brown, which turned her into an Internet sensation for all the wrong reasons. Then we watched her final act, as news spread like a disease that Whitney Houston was found dead, in a Hollywood hotel room, the night before the Grammys. One of her entourage made the 911 call, and as LAPD made sure to point out, there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent.” (Though as I mentioned, we can't be sure substance abuse was the reason, either).
Yes, she had occasional stints in rehab, both rumored and confirmed. But more than that, she had an unending series of comebacks. Comeback tours, comeback albums, even a comeback movie which she had recently finished filming. Anyone who's dealt with addiction, as I have, knows that the pressure to perform, especially with the goal of revitalizing an entire career, is the absolute worst thing for someone in the beginning stages of recovery. We saw it with Michael Jackson, who was so invested in his own comeback that couldn't even sleep without the aid of a controlled substance – a substance that led to his death.
And now we continue to watch. We’ll watch the Grammys to see its tribute, which will no doubt be raw and pained and heartfelt. We’ll watch her album sales predictably skyrocket to the top of the sales charts. We’ll watch everyone dissect her life and career, trying to pinpoint exactly when everything started to go wrong. But when isn’t important.
Whitney Houston’s downward spiral played out before our eyes for far, far too long. Someone needed to do something to save her. Maybe someone tried. But if it turns out that her premature death was related to her addiction, it's clear that she never got the help she needed. Instead – we all just watched.
If someone you know is battling addiction, don’t be a watcher. Don’t assume everything will work out, don’t assume we’re all strong enough to take care of our own problems. Reach out, talk to doctors, talk to friends, even talk to cops if it’s necessary. Find out how to help those who need it most. Don’t just watch.
Watch Jane Velez-Mitchell for the latest on Whitney's death.
Jane Velez-Mitchell's opinions do not reflect the views of HLNtv.com.
Programming Note: All this week, tune in to HLN’s Nancy Grace at 8 p.m. ET, live from Hollywood, for up-to-the-minute details surrounding Whitney Houston's death, followed by Dr. Drew at 9 p.m. ET with more on the singer's battles with addiction. HLN will begin live coverage at 9 a.m. ET Saturday for funeral events in New Jersey on “ Farewell to Whitney Houston.”