Who wasn't saddened by the untimely death of Whitney Houston? It's a story we've seen repeated again and again by entertainers. But under the sadness, don't we feel a tinge of anger? Their epitaphs are almost always identical. I'm wealthy, famous, talented and beautiful - how can I go on?
Maybe someone should invent a Tragi-Meter to calibrate the depth of the heartbreak. Determining factors might include age, level of fame, likeability, talent and finally, culpability in one's own demise.
Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and now Whitney. Those are the true chart-toppers. There are dozens of interstitial finishes by stars but not superstars, like Heath Ledger or Amy Winehouse. We're probably more sympathetic toward the youthful flame outs, most notably Brian Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and Kurt Cobain - all members of the famed 27-forever club. We understand their youthful exuberance and the feeling of immortality only those under 30 can still experience. We can attribute their foolish behavior to callow youth.
It's the older ones that seem harder to understand. Whitney, at 48 (a year older than Garland), had seen and heard it all. Yet, she continued to relentlessly abuse herself, and it's reported, any number of waiters, limo drivers and members of her entourage. How can someone who is two decades past 27 not have matured sufficiently to recognize their blessings? Maybe she - and Elvis at 42 and Jackson at 50 were simply constantly, relentlessly under the influence and never got to see themselves - and the incredible trajectory of their lives - in a mirror un-fogged by drugs.
Over the next few weeks, Whitney Houston's life and death will be parsed and probed and dissected by a media that knows a gossip-hungry populace has an insatiable appetite for the tastiest morsel of the celebrity buffet: death - seasoned with equal parts scandal and shadenfreude. In my years at People magazine, the inside joke was that the magazine title should have been Dead People - as those were the issues that pushed circulation into the stratosphere.
I don't know where Whitney's death would rank on the Tragi-meter. But it's up there.