Dying to be famous: Whitney Houston's death reminds us, there's more to life

I was  at a concert, dancing to Jorge Celedón’s accordion-laden vallenato, surrounded by thousands of Colombian hats, when the email came in: Whitney Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hilton hotel room at 48 years old.  Although the cause of her death was unknown, Houston had been battling drug addiction for years.

I looked around in confusion at the revelry, the sheer joy that surrounded me.
How was this possible? How could you have everything —opportunity, fame, money, a divine voice— and then die in what should be the prime of your life?



For years the media has—perhaps inadvertently—glorified dying young. Most recently, Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger died of drug overdoses just shy of 29 years old, the magic age, it seems, for over-dosing talents (Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi  Hendrix). Houston’s passing is no less premature and tragic. Yes, she was rich and famous. But does that justify missing out on the rest of your life?

Years ago, as a student in New York, I flew to Colombia to play a piano concert with the symphony orchestra when we encountered turbulence in the air. At one point the plane plummeted in what seemed an eternal free-fall. I thought: “I’ve had a wonderful family, I’ve loved and been loved, I’ve lived my dream of studying music in New York, I’ve been on stage and I’ve received applause.”

Although my accomplishments were teeny compared to those stars, they were substantial to me. If I were to die, I thought, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Now that I have my children, my novels; now that I’ve traveled more and met more wonderful people; now that I have a husband I love and together we’ve laughed our way out of horrible situations, I realize how wrong I was. Fame is the least of it. The wonder of life is in the little things: In dancing vallenato with a thousand strangers, and coming home and finding my 13-year-old asleep on the couch, waiting for me.

“Mami, quédate aquí,” he says drowsily.

I do. Life is good.  

Image via asterix611/flickr