Dead Stars,Black Holes

The recent death of Whitney Houston elicited the handwringing and lamentations that are the hallmark of American journalism.  Poor Amy, poor Whitney, poor Michael, poor Notorious—they were so young, and they had so much to live for.  What a tragedy!

The word tragedy is no longer applied to the death of worthy people who made mistakes or even to young people in fatal traffic accidents.  Now it is a tragedy when someone who has been seeking death for years—through drugs or alcohol or obsessive sex or criminal violence—finally finds it.  It is quite wrong to insult these poor people after they have gone, but it is almost equally wrong to pretend that their wounds were anything but self-inflicted.

In a sane society, the deaths of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Tupac Shakur, and Mickey Mantle would serve as a warning to others.  But even more exemplary than their pathetic deaths were their miserable lives of self-indulgence.  With the exception of Mantle, who played a hard game with discipline and grace, they—like most celebrities—did nothing worth doing, and all of them who lived long enough to know their careers were sagging tried desperately to withdraw from reality.  And yet, if one were to poll a few hundred 12-year-olds about their career dreams, a large number would say they wanted to be a rock star...

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