Feb 24, 2012
By Joel Moskowitz
While watching what seemed to be the unending coverage of Whitney Houston’s death last week I was taken by a simple thought articulated by Dr. Drew Pinsky on CNN. He lamented that he was interviewed too many times after the predictable demise of a celebrity who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He listed some of the recent ones; Brittany Murphy, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger among others and he stated emphatically that if those around the stars continue to enable them, we would be seeing more of these tragedies in the future.
The pressure of wealth and fame is difficult for anyone especially on the young. I remember quite vividly as a young Wall Street broker having colleagues, almost always guys in their 20’s, who were in and out of rehab after snorting their earnings up their noses. A quick rise can often lead to stress and anxiety, which then can lead to abuse of drugs and alcohol and disaster on a career. When it happens to someone whose talents give us so much pleasure and enjoyment and who seemingly have everything, we are saddened but unfortunately, not at all shocked.
Contrast that with the other celebrity story, which is all the rage now, that of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard educated, Asian American, point guard for the New York Knicks. His rise came from nowhere, catching everyone including his coach by surprise. If not for the injury to one player and a death in the family of another, Jeremy Lin just might still be warming the Knicks bench. Instead, we have a kid who had a dream to play in the NBA, stuck with it and when his shot came he rose to the occasion.
Lin’s story intrigued us for so many reasons; not too many Ivy Leaguers in professional sports, certainly not too many Asian Americans and though not as uncommon, not too many outwardly religious athletes as well. All of that combined with the fact that he came off the bench when his team was doing horribly and lifted them to a level that brought on a seven game winning streak, winning eight of nine games (as of this being written), one of them against the defending world champions. Lin’s modesty and sincere devotion to God is refreshing as much as it is uncommon these days.
We can hope and even assume that Jeremy Lin will handle his new celebrity well and will remain grounded. But we live in a society that lifts people up rapidly, yet drops them just as quickly when their talent wanes or their story is not as intriguing anymore. The first time we heard Whitney Houston’s voice we were seduced by the beauty and range. She became a national icon when in the middle of the first Gulf War she gave us a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl that will never be matched, for those few amazing moments we were all patriots united by her voice, confirming to us mere mortals that there was no height America could not reach. Yet Whitney Houston the fragile human being lost some of the range and her star was not as bright. Who knows if that was the main motive for her reliance on prescription drugs, alcohol and other substances?
One thing we can all be sure of — at some point the story of Jeremy Lin will abate too. I hope it lasts for a long time, it really is a great story, but at some point his career will end and what made him endearing to so many will no longer be applicable. Therein lies the message of these two great talents. Nothing lasts forever; people have to be prepared for success and ultimately for decline. More importantly people have to deal with the hand they’re dealt. The real test of heroism is not how the adulation is handled but how when the crowds are gone life can still be normal, even in a new reality. Let’s pray for the end of lives wasted by addiction and for ascent of a few more Jeremy Lins.
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