When a singer with a voice as great as Whitney Houston's dies so unexpectedly, we naturally first relive the music. But after once again revelling in the purity of tone, expressive phrasing and phenomenal range, we realise just how short her career was. She spent the last decade battling drug and alcohol abuse, and the instrument for which she became so beloved by millions was reduced to a husky shadow of its former glory. How she died has yet to be confirmed, although there is no doubt the rigours of being an entertainer are partly to blame. That pressure is not immediately apparent to those who have talent and are snapped up by the entertainment industry. But fame and stardom require a tough schedule. Alcohol, drugs and prescription pills can seem like necessities to make appointments, to sleep and to stay awake. Together or individually they can become addictions that can easily turn a sensational career into ruination.
Houston, who was just 48 when she was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel room last Saturday, is just the latest of a string of examples. British soul singer Amy Winehouse died last July - the latest member of the 27 Club, the fabled age at which so many rock stars have self-destructed. Then there was pop icon Michael Jackson and Hollywood actor Heath Ledger. They are just a few of the many huge talents whose careers were ravaged by stress.
Alcohol and drug dependency are not just the domains of entertainers - they can befall anyone struggling to overcome the pressures caused by work, living conditions or family life. Hong Kong, with its long working hours and cheek-by-jowl housing, has long been one of the world's most stress-prone cities. Houston is a reminder of what the worst of Hollywood can do to a beautiful talent. But her death is more than that - it is a warning to us all of what can befall those who let addiction and personal demons take hold.