She died the day before the Grammy Awards – Whitney Houston – one of the iconic voices of the Twentieth century who made a tremendous contribution to the music world but was plagued by a tumultuous life of abuse and addiction.
Radio New Zealand National’s Jim Mora interviews Human Behavior Expert Patrick Wanis PhD for his insights into Whitney Houston, celebrities and addiction.
Click here to listen to the interview: http://patrickwanis.com/whitney-houston-addiction-enablers-parasites.asp
And read the article “Are you and impostor?” where Human Behavior Expert Patrick Wanis PhD reveals insights into Charlie Sheen and the impostor syndrome: http://patrickwanis.com/blog/are-you-an-impostor/
Below is the transcription of the interview.
Jim Mora: The Grammy Awards are due to kick off about now in Los Angeles. They’re suppose to start at — were supposed to start at about 2 PM New Zealand time. And, of course, the nature and tenure of those awards has changed dramatically. There will be a tribute to Whitney Houston, 48 years old. She sold more than 170 million albums, found dead in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton yesterday.
It seems more and more likely that Whitney whose hits included “I Will Always Love You,” “The Greatest Love of All,” there were such a string of them. It seems more and more likely that she may have drowned in the bathtub. And her death, if you like, was forecast by an Australian born human behavior expert, Patrick Wanis, nearly two years ago, and he’s joining us on the line from Los Angeles now.
Patrick Wanis: Thank you, Jim.
Jim Mora: Nice to talk with you again.
Patrick Wanis: Thank you.
Jim Mora: Well, she had a tumultuous life which seems to have led to the demise of her career and probably her death. You were interested in her, for the reasons I suppose many of us were, but also professionally, Patrick.
Patrick Wanis: Yeah. You know, one of the things that I actually said to your producer earlier was that any time you’re talking about drug addiction, you have to be aware that the drug addict is actually playing Russian roulette with their life; which means at any moment they can have an overdose, there can be some sort of complication, the drug can be tainted and the person can die.
What made it so much worse for Whitney Houston was everything else that was going on in her life; meaning her abusive relationship with Bobby Brown, the death of her father, so much stress in her life, and then her constant erratic behavior which may or may not have been driven just by the drug use.
Many magazines came to me saying, “Well, you know, here’s what’s happening to her. What do you think?” And I said, “As with any addict, obviously her life is in serious danger, but if you look at all of the stresses in her life and the years of alcohol binges and drug binges and smoking marijuana, she is robbing herself of her life.” And I said, “Unless she drastically does something right now to change her behavior, she could die within the next five years.”
One of the other things — and I said that in March 2010, two years ago. The other thing that’s relevant is very few people understand that even if an addict stops their drug use right now, depending on how many years or decades of drug use and to what extent they use those drugs, they could have created extreme damage to their liver and also their cardiovascular system which then opens up the possibility for a potential heart attack or stroke. So there are still consequences even after you stop using the drugs.
The brain tends to be what we call plastic, and depending on the right program you can actually heal a lot of your brain. Yes, you can heal a lot of your liver, but it depends on what the damage is. In the case of Whitney Houston, we also don’t know what else is going on with her recently. We know she was in rehab last year, May of 2011. It’s been reported that there was Xanax or other prescription pills in her room.
Jim, the rest is obviously conjecture as to was she mixing Xanax and alcohol? Was this a prescription, and who was overseeing her? We’ve already seen what happened with Michael Jackson. He had a doctor, but the doctor didn’t help.
Jim Mora: Yeah.
Patrick Wanis: The doctor made it worse.
Jim Mora: Well, I mean we can only speculate, can’t we, Patrick? But I mean the reports of her at the pre-Grammy’s party were of someone disheveled and a bit loose, so we can all draw our own conclusions. The difference between you and most of us is that you met Whitney Houston, and you recall something that she said a number of years ago about how she wasn’t coping with her fame.
Patrick Wanis: Well, she referred to — there were a couple of things. She referred to it as ‘the curious game of fame’, and she said, “I don’t understand what transpires between recording a song and then someone saying to you when they meet you ‘Oh, I know you.’” And it’s what every actor and actress goes through when they, say they meet you. Like Jim, you’re on radio. So if someone meets you, they go, “Oh, Jim Mora, I know you.”
And what she didn’t understand, in that moment, was the impact that she has on the average person, meaning when we listen to someone’s music even more than watching someone on the TV or in a film or on a stage, when we listen to that song again and again and again, we are experiencing an emotion; we’re creating an emotional bond and an attachment and an affinity with that person, and then we start to think that “Yes, I really know you. We’re connected.”
My point was that comment that she made was more about her not understanding or appreciating the significance of what she was doing, the impact that her music, her talent and her gift was having on the average person, because music actually saves some people’s lives. Some people will say, “Michael Jackson’s music saved my life. Michael Jackson’s music changed my life. This artist changed my life. I wanted to kill myself and I heard this song, and it changed me.”
My point is that often celebrities, particularly musicians and singers, often don’t recognize the impact that they potentially have, the positive impact that they have. The other key point here is that many celebrities — actors, actresses, singers, dancers — often suffer from what I call the Impostor Complex or the Impostor Syndrome where at the deepest subconscious level they don’t believe they deserve all the success. They don’t believe they deserve all the adulation. It’s so overwhelming. It’s so hard to process, and they say, “Do I really deserve this?”
Charlie Sheen said the same thing after the first movie Wall Street. He was saying, “Am I just fooling everybody? Am I going to get called out? Am I going to be found out?” because he couldn’t either, fathom, understand or process or absorb the impact that he was having. And like all of us who have self-doubt, your self-doubt gets magnified, Jim, when you are also under a magnifying glass.
[For more on Charlie Sheen and the Imposter Syndrome – read: http://patrickwanis.com/blog/admit-you-are-wrong-infallible/ Watch the TV interview on Australia’s The Morning Show about Charlie Sheen http://youtu.be/_QSINKMcNAM and read the article “Charlie Sheen believes he is a loser” - http://patrickwanis.com/blog/2011/02/28/charlie-sheen-believes-he-is-a-loser/ And read "Are you and impostor?" http://patrickwanis.com/blog/are-you-an-impostor/ ]
And you know that all these people are watching you, and they’re all shouting and screaming for you and buying your records, and they’re worshiping you. If you already have self-doubt, you have more of it because then you say, “What is it about me that’s so special?”
Now, that’s not a full explanation for addiction, but I’m saying it adds to her problems. It complicates addiction.
Jim Mora: There’s a flipside I would think, too, Patrick, to that impostor complex you’re talking about, and that’s the kind of inevitable grandiosity. It would be very hard to be clean and sober if you’re Whitney Houston because how do you achieve that from inside a golden cage when someone’s saying, “Listen, you’re actually a common or garden drug addict in a way.” It must be very hard for that message to get through.
Patrick Wanis: What a beautiful point you’ve made, Jim, because this is what I call — other people call them the entourage. I call them the parasites. This is the group of people that hang around the celebrity, and they want to remain within the circle. So they’ll never say to her, “Stop this crap that you’re doing. Stop what you’re doing. You need help.” No, they won’t do that. They’ll make sure that they go out and get her the stuff.
That’s what they were doing for Michael Jackson and so many other celebrities, where handlers and all these people in her little bowl of parasites run out and get the drugs for these people. They’re not interested in helping the person. They’re interested in protecting their own little position of power. So they are afraid to stand up or they’re afraid to lose their position.
Jim Mora: That’s interesting. You’ve done quite a lot research I think on the impact of that kind of celebrity stress on the brain, on a celebrity’s brain.
Patrick Wanis: And it’s not just a celebrity’s brain. Let me say this, that particularly in the case of Whitney Houston, and I’ll come back to that. She’s had so many stresses in her life, the abuse that she was experiencing with Bobby Brown, the drug use, the stalling of her career, the death of her father, et cetera. But what the most recent studies reveal is that chronic stress plus life stressors, major life stressors — divorce, loss, grieving, even changing jobs, moving city — all add up and they actually shrink cells of the brain.
I know this sounds absolutely unbelievable, but it’s scientifically proven and measured – that continued stress shrinks cells of the brain around the frontal part of the brain. And that in turn leads to impulsivity and a potential for addiction because you have less control of your emotions, less control of your impulses.
So this is something that you and I and everyone listening to your show right now are susceptible to. When you up that, and you really turn it up, with someone that has all the stress of a celebrity who is also expected to be continually performing and producing, and living up to other people’s standards and expectations, as well as the death of a father, the constant abuse by a life partner, drug use, then the stress gets greater and greater and it affects the brain, it shrinks the brain; it lowers your ability to control your impulses, and in turn, you keep doing more drugs which then just makes everything worse. It exaggerates and exacerbates the existing problem; it perpetuates the actual problem.
Jim Mora: We don’t want to analyze it too clinically because, of course, a lot of people are actually genuinely, those people you talked about earlier, are generally mourning the death of Whitney Houston and the death of the magnificent diva. But one of your messages, Patrick Wanis is that most celebrities of this stature are in fact addicts. That’s what you believe, isn’t it?
Patrick Wanis: Well, it’s not so much that I believe that they all are, I’m saying that there are a lot of them that are addicted. We’re just seeing the most recent case of Demi Moore, and then there was Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson. There are so many of them, number one. Number two: that addiction is a huge problem in America anyway. It’s becoming a huge problem here across the board. Then yes, there are a lot of celebrities that are addicted for various reasons, first and foremost, because they attend parties where the hors d’oeuvres are drugs.
And within the music industry, drugs is a huge problem. Drugs is a much bigger problem within the music industry than it is within the fashion industry or the film industry or the television industry. And when you are talking about celebrities who grew up as children and then when they start becoming performers and touring on the road, often the people around them such as road managers and other managers and other handlers will say, “Here, take this pill to help you get through the concert,” because they see right in front of them their source of money is feeling tired.
So the celebrity, the singer, the performer says, “I’m really feeling exhausted.” “Here, take this pill and you’ll perform better. It will help you with your energy. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a little pill.” And that’s how many of the musicians, singers, and performers end up becoming addicts. It’s not just at the parties. It’s the people around them who want to make sure that they are on all the time, and when they are performing, they’ve got 100% energy, and they’re going to give it 100%. So they are also introduced to drugs that way and they can also become addicted.
Jim Mora: It’s an age old –
Patrick Wanis: The parties — yes, go on.
Jim Mora: No, I was just going to wind up really by saying it’s an age old story isn’t it, Patrick. It’s another sad casualty, particularly.
Patrick Wanis: Yeah, it is. It is.
Jim Mora: Particularly with Whitney Houston and what she once was. Very nice to talk with you again, Patrick Wanis. Thank you for joining us.