Open Mouth, Insert Football: Gone too soon

Ben Morrow
Sports Columnist

Some events transcend sports. Sometimes people’s lives and contributions extend far beyond the body of work for which they are known.

Whitney Houston’s passing is another opportunity for fans, media and casual observers to insert their opinions regarding superstardom and the perils thereof. This piece, sports column or not, is no exception.

As our entertainment-driven, instant gratification-obsessed, new media-dominated culture drinks down all the information of the latest celebrity to meet an untimely end, it might be easy to become jaded when faced with the tragedy of someone who lived on a social level some consider to be above our own.

Whether fueled by jealousy or cynicism, often we will take a public figure’s demise in passing, maybe offer an opinion or even an insensitive joke, and move on.

Still, in today’s world, where everyone considers himself a star (or at least seeks to be), there remain appropriate and even necessary moments to recognize true, God-given talent when it exits the stage.

Whitney Houston, with all her public shortcomings, was pure talent. Whether her life is to be celebrated or mourned, whether she reached her potential or was another example of wasted talent, her talent was not in question.

Whitney was put on this earth to sing.

I say this as someone who never bought her music; it wasn’t my style. I never watched her movies; I just didn’t care to see them. I didn’t consider myself a fan; I, like many of my generation, have fallen into the trap of appreciating talent after it is gone.

You may hear the news about Houston and wonder why her death is so important. You may have been born too late, or simply did not connect with her music. It is understandable, but it would also be a huge mistake to simply roll your eyes and dismiss the story as one of just another fallen star.

It only takes a few minutes of your time to YouTube her performance of the national anthem before the 1991 Super Bowl or to listen one more time to “I Will Always Love You.” I recommend it.

I don’t like to overstate someone’s talent. Anyone can be over-praised. With that said, I have never heard a voice with such a smooth and effortless flow. She was a living instrument whose ability to use vocals to sway the emotions and move the heart may be unprecedented.

Her personal demons were many. Even her voice failed her at the end. But her talent, in my opinion, will not be overstated in the many tributes of those who knew and appreciated her the most.

The passing of yet another cultural icon causes me to stop and consider just how many visible figures we have seen pass in our own short lifetimes.

I’ve compiled a list of these people who I believe have in some way impacted our culture – and by some extension, us – whether we realize it or not.

This list notes a bevy of entertainers and public figures that left us at 50 years young or younger – personalities that, during our generation and the one before us, lived large on the big stage while they were here. It is by no means meant to be an exhaustive compilation, nor is it to be one of those brainless countdowns that somehow claim to value one person’s life or contributions over another. It is simply a sobering reminder that sometimes many of the brightest stars burn out too quickly.

Athletes

Walter Payton. Jim Valvano. The 1972 Israeli Olympic athletes. Payne Stewart. Roberto Clemente. Kirby Puckett. Dale Earnhardt. Andre the Giant. Len Bias. Hank Gathers. Malik Sealy. Darrant Williams. Korey Stringer. Sean Taylor. Darryl Kyle. Derrick Thomas. Eddie Griffin. Steve McNair. The 1970 Marshall football team. Ken Caminiti. Chris Benoit. Thurman Munson. Brian Piccolo. Andres Escobar. Pat Tillman. Lou Gehrig. Reggie White.

Musicians

John Lennon. Elvis Presley. Janis Joplin. Sam Cook. Whitney Houston. Judy Garland. Jim Morrison. Biggie Smalls. Ronnie Van Zant. Heavy D. Buddy Holly. Selena. Keith Moon. Tupac Shakur. Jimi Hendrix. Kurt Cobain. Ritchie Valens. Amy Winehouse. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Selena. Freddie Mercury. Aaliyah. Sid Vicious. Michael Jackson.

Political Figures

John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy, Jr. Princess Diana. Martin Luther King, Jr. Medgar Evers. Robert Kennedy.

Actors/Comedians

Chris Farley. Marilyn Monroe. John Belushi. Bruce Lee. Brandon Lee. Bernie Mac. Steve Irwin. Christopher Reeve. Gilda Radner. James Dean. John Candy. Phil Hartman. Corey Haim. Brittany Murphy. Andy Kaufman. River Phoenix. Patrice O’Neal. Sam Kinison. Ryan Dunn. Heath Ledger.

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