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Three years after Michael Jackson's death, what have we learned?

    Drugs as the white elephant

    Three years after Micheal Jackson’s death, what have we learned?



    ATLANTA – This week marks the third anniversary of the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

    On June 25, 2009, the legendary entertainer was found unconscious at his home and rushed to a hospital where he later died from an overdose of propofol.

    While Jackson’s personal physician now serves prison time for involuntary manslaughter for his role in putting the singer to sleep and then death, much of the music and entertainment industry remains asleep, or sedated, to its incessant and problematic drug problem. For many, many years now , the early- grave conveyor belt streams through some of the best and brightest artists.

    It’s time to wake up.

    Michael Jackson was a drug addict.  Whitney Houston was a drug addict.

    And, so was Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Gerald LeVert,  Donyale Luna, Brenda Fassie,  Old Dirty Bastard,  Pimp C,  Phyllis Hyman,  David Ruffin, Ike Turner, Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli , Elvis Pressley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix Curt Cobain and countless others. But that’s those who’ve died. Good luck assembling the list of the addicts still drinking and drugging their way through their fame today. I’m sure you know some of the names. (Lindsay, Britney, Andrew Sorkin and others who are so often admitted to the hospital for exhaustion and dehydration?)

    Three years ago, I thought Michael Jackson’s death would be used as a world- wide teaching moment about the dangers of  legal and illicit drugs. I wrote and spoke on the topic extensively, as did others. But that moment was obviously fleeting.

    Rather than effecting a change to the continued veneration of clinically dependent individuals, the clarion call became a familiar but obviously broken record. New title but same tune only sung about a different drug and a different life gone too soon.

    Like Jackson, Houston was a megastar.

    While certain facets of her story – and death from a cocaine and prescription drug overdose and subsequent bathtub drowning – were markedly different from that of Jackson’s, the world had a seemingly front row seat to her gravely familiar narrative: “music artist bigger than life, grapples with drugs for years and eventually looses the battle and his or her life;  another beautiful talent turned ugly because of the tempting appeal of crack cocaine, heroine, ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol, prescription and synthetics drugs.

    Unfortunately, if you audited any of the  mega-celebrity responses to Houston’s death, and many of the others, it’s seems that they too are in denial or are very good liars because they all express and echo a collective  “shock.”

    Shock?!?!?  For real?

    Should the inevitable end not reign obvious at this juncture?  Other responses expressed deep regret, sorrow and empathy for the deceased.  The one thing you never hear is outrage.

    Not one artist ever calls for a revolution of realism, an acceptance  about the underlying evil that should first be acknowledged and then confronted.

    It appears the answer to the question of “where are we as a music community after Whitney Houston’s death?” is the same as the answer to the question of “where are we as a music community after the third anniversary of  Michael Jackson’s death? Answer: The same dead-end place!!!

    While a general tone of cynicism may appears to suffuse this commentary, I want to be clear of one undeniable fact.

    There is a “silent consciousness” within the entertainment industry.

    But, it is not limited to just drug related deaths in the music industry.

    Someone, somewhere, on the night of Houston’s death, held another dying person close and begged that friend to seek help.  They refused the help and died with traces of drugs in their system like Houston and Jackson.

    Perhaps another started with the “Man in the Mirror” and packed a bag to check into rehab.

    Either way, as we celebrate Michael Jackson’s music throughout the week, I hope when the music stops, we will wake up and have a real confrontation with this huge white elephant of an issue.

    James L. Walker, Jr. is based in Atlanta, Georgia.  He is the author of This Business of Urban Music. A professor and entertainment lawyer, he can be found at