I learned of your death on my lunch break. I opened the news and read the headline. I found myself blinking back tears. I did not realize how connected I felt to you until you were gone. You were my high school and college soundtrack, you were the song I always turned up.
I texted my sister and friends. I listened to tribute stations. I poured over every article. I was grateful for the collective grief. I was glad Paris and New York were lit up in purple. You deserve it.
The news soon turned, first speculating, then confirming your overdose. In the little I have learned about your purposely private life, I can only guess that you would not have wanted these articles picking apart your every move, examining your family, describing your lonely body, silent and still in an elevator.
I know when the toxic hand of addiction wraps itself around a person’s heart and seeps into their blood, it is godless, soulless, friendless, without empathy, and brutally selfish. It steals away our most loving, talented, smart and kind people. They become vacant, then gone.
If you were struggling with an opiate addiction, I know your wealth, fame, need for privacy, and insistence on complete control could have made it difficult, if not impossible, to get the kind of help you needed. I also know the people closest to you might not have had the skills to understand what was happening. Without a clear working knowledge of what you are looking at, opiate addiction is hard to see close up. Addicts can be brilliant at blurring the lines and boundaries between help and hurt.
If the reports about some of the doctors are true, I have no words for them. They had an opportunity to help you. They didn’t.
Even while you were surrounded by a team of people, I’m sure you felt alone. Even with seemingly limitless resources, I’m sure you felt trapped. Despite your carefully cultivated aloof image, there must have been a terrified part of you that could see what was happening. There must have been another equally terrified part of you that could not stop. You might have felt shame and fear of being exposed. You might have made promises to yourself or God and found you could not keep them. You might have rationalized away the choices that frightened you.
On stage, you never slipped up. You were perfection, always in command, lovingly inclusive with your collaborations, joyfully pushing limits. We looked to you, knowing you would transport us. You always delivered, bringing us with you every time. You became something a little more than human.
As far-fetched and naive as it sounds, I wish we could have helped you. For all the joy, release and affirmation you gave, I wish all the millions that loved you could have known that our perfect song genius, our James Brown-Jimmy Hendrix love child, our beloved matador-harlequin-pixie-minotaur-pimp-daddy-preacher-soul-funk man needed help.
I wish we had known just how human and vulnerable you were, just like us.