This one really shocked me. She had had a number of well-publicized personal problems over the years, although more recently she had claimed to clean up her act. Or maybe once her star had fallen, her problems never went away, they just became less publicized. No news is not necessarily good news.
The shock I felt over Michael Jackson's death was dampened considerably because I'd become so accustomed to hearing stories of his eccentric living habits and various health scares. But with Whitney Houston, there may be a sexist element involved here -- with Amy Winehouse as a recent exception, in the 21st century we don't expect female stars to be sad junkies who turn up dead in LA hotel rooms.
Some people have noted that two of the four megastars of 80's pop music are now gone. Twenty years ago, Whitney Houston was unquestionably the most down to earth of the bunch -- Michael was Michael, Prince was changing his name to a symbol, and Madonna was doing softcore pornography and trying to push every boundary she could. Whitney's reputation was unblemished, she was at the peak of her powers and about to release one of the biggest hits of all time. Who would have picked her out of that bunch as the 80's superstar most likely to fly off the rails?
I was never much of a fan of her music, although her influence on every R&B diva that followed her cannot be overstated. "I Will Always Love You" might have been the most inescapable song of my lifetime. At the time, I hated it because I heard that song, along with anyone else with even a passing interest in music in the early 1990's, more than any human being could possibly tolerate. Michael Jackson's superstar status fizzled around the same time as Whitney's, but his influence on contemporary music seemed to vanish for a number of years, until a generation of teenaged stars (boy bands, Britney Spears) brought him back in a big way. Whitney's shadow, however, was constant. She's been a presence in the charts for over 25 years, whether she was releasing music or not.