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It Wasn't Just the "Pressures of Fame" That Killed Whitney Houston (or Amy Winehouse, or Michael Jackson, or Heath Ledger...)

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In the wake of the latest celebrity casualty, here comes the conventional wisdom that "the pressures of fame" drive stars to substance abuse.

I'm sure that the pressures are intense. But at best they only tell half the story. We don't talk enough about the other half: that it's a propensity for addiction, often driven by depression or other emotional problems, that draws many vulnerable people to seek fame in the first place.

The entertainment business knows that vulnerability well -- it's a leading source of profits. Think about it: Young people driven to seek transcendent thrills are not exactly the savviest of negotiators. Hence the outrageously exploitative contracts that have long been the norm for new talent. Show them the shiny promise, and they'll sign anything.

In this way, the entertainment business has a disturbing similarity to cults, which also target vulnerable people. It's not surprising they're so popular in Hollywood.

Until the coroner tells us, we don't know exactly why Whitney Houston died, and even then there will still be much we'll never know -- as always when someone dies. But let's skip the comforting story about the "pressures of fame." Let's think a little harder about the industry of fame, about how it so often profits from exploitation, and about how we support that exploitation as avid consumers of both the rises and the meltdowns. Things are changing all over. We could have a different entertainment industry, if we wanted it.