Saturday Diary / Young people, dying senselessly
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HARRISBURG -- British singer Amy Winehouse, after years of abusing booze and drugs, died last year at the tender age of 27. Her death, said to be from alcohol poisoning, occurred just three years after her "Back to Black" album sold 20 million copies and won a Grammy in 2008.
Heath Ledger died in 2008 of a drug overdose at age 28, just after completing his amazing performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
Of course, the list of entertainers who've died being stupid-while-young is a long one. It includes Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Comedian John Belushi¸ whom I loved as one of those crazy Blues Brothers, died of an accidental drug overdose in 1982. He, at least, made it to 33.
Closer in time and distance, though ... Last year, four high school football stars lost control of their speeding car on a road east of Harrisburg as they tried to go airborne and rammed into an oncoming vehicle. They all died.
And just two months ago, near where I live west of Harrisburg, a heroin-addicted woman who was only 20 years old hanged herself with a bed sheet in her Cumberland County jail cell.
Heart-breaking stories like these fill the news almost every day in Pennsylvania and other states, as young people who are high on illegal drugs, or drunk while driving, or driving recklessly bring their lives to a far-too-early end.
The list will continue to grow because so many young people think they're indestructible -- and because taking foolhardy risks may seem like a cool way to spice up their otherwise dull lives.
Yes, older people do stupid things, too; witness Whitney Houston. But at least she gave us beautiful music for 25 years before spinning out of control.
It's the way-too-soon deaths of the young, and the senseless waste of their talent, that are making me write this, even though I know it's probably an exercise in futility.
If this diary seems like a downer, blame the Associated Press. In late June it ran an article about a new book by Mitch Winehouse, Amy's father. He claims his singer-daughter was led into drug abuse by her ex-husband, with whom he's furious, as any dad would be.
The AP article said Mr. Winehouse remembers Amy "as a girl writing into a notebook phrases that later turned up in songs, and his pride as her singing talent became evident. But most of the book is about a seemingly endless cycle of attempted recoveries and relapses as she battled drugs and alcohol."
In the memoir, Mr. Winehouse writes, "Long before Amy was an addict, no one could tell her what to do. Once she became an addict, her stubbornness just got worse. There were times when she wanted to be clean, but the times when she didn't outnumbered them."
Those words are a knife to the heart of any parent, including me. Once your kids grow into their mid-teens and beyond -- and especially after they go off to college or somewhere else -- you never really know what they're up to or what senseless risks they're taking. Parents who think that a moved-away child will tell them the truth about what he or she has been doing are likely fooling themselves.
After my son and my daughter had gone away to college, I'd sometimes go up to their old bedrooms and break down in tears. It hurt to recall their beautiful childhoods -- when they would hold my hand as we walked down the street -- precious days that would never come again.
I recalled all the fun my wife and I had wrestling or playing ball with them, or going to the beach and jumping in the ocean, or chasing them around the house. They were little and their world revolved around us. I cringed at the dangerous crap they might be up to now that they were off on their own.
I can't fully imagine the hell that Mitch Winehouse is enduring over the death of his daughter, but I think I can come close.
Sometimes -- no, many times -- I want to reach out and shake teenagers and 20-somethings who wreck their bodies with drugs and alcohol and drive recklessly. Don't they know the huge risks they're taking? No, of course not. They're too young.
But even if I could shake them, I know it wouldn't do any good. There are some things we have to learn for ourselves. Still, losing your life in your 20s or suffering a crippling injury is a horrible price to pay for an education.
Just in case I sound holier-than-thou, I have a confession. I could've been killed myself back in my young-and-foolish days at Grove City College in the mid-'60s.
Several other guys and I were riding in a car to a bar in Youngstown, Ohio, where in those days 18-year-olds could drink beer legally. On the 45-minute drive back, the drunken fool driver was careening all over the road. Fortunately, we met no oncoming vehicles and stayed on the road. We got away with it, but it was stupid.
I realize that few, if any, young people will read this, since most don't read newspapers anymore. Maybe there's a chance they'd see it online.
Even if they do, I'm guessing they'll dismiss it as the silly ramblings of an old guy. Yet I have to give it a try. And if this piece depresses you -- as I said, blame the AP.
First Published July 28, 2012 12:00 am