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Whitney Houston: Lessons from Her Life & Death



Like millions of people around the world, I was stunned to hear of Whitney Houston’s death at the age of 48. Whether your favourite song was “The Greatest Love of All”, “Run to you”, “One moment in time” or her rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” sung at the 1991 Super Bowl, her voice was one of the most outstanding of all time. At her peak, she won six Grammy Awards, had a record seven consecutive number one singles, sold tens of millions of CDs, and starred in “The Bodyguard” the legendary movie with the best selling soundtrack of all time. She was one of the highest earning female artistes at a time, and had a huge influence on a generation of female artistes and indeed all of us.

So often we wish we could be in the shoes of a celebrity earning millions, living an “extraordinary“ life, and thinking money will solve all problems. Yet, in spite of all that she accomplished, with Houston’s talent, success, beauty and wealth, the fame and fortune did not guarantee her contentment and happiness; in the end, she lost it all.

Her story is not unique among leading celebrities; Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, the list is endless; outstanding celebrities whose lives were cut short. On the surface, celebrities appear to have few financial concerns; in reality, many of them face even greater challenges than the rest of us, providing us with strong reminders and lessons on the importance of having a good financial and estate plan.

It looks like it will never end
Artistes and sportsmen are particularly vulnerable when it comes to their personal finances as they face unique challenges. When celebrity begins the cheques start coming in. Many in this daunting position of wealth, don’t realize that they may be earning a lifetime of income within a relatively short period of time. Their careers are often uncertain, and brief with irregular bursts of high income. One serious injury could cut short a sportsman or woman’s career overnight. Musicians cannot predict when their music will stop selling. An actress or actor doesn’t know when roles will cease. Celebrities, no matter how wealthy, should be prepared for such downtime. The next cheque could be their last and should be made to last through consistent and careful saving and investing.

Don’t neglect your education
It is very easy when the money starts rolling in, to view education as a waste of precious time. Many celebrities drop out of school to pursue their celebrity and many more fail to return to complete their education. This is a huge mistake, as the benefits of education will remain long after a career has faded. Getting a qualification will enable them to develop skills that provide them with other options, giving them a better chance of earning even when their celebrity is waning.

Celebrities have little control over their careers. The public shifts its tastes on a whim. A new genre of entertainment, a new “star” or a few bad performances can lead to a huge drop in public interest and thus, income or even end a career.

Lifestyle choices
We know that the more money we earn, the more we spend. For many people, as incomes rise and they acquire more possessions, expectations and expenses also increase. Celebrity often comes with a lifestyle dominated by spending sprees, mansions, private jets, expensive cars, clothes and jewelry and many live far beyond their means. Their lifestyles often come with much temptation; complicated personal lives are a common feature with multiple relationships, multiple children and the attendant costs. Spending cycles are difficult to break when income falls. Often they have already committed to large purchases and cannot meet debt payments. It doesn’t take long for one to be broke if income stops and spendicommonly use.

In an interview in 1991 about the reasons why so many high earning celebrities such as musicians, actors, and sportsmen go broke, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told an audience that “liqueur and leverage” were ever-present culprits in financial demise and decline in health. Years of poor lifestyle choices including substance and alcohol abuse appear to have almost destroyed Whitney Houston’s spectacular voice. For several years her career stalled as her lifestyle took hold.

Costly entourages, hangers on and overheads
Celebrities are often surrounded by flocks of followers, costly entourages (including, managers, agents, stylists, publicists, bodyguards, and financial advisors) who tend to insulate them from reality and feed their egos. They are also besieged by family members and friends, who regularly demand assistance.

Excessive spending regardless of what one is earning is a recipe for financial ruin. Mike Tyson, earned several millions of dollars from his boxing career yet was apparently in debt to the tune of over £25 million and had spent about $174,000 for a diamond-studded gold chain. MC Hammer’s 44-man entourage reportedly helped him deplete his $33 million fortune. We are all familiar with Michael Jackson’s story and reports of his extravagant lifestyle and excessive spending.

Leave a lasting legacy not a family feud
Whitney Houston’s premature death serves as a concrete reminder to us all about the importance of estate planning. One wonders what kind of financial legacy she left behind? Even before her death there were reports of financial difficulty, and we can only hope her affairs were in order making it easier for her only child 18-year old Bobbi Kristina Brown to mourn her without having to worry about funding for her education and security. Certainly with the renewed interest in the super star since her untimely demise, she should not be short of funds. However that largely depends on the contracts she signed in her lifetime. A trust would be a more suitable vehicle than a will to ensure that the young 18 year old doesn’t inherit a huge lump sum until she is capable of managing it.

With complicated relationships and significant changes in their circumstances, celebrities can leave much confusion in their wake and estate planning is essential. James Browns, death in 2006, left an estate in debt and relatives fighting over his money. Property had to be auctioned to settle some of the debt. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley both died intestate. Estate planning can eliminate much of the feeding frenzy that often occurs in our society when a loved one dies. It provides order and certainty for your family, and allows you, rather than the State, to decide who gets what.

Passive and posthumous income
It is important to create income-earning opportunities for when you are no longer working by diversifying income streams. Passive income includes interest income, dividends, rent, royalties and so on. So many celebrities with financial means have failed to handle their money well because they lack financial knowledge. This makes them vulnerable to unscrupulous financial advisors, bankers, stockbrokers and real estate agents etc. Most do not have even the most basic knowledge of financial management and end up making poor investment choice losing millions in the process.

George Foreman stands out from many sportsmen; he turned professional at 20 and displayed financial acumen relatively early, putting aside about 25 percent of earnings from every fight into a pension plan. He did lose money from high-risk investments but learnt from his mistakes. In later years he earned more than he ever had during his boxing career. In 1999, he sold his name and image to the manufacturer of George Foreman’s Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine for $137.5 million in cash and stock.

According to Forbes Magazine, Michael Jackson is “a top earning dead-celebrity” with gross posthumous earnings of $275 million for 2010, followed by Elvis Presley. These after-death earners estates are enjoying royalties from music sales, merchandising deals and other income streams. Sony Music, owns the rights to Houston’s vast catalog, including the “Bodyguard” soundtrack, and stands to gain hugely from renewed public interest. Dolly Parton, who wrote “I will always love you” was recently quoted as saying “When Whitney did it, I got all the money for the publishing and for the writing”.

We are already witnessing record-breaking sales of her album compilations and music videos. With the August release of the movie, Sparkle, she may well end up being “worth more dead than alive.” Unfortunately she is not here to enjoy the success that this recent surge of interest in her music brings. Hopefully her estate should benefit.

Too much too soon?
Perhaps Whitney Houston’s life became a case of achieving too much, too soon, and offers important lessons for our youth in particular. Without careful management, having so much success at a young age, can for many, have dangerous consequences. Hopefully her battle with addictions, which may have played a role in her sad demise, will not overshadow Whitney Houston’s incredible talent and accomplishments.

One watches with great interest, the development of the Nigerian entertainment industry. It is exciting to see an increasing crop of outstanding and talented musicians, actors and actresses, comedians, producers and directors, sports men and women some of whom are on the cusp of extraordinary fame and fortune. A word of caution is important however. Celebrity often comes with huge challenges. Learn from past examples and protect your future to avoid the road from riches to rags…or worse.
Nimi Akinkugbe has extensive experience in private banking and wealth management. She is passionate about encouraging financial independence and offers frank, practical insights to create a greater awareness and understanding of personal finance and wealth management issues. She is married with 3 children. Find out more via

Nimi Akinkugbe has extensive experience in private wealth management. She seeks to empower people regarding their finances and offers frank, practical insights to create a greater awareness and understanding of personal finance.


  1. fabulous guy

    March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    this is really insightfull and nigerian celebrities should take a cue from this and not be caught up in the fake world of fast cars and outrageous spending

    • lolly

      March 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      My thoughts exactly, Nigerian celebs if u read BN, Call Mrs. Akinkugbe right now!

  2. Personal Shopper

    March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm

  3. tinuforbes

    March 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    rip whitney

  4. Jemibee

    March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    A word is enuf for d wise…

  5. kem

    March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    yeah, it good to be wise,,,,,,,,wisdom is indeed profitable, no one said you shouldn’t enjoy ur wealth but then be prudent in spending, some just compete for no reason…………Rip Whitney

  6. Funmi

    March 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Very good one

  7. Bolanle

    March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    very good write up! it makes one wonder…….

  8. UsaveOne

    March 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Indeed lot of lessons learnt! I only wish my people will learn?


  9. Oropo

    March 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm


  10. chinwe

    March 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Dis is well written,I think dis is a lesson 4 all.Dere is a great need 4 a well thot out logical plannin 4 our lifes

  11. mariamah

    March 1, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Well said

  12. Ester

    March 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    RIP Whitney, nice and strong word

  13. Blessed

    March 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    RIP Whitney.
    How I wish somebody will call the attention of Whizkid to this piece and advice him to go back to school. “…the benefits of education will remain long after a career has faded. Getting a qualification will enable them to develop skills that provide them with other options, giving them a better chance of earning even when their celebrity is waning”

  14. Fashionista

    March 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Pls leave this woman alone already!!!!! she has passed on and yet most are still kicking her even when six feet under. Allow her to “REST” in “PEACE” biko !!!! and stop using her as your first point of call for every moral lesson. Individuals will always still make mistakes cos thats what constitutes the experience called life!

    • Miss A

      March 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Exactly ! Just what i was gonna write.

  15. Bia

    March 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    if you think she died just by accident or by chance or supposed prescription drugs then you are one of the very clueless majority. Very clueless whats really going on.

  16. Berry

    March 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Two thumbs up for this article!

  17. T.S.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I agree with Fashionista. This article could have been written without making reference to Whitney. Let the lady rest in peace.

  18. BIH

    March 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    thank God my boo davido is still in uni oh…lol

  19. Focus

    March 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Stop Following tabloids.. You know nothing about Whitney…
    Let her RIP!!!!! You could have written all you wrote Without making the title Whitney!

    • lolly

      March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

      And if you know anything about Nimi, you will take duct tape and with your own hands seal your – mouth. Do not be emotional, read the article, then comment wisely.

      Nigerian artists and musicians have alot to gain from what this lady has written, and you too ‘Focus’. Nimi probably loves Whitney more than you do, judging from her age, she most def rocked Whitney’s tunes in college and highschool so what the H are you talking about???

  20. Gyann

    March 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Nobody is using our dear Whitney as a”… first point of call for every moral lesson.” Fashionista. Whatever, the story might not be ‘totally true’ but however, people can still take a cue from which ever area of her life the light is being shone on at the moment. Besides, names of other top celebrities were mentioned in the write up. Just ignore the topic of the write up if that will help you concerntrate on the body and learn a lesson or two.

  21. Gyann

    March 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    thanks 🙂

  22. Kem

    March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    i agree with Fashionista. why make Whitney Houston a focal point? There are several tittles to pick from to get attention.

  23. MLD

    March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    None of us know her financial situation, just like we don’t know what went on in her personal life. The rumors and lies is what help kill her. Everyone wants to write a piece making it seem like they want to teach people a learning lesson, when in reality it’s more so trying to keep this crap up to make people read. Please let this woman rest in peace because you didn’t let her when she was alive

  24. cathy

    March 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    real talk, couldn’t have said it better.

  25. chi

    March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    thats a good write up education is very very important and the greatest of all is wisdom and humility.

  26. Bia

    March 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm



    • Larry

      March 20, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      U are being sentimental for nothing, killing ur self over smtin dat not ur problem. Check U.S media her name is mention evry day for good & bad reasons.

  27. Bia

    March 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    The only person who knew whitney is Bobby Kris and Cissy so if you are neithe Bobby Kris or Cissy – then please shut up – we dont care of whatever academic qualifications or fortune 500 u worked for . Did you meet her personally – NO! so you are going by what you read on some site or newspaper or media – if thats thecase then you have already failed before you begun. You write well – though very educated i see, its just unfortunate all you wrote is nonsense cos you never knew the woman personally. LOL

  28. chiki baby

    March 1, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I will join others to suggest that Whitney should be allowed to rest in peace. No matter how one plans life, it will follow ur chosen path.
    Since sunday, I have heard 2 sayings that sums up life:
    1. Everyone’s mission is to look at the negative aspect of others while neglecting to look at theirs
    2. It is not how one’s life ends, but the impact the person made on others.
    Whitney made a great and fantastic impact on my life with her songs and she will always be remembered and cherished for this.

  29. Bishop

    March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Dbanj and Wizkid…..go back to school!!!!!

  30. COITIS

    March 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    don’t worry RE: grave robbers , worry about the creditors with shovels

  31. Ade

    March 3, 2012 at 1:02 am

    This is a big lesson for some Nigerian celebrities who have limited or no education at all.Fame and fortune wanes with time.

  32. Jenny

    March 3, 2012 at 4:14 am

    Quite interesting and educative. Keep it up.

  33. Chris Oke

    March 3, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I suggest that we take the message and not the characters. I like the incisive article. To me, the names mentioned are mere allegories. Madam, please, write more.

  34. Chantella

    March 3, 2012 at 11:10 am

    it’s quite surprising to notice that most people are incorrigible, the names mentioned here are just for mere references, for one to checkmate ones financial spending… ‘ve really learnt alot from the above article. it’s not only for our superstars or upcoming celebrities, it’s a huge lesson for all. let’s take a cue from others mistake and correct ours. Thanks Nimi

  35. foday

    March 5, 2012 at 11:12 am

    yeah it’s an please let us keep praying for her may her sul rest in peces amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! an we always luv u whitney.

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