Like so many fellow children of the 1980s, I raced to YouTube after learning of Whitney Houston’s passing on Saturday to relive the moments from her glory days. That soaring voice. That giant hair. The colors. The clothes. The pop.
I miss when Whitney was on top of the world—a powerhouse with raw talent untarnished by years of drug abuse and erratic public behavior.
I miss the Whitney that came before Being Bobby Brown and “crack is whack.”
You know those chills you get when you watch someone perform in their element—when you know they are exactly where they’re supposed to be? Call it destiny, if you like. Fate. The aligning of the planets. A divine plan.
Whatever it was, Whitney had it. So it’s no surprise that Diet Coke tapped the songstress to promote its brand back in 1986. The soft drink, which debuted in 1982, was still relatively young, as was Whitney’s superstar career. Her unparalleled vocals and fresh—and safe—image were a perfect match for Coca-Cola’s hit product. Here was a woman with confidence, beauty, and fame singing about and drinking a beverage that would help her keep her celebrity figure (No sugar! Less than one calorie!)—but that didn’t even matter, because she was drinking it just for the TASTE of it! It was that cool! Just like her.
Whitney appeared in a few Diet Coke ads over the next few years, as well as spots for AT&T and Sanyo, but she hadn’t appeared in endorsements in well over a decade. While there are certainly any number of reasons for this absence, it’s unlikely her increasingly troubled persona would have been considered anything but a liability to brands. (Given her public struggles with drugs, a Whitney Houston “Coke” endorsement in her later years would have been inappropriate, to say the least.)
And so, as we reflect on the untimely passing of another entertainment icon, I choose to remember the Whitney of Diet Coke. The Whitney of MTV’s up-and-coming years. The Whitney with a giant bow in her hair, gleefully asking a funhouse full of questionable dancers, “How will I know?” (Love can be deceiving, Whitney.)
Thanks for the memories, Ms. Houston. Rest in peace.