What a Rock Star’s Tragic Death Has to Do With Us

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When celebrities die tragic, premature deaths due to addiction and excess, popular culture has a way of lionizing them as something akin to martyred heroes. From Marilyn Monroe to Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley to Kurt Cobain, Corey Monteith to Heath Ledger to Philip Seymour Hoffman, the sad story is so sadly similar: a blazing life full of overflowing talent cut short by metaphorical demons that could not, ultimately, be mastered by these and so many other stars.

And we are sad of course. But in the attempt to think the best of these fallen stars, a romanticization of their addiction sometimes creeps in at the margins. “Well, he was an artist,” we might say. Or we trot out the cliché that “She was a great performer because of the great darkness inside of her.” It’s as if we almost believe that great “art” isn’t possible unless those creating it are dabbling with madness. It’s just part of the Faustian artistic deal.

In the wake of the death of former Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland last week, one of his ex-wives has something to say about our tendencies to romanticize, to make martyrs of stars who succumb thusly to addiction.

Mary Forsberg Weiland penned a letter, written with the aid of her and Scott’s two children, Noah (15) and Lucy (13) after news of Weiland’s death broke. Published in Rolling Stone, the letter pours a bucket of ice water on all those clichés, asking us to think more clearly about the damage done by addicted celebrity parents … and to think more clearly about the entertainment industry that’s more than willing to exploit stars who should’ve gotten out and gotten real help years before.

Forsberg Weiland begins,

December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died. It is the official day the public will use to mourn him, and it was the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others. The outpouring of condolences and prayers offered to our children, Noah and Lucy, has been overwhelming, appreciated and even comforting. But the truth is, like so many other kids, they lost their father years ago. What they truly lost on December 3rd was hope.

We don’t want to downplay Scott’s amazing talent, presence or his ability to light up any stage with brilliant electricity. So many people have been gracious enough to praise his gift. The music is here to stay. But at some point, someone needs to step up and point out that yes, this will happen again—because as a society we almost encourage it. We read awful show reviews, watch videos of artists falling down, unable to recall their lyrics streaming on a teleprompter just a few feet away. And then we click ‘add to cart’ because what actually belongs in a hospital is now considered art.

Elsewhere in the heartbreaking letter, she talks about how hard she worked to minimize the effects of her husband’s addiction on their children.

Even after Scott and I split up, I spent countless hours trying to calm his paranoid fits, pushing him into the shower and filling him with coffee, just so that I could drop him into the audience at Noah’s talent show, or Lucy’s musical. Those short encounters were my attempts at giving the kids a feeling of normalcy with their dad. But anything longer would often turn into something scary and uncomfortable for them.

Forsberg Weiland concludes by challenging our culture to let go of the knee-jerk tendency to treat deaths like Scott’s romantically, but to deal with it soberly instead.

Noah and Lucy never sought perfection from their dad. They just kept hoping for a little effort. If you’re a parent not giving your best effort, all anyone asks is that you try just a little harder and don’t give up. Progress, not perfection, is what your children are praying for. Our hope for Scott has died, but there is still hope for others. Let’s choose to make this the first time we don’t glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don’t have to come with it. Skip the depressing T-shirt with 1967-2015 on it—use the money to take a kid to a ballgame or out for ice cream.

Wow.

I’m challenged by Mary Forsberg Weiland’s words here. Not because I’m an addict or a rock star. By God’s grace, I’ll never be the former. And I’m pretty sure the window closed a long time ago (or never opened!) on becoming the latter.

But I am a parent of three children. And sometimes I do get too self-absorbed in my stuff—whether that’s work, my desire to watch the Broncos lose in peace and quiet, my hobbies, or my desire to just have “a little downtime, please!”

Sometimes I might need a real break. But more often, I need to choose to pull out of my own self-absorption to meet the wants and needs of my family. Like Forsberg Weiland says, I don’t have to be perfect. But I think there’s always room for improvement.

So the next time I think of Scott Weiland, I hope it can be a reminder not of a rock star’s tragic choices, but of a dad’s self-focused, self-destructive choices—decisions that ultimately robbed his family of the man, the husband, the father, they so desperately needed.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adding to the discussion below, I don't think anyone really debates whether or not a significant amount of popular entertainment contains messages contrary to Christianity. It's much more debatable whether that's because of any particular demonic activity causing people to do things they otherwise wouldn't, or if it's just lost, sinful people acting like lost, sinful people except with an audience.

As to the drug issue specifically, the CDC recorded over 86,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose last year alone, with more probably going unreported. Almost none of them were rock stars. In light of that statistic, I think that a handful of high profile deaths spanning decades is a pretty weak argument for the entire broad "music industry" being a unique bubble of demonic activity/influence.
bobed More than 1 year ago
"As to the drug issue specifically, the CDC recorded over 86,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose last year alone, with more probably going unreported. Almost none of them were rock stars."
This is a pretty irrelevant argument. I am not saying rock stars make up a high proportion of Americans who die from drug overdoses. I am saying they make up a high proportion of ENTERTAINERS who die from drug overdoses.
Addie Stuart More than 1 year ago
Well written article and letter. Very sad commentary on our times & our FOCUS as a society. Bless you, Mary, for writing that letter to raise awareness in our culture.
SO many "artists" cannot cope with life, juggling too much fame? stress? time commitments? money? and too easy access to drugs! 
Searching to fill the HOLE in their souls with everything but WHO it is designed for!  
Poor, wasted life with all of eternity for him to regret it.
HOWEVER, if you, Mary, as a MOM, can help those children overcome the tragedy of their "father deficit" & point them to their REAL, Heavenly Father - who loves them a million times more than their earthly father ever did! - then there is HOPE for their FUTURES! 
That dad left 2 ETERNAL souls behind!  (his greatest accomplishments I'm sure!)
Noah and Lucy, you are INFINITELY precious! 
THIS Father will never leave you nor forsake you, OR let you DOWN! if you seek Him with all your hearts! 
God Bless you both, and your Mother!
bobed More than 1 year ago
I often wonder why it is that rock stars die in larger numbers, even epidemic numbers, compared to movie or TV stars. Why it is that they're all on drugs and all engage in risky activities. What is it about the music industry that's so much more inherently dangerous than the film industry? And to be quite honest... I think it's demonic influence. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh yes, there's certainly demonic influence. Nailed it there.
bobed More than 1 year ago

Yes, Anon! Indeed. Only thing is, people don’t seem to recognize it for what it is. That’s why I try to keep my kids away from mainstream musicians. No matter how clean they seem, you never know what’s lurking underneath the surface. Take Disney-originated musicians like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato for example. They started out as clean, wholesome artists and look where they are now—at such a young age, both of them are sexualized beyond belief. As soon as they turn 18 and even before, artists are turned into objects. And often you can see the demonic and occult influence in their lyrics and in their music videos. It is so clear to me that the music industry is teeming with demons, I don’t know how other people don’t recognize it. 

JeffD503 More than 1 year ago

Here we go again.


If you want nothing to do with the music industry, then so be it. Clearly, you're convicted on this matter. But simply because you say it, doesn't mean it's the Gospel truth either. I've said it before that there are elements in the music industry that are undesirable, even against God. And yes, some people and groups do go for demonic imagery. I acknowledge that, but I don't embrace artists like that.


I've seen you lash out at anyone who says differently, though, and frankly, I think that takes it a little far. Just because someone says differently from you, that does not automatically make them immature in their faith. Nor does it mean that they lack self-control. And for that matter, what makes you the final authority on it? What gives you the right to say that this is how it is for everyone, and Heaven help anyone who says differently?

bobed More than 1 year ago
I am not going to argue with you on this, nor am I going to read your whole post after seeing where the first few sentences were headed. Have a nice day.
milhistorian More than 1 year ago
It's not that hard to figure out. Music lends itself a lot more to unstable temperaments than TV or the movies, no demonic influence required.
bobed More than 1 year ago
You're right - perhaps musicians' volatile temperaments have something to do with the higher level of demonic influence they allow in their lives. 
JeffD503 More than 1 year ago

You might as well save your "breath." One thing is for sure, you can't win against people like this. They're so convinced that they're right, and that they are God's first and only authority on the matter, and if you disagree, well then, you're in trouble. So, trust me, do yourself a favor.

bobed More than 1 year ago
Jeff, earlier you accused me of lashing out at people who think differently than me. I responded politely by declining to start a fight, but it seems you're determined to do so. Who is in the wrong here? On this thread I have been nothing but polite and civil. With all due respect, please stop with the passive-aggressive baloney. 
JeffD503 More than 1 year ago

Well, then I misunderstood you, and for that I'm sorry. I was getting a vibe that when you told me to have a nice day, there was something more to it, since even in Christian circles, people aren't above telling others where they think they should go, if you get my meaning.


I also don't wish to start a fight, but I can't deny that I take issue with your overreaching statements about the entire music industry. I'm willing to accept that you don't like it, and that's your business. I'm not going to tell you how to live your own life. But when you tell others that their faith is immature, that they lack self-control, or that they're somehow blind simply because they don't see demons under every rock as you do, well, that's where I take issue. If you feel so compelled to shun the music industry, then I respect it, but all I want is a little understanding.


And in my post above, I simply wanted to tell milhistorian that it's not worth the time to write out a post. You will not budge in your conviction, and similarly, I and others will not either. It's just not worth starting a thing over. And yes, I also wrote that based on my assumption of your intent when you replied to me last, so I'm sorry for that.