Whitney Houston: N.J. governor stands by decision to lower flags

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, no stranger to controversy, is standing firm in his decision to fly flags at half-staff on behalf of Whitney Houston, despite complaints that the late pop singer should not have that recognition because of her history of drug problems.

The governor has ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff Saturday, the day of Houston’s funeral at the Newark, N.J., church where she sang as a child. The body of the 48-year-old musical icon was found Saturday in the bathtub of her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

There has been no ruling on the cause of death, but officials have said there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent.” Toxicology tests are under way to determine if drugs were involved.

Houston, in television interviews, had acknowledged past drug and alcohol problems and the fact that she had been in rehabilitation. Such problems were one reason for complaints about Christie’s decision to lower the flags.

Christie, who has built a national reputation for his pugnacious charm, refused to give ground to opponents. He told critics that Houston had made significant cultural contributions to the state.

“For those people who say, ‘I don’t think she deserves it,’ I say to them, 'I understand that you don’t think that. I do, and it’s my executive order,' " Christie said this week.

“I’ve seen these messages and emails that have come to me disparaging her for her troubles with substance abuse,” Christie said. “What I’d say to everybody is: There but for the grace of God go I.”

On Thursday, Christie’s decision was backed by FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who has been outspoken about Houston's death and her use of drugs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, O’Reilly said it was right to lower the flags and also urged society to deal more forcefully with drug abuse.

“I think we should respect the life and talent of Whitney Houston. I said a prayer when I heard she died. This isn't a personal thing. This is a preventive thing. I want society and media to tell the truth about drug and alcohol addiction,” O’Reilly said. “Let's stop exploiting it and start explaining it.”

The other argument levied against the governor is that a pop singer doesn’t have the standing in society to merit the lowering of the flags.

In response, Christie noted that he has ordered flags flown at half-staff for all 31 fallen New Jersey soldiers and every slain police officer during his time in office.

He also ordered flags lowered last year for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Houston’s funeral will be private, but the Associated Press will have a video camera inside and will stream the service.

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Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, attend a funeral last month for Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, 75. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press


Whitney Houston: Plans for private funeral dismay some fans

 

Whitney Houston will be mourned by family and friends in a private service Saturday at the Newark, N.J., church where she first began singing in public, and there will be no public events surrounding the funeral.

The announcement has left some fans crestfallen, especially after early reports indicated that the family was considering a public service for thousands of people at the Prudential Center sports arena in Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago and where she sang in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church.

Carolyn Whigham, the owner of the Whigham Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements, disclosed the plans Tuesday. She also said that Houston, who died Saturday, would not be buried in Newark, but she did not say where the pop queen would be laid to rest.

"They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell," Whigham said by way of explaining the family's desire for a private ceremony inside the New Hope Baptist Church, which since early Sunday has been visited by Houston fans leaving flowers, cards and other mementos at the church gate.

One of those who came by Tuesday, and who was disappointed to learn that the public would not be invited to the service, was Calvin Taylor, who said he had skipped work as a forklift driver to pay his respects.

"The public should have an opportunity to give a last goodbye to one of the city's most beloved daughters," he told the Star-Ledger. "She touched so many people, I think it's terrible," he said. "She's got a lot of love here."

Sharon Bailey agreed. "They should have one," Bailey said of the idea for a public memorial. "She's the queen of pop. Her death feels like a loss in my family."

Local media reported that police planned to close the street on which the church is located to keep crowds away, but that if the family agreed to let a camera inside the church, large screens would be erected outside so fans could watch the service.

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Video: Associated Press Television / YouTube

 


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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