CNN’s Don Lemon was one of the first TV anchors to report the tragic news of Whitney Houston’s death this past Saturday. He has spent the past week interviewing those who knew and loved Houston for a CNN special called Death of a Diva, airing this Saturday and Sunday at 8pm. We spoke to Lemon about his special, his thoughts on Whitney Houston, and the media’s handling of her death.
ESSENCE.com: You’ve had quite a week reporting Whitney’s death and working on CNN Presents: Death of a Diva.
DON LEMON: I am exhausted. I am a Whitney Houston fan so it’s also surreal, but I feel honored to be on this story. I remember when she came on the scene in ’83 or ’84 and everyone was mesmerized by her, including me.
ESSENCE.com: How did you find out about her death?
LEMON: I had just finished a two-hour show on air and I just took my time walking back from the set to the newsroom and they said, ‘Hey we need you to go back upstairs because we’re hearing that Whitney Houston has died.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I get back on to the set and the producers are like, ‘Do you need us to get you any more information?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t need any information. Bring me up on the camera, let’s go.’ I grew up with Whitney, I know everything about her fantastic triumphs and her trials and tribulations.
ESSENCE.com: How do you feel about how the media has been handling her death?
LEMON: As a fan and someone who listened to Whitney’s music, it’s devastating and heartbreaking. But as someone who, in my own family, has had to deal with addictions, there’s always the tendency to not want to talk about it, or to overlook it. And so I weigh that against being a fan of hers and my task as a journalist. As a journalist, I have to report all of it. What is up to me to do is to figure out how that serves a greater good. So, that said, if Whitney Houston is walking around a hotel looking very out of it, according to some very credible sources, that paints a picture for her fans, for the investigators as to what happened in her last few hours. The greater good for all of this is, let’s admit Whitney Houston had a problem and see what we can learn from this.
ESSENCE.com: You’ve done a ton of interviews for your Death of a Diva special. What are you learning about Whitney ‘s last days?
LEMON: I’ve spoken to a lot of people who knew her, who loved her. They’re all amazing interviews, but the one that stood out to me is the one with her voice coach. You know why? Because he represented what everyone had hoped for, and that was for Whitney Houston to come back. He helped her get her voice back. He was the reason she made that album in 2009. Stevie Wonder introduced them and said, ‘You need to work with Whitney.’ He said, ‘Don, I could have brought her voice back to what it was, but I didn’t have the time to work with her because there people around her who were pulling her. And she wasn’t ready.’
ESSENCE.com: Whitney’s family is choosing to have a private service tomorrow. Are you surprised?
LEMON: Everyone is saying, we want to say goodbye to Whitney Houston, we’ve been robbed of that honor. Cissy Houston doesn’t care about that. Cissy is an old-fashioned churchwoman and she wants to have her daughter’s going-home ceremony in a church, choir singing, preacher, preaching, and we have no choice but to understand that.
Catch CNN Presents: Death of a Diva Saturday and Sunday at 8pm EST.