Commentary — 12 February 2012

A number of people emailed Mo’Kelly and SPECIFICALLY asked for me to re-post the following editorial regarding El DeBarge, given how perfectly it fits within the discussion of Whitney Houston’s passing.  In fact, mentally remove the words “El DeBarge” and insert “Whitney Houston.”  It’s all-the-way accurate and uncanny in its import.  In video below, Whitney and El share a tearful reunion…hours before her death.

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Keep the hate mail coming. I don’t care what you think about me. I really, really
don’t. It is not my job to be a fan in my work, only to tell the truth. There are larger, more important issues to address. If you are a “fan” of El DeBarge, then you need to hear this, because it’s time to get down to brass tacks.  This is for the ones more concerned with the singer making a comeback and less with a full recovery.

There is an order to be followed. Recovery first and foremost, with a recording career coming in a distant second.

It does not matter what any reader may think of me, my supposed motivations or even the history between El DeBarge and myself over the years. There is nothing I can say, will say or have said that will ever be the ultimate decider in whether DeBarge maintains sobriety or makes a full comeback.


Any anger with me along those lines is clearly misplaced. I don’t have that much power. I appreciate the credit but it is undeserved. Nevertheless, the following must be said.

When I sat down with El’s people in September of 2010, they articulated the need to surround him 24/7 in terms of prayer and personnel to help El stay on the path of sobriety.

24/7. Meaning...ALL of the time. Meaning…his sobriety ALL of the time was key. El said that he’s battled the demon of crack for more than 25 years, the hedge was required.

If you don’t know or understand the realities of crack addiction or health implications of long-time cocaine/drug use, then let me assist. Any user of such longevity will tell you that the demons will ALWAYS remain.

ALWAYS. One can be sober and off the substance but it is a day-to-day fight for the rest of one’s life.  After age 50, substance abuse increases the likelihood of sudden death at an exponential rate.

This is not about resuscitating anybody’s career, it’s about saving someone’s life.

El DeBarge can’t be sober “some of the time.”

El DeBarge can’t be sober for “most of his performances.”

El DeBarge must be sober ALL OF THE TIME, or he is coming home in a box…nice performances or not.

The music business (of which I am a veteran) affords too many obstacles, too many enablers and too many avenues which threaten sobriety.

If by his management’s admission, El DeBarge required round-the-clock assistance and still he is not sober ALL OF THE TIME, then it is time to discuss whether his sobriety and singing career can co-exist any longer. Otherwise, El DeBarge is coming home (sooner not later) in a box…nice performances or not.

Rick James

The question for you fans is simple. Do you want an alive El DeBarge or do you want him to go the route of Rick James, found dead at the age of 56. His autopsy yielded the following…

“The coroner’s office officially ruled James’ Aug. 6 death “accidental,” but also noted that no fewer than nine drugs were found in his system, including methamphetamine and cocaine.

As E! Online exclusively reported Aug. 7, James was spotted just days prior to his death at a Hollywood party using cocaine, and many of his friends privately were concerned that the former “Superfreak” was back to his partying ways before his untimely death.

James and his family had maintained that the R&B/funk star successfully kicked his cocaine habit and was sober after years spent battling a crack addiction.”

Story HERE.

Somehow, I’m not sure if Rick James’ final performances (great or not) are of any solace or consequence.  Rick is dead.  Do note the obvious parallels of the final sentence.

“James and his family had maintained that the R&B/funk star successfully kicked his cocaine habit and was sober after years spent battling a crack addiction.”

Substitute “James” for “DeBarge” and you’ve quite possibly found a looking-glass into the future. Despite what mother Etterlene DeBarge will tell you, the videos I’ve posted are clear. El DeBarge is under the influence.  Firsthand accounts of the performance agree, he was under the influence.  Maybe it’s just a mother’s job to see the best in her child, but the man was under the influence and would have failed any field sobriety test. He couldn’t even successfully navigate an interview, much less an automobile.

No number of “great” performances, Essence Festival or otherwise changes this fact. Either El DeBarge can remain sober all of the time or you can  await the celebrity-laden funeral and email the funeral program to all of your friends as you did with Michael Jackson.

Historically there has been this strange connection between substance abuse, comebacks and death.

Elvis Presley died from an overdose while crawling away from his toilet and miles away from his dignity…yet in the midst of a musical comeback.

Michael Jackson, cardiac arrest from the combination of injected prescription drugs and a history of abuse. And oh yeah, he too was readying for a comeback.

El DeBarge has already undergone two rehab stints in the past two years. Appearing seemingly under the influence is not a red flag? Are you crazy?  He JUST left rehab!

El DeBarge is coming home in a box and very soon if his addiction is not fully addressed. If maintaining sobriety means the end of his historic music career, so be it. I’d rather he live to the age of 80 substance-free, than die at 56 like Rick James who was still performing and partying.

David Ruffin

Or maybe El DeBarge fans would rather he die at age 50 of an overdose as did former Temptation lead singer David Ruffin.  Or like Michael Jackson who also died at age 50.

Just FYI, DeBarge celebrated his 50th birthday last month.

Has it sunk in yet?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who cares more about his health than his hits and chart position. I just might be, because I’m the only one talking about this in terms unrelated to his vocal prowess or musical legacy.  Members of his family are complaining about not being on stage with him and gauging by the silliness of his fans, it’s ok if he’s inebriated on stage every once in awhile, no big deal.

How much clearer must I be?

You, the fans are more concerned with unflattering videos being posted on a blog and less concerned with the dreadful reality in which they confirm.  This man is on the path to death.

As a “recovering” crack addict, you can’t be sober “some of the time.” You can’t be sober “most of the time.” You must be sober ALL of the time. Even alcohol inebriation through decreased inhibition risks crack demons having their way.

Charlie Wilson

Check out what recovering addict Charlie Wilson (formerly of the Gap Band) had to say in response to El re-entering rehab this past February (and canceling his tour).

“Wilson says DeBarge needs to take a break when he gets out of rehab. He says the demands of the industry can put you under a lot of pressure. That’s the last thing a recovering addict needs — even after years of being sober.

‘I was still working on myself,” he says. “You have to work on yourself first. That’s more important than relationships, and it’s more important than your career. Your life has to matter more than sitting on the cover of a magazine.

I am working on myself every single day. I am just one drink from catastrophe,” he says. “One hit away from losing everything I have.

Story HERE.

So don’t take my word for it, take Charlie’s. ONE drink, ONE hit. Recovering addicts MUST be sober ALL of the TIME. The music industry is not a place in which to teeter. If Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were still here, they would explain how the mixture of alcohol and any narcotic is deadly.

But alas…THEY’RE DEAD.

Whitney Houston was a crackhead for a decade before she hit rehab and everyone knew it. But as long as she was churning out hits, her public fans and private enablers were indifferent. Now that her career is over, her “fans” seemingly couldn’t care less and have moved on…

Nevertheless…she’s alive.

At best, DeBarge will suffer a “Whitney Houston fate” if he continues on this path. At worst, he’s Rick James, Michael Jackson, David Ruffin or Jimi Hendrix. The body can only take so much.

Take your pick fans, which will it be?  Whitney Houston or Rick James? Open or closed casket? Old age or autopsy?

I am working on myself every single day. I am just one drink from catastrophe,” he says. “One hit away from losing everything I have.”

– Charlie Wilson

If you want to pray for El DeBarge to make a comeback, you’re better off not praying at all on his behalf. A comeback without a full recovery only ensures an untimely death. El had used crack for more than 25 years (his own admission) and surely will not survive 25 more if he continues.

Appearing seemingly under the influence four months after a second rehab stint is far more significant than any other recent performance in which he did not.

Ask yourself fans, what are you really wishing for El DeBarge…and in what order? If it has anything to do with his career, you are only hastening his death.

So who really is the hater?  I want him to live.  I will love his music regardless of whether he ever picks up another microphone.  His musical legacy is safe.

For El DeBarge the man, it must be full-time sobriety, or it will be death.  Somebody has to “love” him enough to make it plain.  It clearly is not his family or his fans as their agendas and motivations are quite questionable.  It might as well be me and you can be mad all you like.  I want him to live and will in no way be party to the enablers.

Now go play that on your iTunes.


The Mo’Kelly Report is a syndicated politics and entertainment journal. Visit for the latest from Mr. Mo’Kelly. Contact him at

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Morris W. O’Kelly (Mo’Kelly) is a columnist, radio and television commentator. Visit for the latest from Mr. Mo’Kelly. He is heard weekends from 6-8pm on KFI AM640 in Los Angeles. The program is available via the iHeartRadio app and for download on iTunes and all podcasting apps.

Contact Mo’Kelly: @mrmokelly

  • Baba Kifo

    I was JUST coming here to also ask you to repost this thread. This was, Unfortunately, Perfect in it’s Relevance.

  • You and many others Baba were aligned in your thinking. The timing and manner of Whitney’s death irrefutably makes my point. An addict must be sober all of the time.

    An addict and the entertainment industry can’t truly coexist.

    Eventually people will get it.

  • Leanne

    This is right on. It’s a conundrum not unlike the phenomenon of the doomed celebrity marriage, too. Entertainers have paid employees taking care of their mundane tasks and any crises that arise… Those employees are not going to refuse their bosses when they insist on drinking or drugging to ‘loosen up’ before a show or scene, whether they are fresh out of rehab or jail – for any circumstance. The assistants are going to do whatever it takes to get their performer on stage when they need to be on, period. The rest of the time, they’ll be blowing smoke up their celebs’ behinds to keep their jobs. I think the profusion of ‘yes-people’ around entertainers is what prevents them from listening to their spouses’ needs or concerns, and predicates many celeb divorces, and addiction relapses too. Once an addict, always an addict, and to remain in recovery, we must maintain sobriety all the time, for the rest of our lives… one day, hour or minute at a time, as the case may be. (Relapse is normal though, and the only thing to fix it is to sober up, and start recovery again. Heaping on the guilt is counterproductive.) Heaven help the Hollywood addict.

  • Lynn

    These deaths are beyond painful. Lord let it stop.

  • Rashida

    I agree 100% with your blog post. I just want El to heal and stay sober. I know that relapse is sometimes part of recovery but the entertainment industry puts so much pressure on artists… relapse can happen so easily under the heat of the spotlights. I pray for him to continue on his path of sobriety. I pray the whole family will be healed and be sober for good. I would rather have them all alive even if they didn’t sing another note. It is just so sad to see them suffer with addiction.

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