She may have been found dead in a Beverly Hills bathtub in 2012, but next year Whitney Houston is going on a world tour — as a hologram.

The singer is due to kick off with a string of dates in Mexico on Jan 23. She will rock up in Liverpool a month later to be beamed down for a string of dates across the UK and Ireland before wrapping up her European tour in Minsk in early April.

Macabre gimmick or a stroke of genius? Whether ordinary Britons or Mexicans will be willing to fork out their hard-earned pounds or pesos to spend an evening watching a holographic Whitney belt out Higher Love, I Wanna Dance with Somebody and a string of other Eighties hits is not yet proven.

Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, appears in a holographic tour that has just opened in San Francisco. Photo / Getty Images
Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, appears in a holographic tour that has just opened in San Francisco. Photo / Getty Images

But with a live band, back-up singers, dancers — and a big enough marketing blitz behind it — I'm willing to bet that it might just work.


Whitney Houston could be just the start. Behind the scenes of the $31bn (£25bn) live music industry, a host of dead musicians are limbering up for a comeback.

Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, who died in 1959 and 1988 respectively, are booked for a holographic tour that opens this week at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts. While Maria Callas, the American opera singer who breathed her last in 1977, has already performed a string of dates across the US and Europe as a hologram last year.

Given the craze for musical nostalgia and tribute bands, the possibilities are virtually endless.

That helps explain why Base Hologram, a Los Angeles-based company founded by Brian Becker — the former chief executive of Clear Channel Entertainment, the world's biggest live music promoter — is leading the charge with heavyweight partners including Sony, Warner Music and Live Nation. A host of other start-ups are trying to leap on the bandwagon.

How big could things get? Becker certainly thinks he is on to something. He is tapping into booming demand for live experiences, which is being driven by the apparently insatiable demand for what are politely known in the industry as "legacy acts".

After all, four of the top 10 touring artists in 2018 were, if not quite dead yet, then not that far off: The Eagles, Roger Waters, U2, and The Rolling Stones.

For organisers, the attractions are obvious — it's a lot cheaper to book a deceased performer than a live one and they are probably less trouble to work with.

The technology has its limitations, however. There is still no way to project a volumetric image — a Princess Leia-style 3D floating hologram, which can be viewed from all angles. That may be tricky commercially because some seats can't be sold in venues due to angle of view issues.


Holographic projections can move across a stage but they can't walk up and down stairs, making for a relatively static spectacle.

Nevertheless, the technology is advancing quickly and a flashy stage-show and plenty of smoke and mirrors can make up for a lot.

In truth, holographic performances are not entirely new.

Snoop Dogg performed a duet with a holographic spectre of Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, at the Coachella festival as far back as 2012.

The technology has been used in politics too — although chiefly by the living.

Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, pioneered the use of holograms for political campaigns, appearing in a string of rallies as he barnstormed his way to victory across the subcontinent in 2014.

A 40ft-high hologram of Vladimir Putin was used to launch his election campaign in Russia last year.

Similar technology is shaking up the movie industry too, where long-dead stars are being wheeled out by studios using cutting edge CGI.

The return of British actor Peter Cushing to the screen of the Star Wars film Rogue One in 2016, 22 years after his death, was widely viewed as a success.

But while music and film fans may be excited by the chance to see performers resurrected for the stage or screen, the return of the deceased does pose a string of ethical and legal questions.

It's not just that living performers may resent the encroachment on their turf.

American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) has appeared as a hologram for a string of performances across the US and Europe. Photo / Getty Images
American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) has appeared as a hologram for a string of performances across the US and Europe. Photo / Getty Images

To take a dead artist on tour, promoters like Base Hologram must first get permission from an artist's estate and from the record label that owns their back catalogue. Naturally, both may be eager to jump at the opportunity to scoop new revenues.

But clearly, the artist themselves has no say in the matter and no ability to shape the performance.

That opens up a host of accusations that the technology represents a form of exploitation — particularly when an artist has died in unusual or controversial circumstances.

How long, for example, after an artist's death will it in future be acceptable to launch a holographic tour?

There will, of course, be a natural commercial desire to do so as soon as possible to maximise publicity and interest.

It's a hot area with lawyers from London to Hollywood busy dreaming up new legal structures to protect the rights of dead performers.

Either way, in the entertainment industry, it looks like death may no longer be terminal for your career.