Amy Winehouse, the talented but troubled chanteuse was found dead in her north London flat on Saturday. She was 27.
The results of her autopsy will not be released until Tuesday, but there is widespread speculation that Winehouse died from a drug overdose. British tabloids, though suspect in their veracity, claim Winehouse went on a wild drinking and drug binge over the past few weeks, reportedly buying narcotics such as ecstasy and cocaine shortly before her death.
According to a statement made by London’s Metropolitan police, Winehouse was found dead at the scene, the cause “unexplained.”
But for those who followed Winehouse in the press, her public decline augured disaster. Just last month, Winehouse was forced to cancel the remainder of her European tour after bumbling her way through a performance in Belgrade. In civilian videos taken of the concert, Winehouse appeared sozzled, barely able to belt a lyric.
The New York Times obituary took note of Winehouse’s consistently destructive habits:
...[F]rom the moment she arrived on the international pop scene in early 2007, Ms. Winehouse appeared to flirt with self-destruction. She sang of an alcohol-soaked demimonde in songs like “Rehab” — whose refrain, “They tried to make me go to rehab/I said, ‘No, no, no,’ ” crystallized Ms. Winehouse’s persona — and before long it seemed to spill over into her personal life and fuel lurid headlines.
The interplay between Ms. Winehouse’s life and art made her one of the most fascinating figures in pop music since Kurt Cobain, whose demise in 1994 — also at age 27 — was preceded by drug abuse and a frustration with fame as something that could never be escaped. Yet in time, the notoriety from Ms. Winehouse’s various drug arrests, public meltdowns and ruined concerts overshadowed her talent as a musician, and her career never recovered.
Winehouse was born on Sept. 14 1983 to a Jewish family who claims several jazz musicians in their lineage, according to The Edmonton Journal. Her mother Janis, a pharmacist, saw Winehouse days before her demise and told the UK’s Daily Mirror: “Her passing was so sudden it still hasn’t hit me.” Winehouse’s father, Mitch, a cab driver and musician was in New York to perform a concert off of his recently released album when he received the news of his daughter’s death. “This isn’t real. I’m completely devastated,” he told The Daily Mirror. In addition to her parents, Winehouse is survived by a brother, Alex.
The crowning moment of her short-lived career came in 2008 with the release of her breakout album “Back to Black.” The album included the notorious single “Rehab,” which became a kind of anthem for bad celebrity behavior and Winehouse went on to win five Grammy Awards that year, including Best New Artist.
Soulful and irreverent, admired as much for the self-styled obsidian-haired beehive that became her trademark as for her retro-soul sound, Winehouse was a singular star. She proved incredibly resistant to the music industry machine, retaining her distinct style as a lyricist and singer, never allowing herself to become a mass-marketed music product churned out by a record label. Jon Pareles of The NY Times noted, “Ms. Winehouse was no manufactured pop commodity. She was a genuine musician, among the very small handful of British singers whose version of American soul music had a gutsiness and flair far beyond what could be studied.”
Her most popular singles, “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” are both deeply personal ballads, which hint at the demons Winehouse wrestled within. A close read of her lyrics tell stories of love and liquor, and often include admonitions to the men in her life about her personal struggles.
In “You Know I’m No Good” she wrote:
I cheated myself
Like I knew I would
I told you, I was trouble
You know I’m no good
In the irreverent “Rehab,” Winehouse notoriously—and proudly—refused to treat her addictions. The lyrics suggest she turned to substance abuse to numb the pain of heartbreak or abandonment:
The man said, “Why do you think you’re here?”
I said, “I got no idea
I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near.”
I don’t ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
I’m not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I’m on the mend
The sadly prophetic lyrics offered an image of a messy life, one held hostage by an illness Winehouse could not bring herself to treat. Instead, she indulged in the darkness, engaging in bizarre and eccentric behavior, and at times, even became violent, lashing out at paparazzi and onlookers who waited street-side to catch a glimpse of her.
The Times’ Pareles wrote:
The years after “Back to Black” brought a very public decline. Her performances were erratic or much worse. She planned and canceled tours, went in and out of hospitals. Photos and videos showed her stumbling, bleeding and apparently taking drugs. With her boyfriend and then husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who served jail time for attacking a pub owner, Ms. Winehouse shared drug benders and never made it through rehab. The long, pathetic spectacle brought joy only to the jackals of the British tabloids, which sneered in big headlines at each new downturn.
Months shy of her 28th birthday, Winehouse’s youth and emotional instability had not permitted the full realization of her potential. Succumbing to her fate at age 27, she joins a cohort of legendary musicians including Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin who reached their often drug-fueled ends too soon. Winehouse’s stunted career and tragic end are both lessons and laments on the perils of loneliness and longing.
Amy Winehouse “Rehab” music video:
Related Amy Winehouse stories on Hollywood Jew:
Amy Winehouse bumbles her way through Belgrade; tour in peril 6/20/2011
Amy Winehouse terrorizes first class cabin 3/2/2009
Amy Winehouse’s ideal rehab: Vacation 4/6/2009