Amy Winehouse shot to fame with two critically acclaimed albums, got hooked on booze and drugs, and died before she had time even to reach her full potential. Sadly, this story is nothing new.
Amy Jade Winehouse was born September 14, 1983, the second child of a London taxi driver. Like Billie Holiday before her, the story that started as lady sings the blues ended as lady drinks the booze. Holiday died aged just 44, from cirrhosis of the liver, but unlike the famous American jazz singer, Amy Winehouse did not become pregnant aged thirteen; her mother was a pharmacist, not a prostitute; and rather than being an absentee, her father doted on her. Holiday was also black at a time when being a low class black woman in America was not the best start in life. Although her parents separated when she was 9 years old, Amy Winehouse had as good a start in life as any working class London kid ever had.
Billie Holiday also died broke and under arrest; Amy Winehouse might have too, if she’d lived long enough, so why did she end up dead in what amounts to suicide by proxy aged only 27? Human beings are frail, flesh is weak, none more so than in those whose creative talents weave a fine line between genius and madness, or any of the other failings we all exhibit from time to time, and as music pundit Paul Gambacini said commenting on her death to BBC Television, the problem is that while material success increases the purchasing power of the addict, it does nothing to increase the power of the body.
The music business has had more than its fair share of such tragedies:
Hendrix also died aged 27, at the height of his powers; Janis Joplin died the same age three weeks later; Jim Morrison died less than a year later and almost thirty years to the day before Amy Winehouse; he too was 27. That makes the London songstress the latest member of a unique club.
Her first success came in 2003 with her Frank album, which earned her a prestigious Ivor Novello Award, which she received with modesty if not embarrassment, saying she was not entirely satisfied with it. Her second and final album (barring any future posthumous releases) was a world beater earning her no less than five Grammy awards, but as one BBC commentator put it, she was on top of the world and falling apart.
Speaking live to the BBC evening news last night, Sylvia Young OBE dismissed the claim that Amy had been expelled from her theatre school as claimed for example by the Daily Mail newspaper. Rather she had been moved to an all-girls school on advice, so that she could finish her academic studies without distraction.
Miss Winehouse was found dead at her London home yesterday afternoon, July 23. Within an hour, crowds had begun gathering outside. Later, the police issued a short statement to the effect that her death was being treated as unexplained rather than suspicious. The universal reaction was one of shock but not surprise.
Much more could be written and much undoubtedly will be about her failed marriage to music industry gopher Blake Fielder-Civil, her unsuccessful struggle against addiction, her shambolic final tour which had to be cancelled...but hopefully she will be remembered only for her music. Ten of her songs are currently listed in the SongFacts database; they can be found here.