Amy Winehouse was a much-awarded British composer and singer who gained worldwide attention during her short career. During the 2000s, she was wildly popular due to her bluesy songs and powerful contralto voice. Rising to the international spotlight before she was 20 years old, she styled a public image that was instantly recognizable due to her throwback beehive hairstyle, 1960s-style eye makeup, and tattoos.
Sadly, her time in the spotlight was also heavily marred by the media. The British songstress was plagued by anxiety as she became more and more famous, an anxiety which turned into an addiction to alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, and reportedly, pills. Her rocky personal relationships and struggle with sobriety were the subject of tabloids, who painted her as a disastrous diva.
She died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at the age of just 27. Her death occurred after several years of career downturn where she was in and out of rehab clinics, frequently canceled concerts, and had many run-ins with the law. Nevertheless, at the time of her death, she broke records for the number of awards and top singles she had, especially for a musician her age.
What Happened on July 23, 2011?
On July 23, 2011, emergency services were called to Winehouse’s home in Camden, London. Her bodyguard, Andrew Morris, called an ambulance after realizing that the singer was still in bed unusually late and that she hadn’t moved since he checked on her several hours earlier. He tried to find a pulse and was unable to do so.
Paramedics arrived shortly before 4 p.m. and pronounced the singer dead at the scene. Forensic researchers entered the property as crowds of fans and media members gathered outside; shortly later, her death was officially announced by Metropolitan Police.
Her cause of death was given as acute alcohol poisoning. She was found with three bottles of vodka and a blood alcohol level of 0.416%, putting her at more than five times the legal driving limit. She was 27 years old then.
Rehab And Past Addiction Struggles
Winehouse had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for many years. These seemed to increase as she became more famous, particularly after reaching international fame and winning five Grammy Awards. Even before she became wildly popular, she was known to drink heavily and use marijuana.
She was reluctant to get professional help for her substance abuse issues; in 2006, she released one of her best-known tracks, Rehab. It won a Grammy Award and is considered one of her signature songs.
The upbeat, soulful track detailed friends and family urging her to enter a facility and her own resistance. She had a conversation with Mark Ronson about how her father, Mitch Winehouse, urged her to go to rehab and she refused.
Later accounts from her agent said that her father had pressured her to go into a facility, but she appealed to him, who eventually said that he didn’t think she needed to check herself into anywhere at that time. With his support (though he later changed his mind), she avoided getting professional help for her addiction issues for several years.
The track mentions her father with the lines:
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab, but I won’t go, go, go
She went to rehab for the first time in January 2008. Scotland Yard had conducted an investigation that resulted in a video of a woman who was reported to be the singer. It showed her snorting a substance, then smoking a pipe while describing how she had taken six Valium.
Rehab was a difficult experience for her; it was reported that she was admitted to the hospital for dehydration as a result of withdrawal. She left rehab after several months, with her mother saying that her daughter was much healthier and happier. In May of 2008, she was arrested for possession of a controlled substance.
She reentered rehab in 2011, this time for alcohol addiction. She had gone through stretches of sobriety but seemed to struggle more with a dependency on alcohol than on drugs.
Relationship With Blake Fielder-Civil
Winehouse was known for being an enthusiastic drinker and user of marijuana. But she did not use hard drugs, with her acquaintances saying that she thought they were foolish. That changed, however, when she was in a relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil between 2003 and 2005.
He was a drug user, and it was during their on-again, off-again relationship that Winehouse began drinking to excess, so much so that her agent begged her to get professional help (another one of the conversations that led to her song, Rehab). In 2007, after breaking up and reuniting several times, Winehouse and Fielder-Civil eloped in Miami.
Shortly after their wedding, he introduced her to his favorite drugs, heroin and crack cocaine. The effect on Winehouse was rapid. Her live performances were noticeably affected; a witness who watched her perform in 2007 said that it was clear that the singer was either drunk or high onstage. She was nearly unintelligible, and the crowd was upset with her performance.
Six months into their marriage, Fielder-Civil was arrested for assault; he was sentenced to 27 months in prison for the crime as well as for attempting to pervert the course of justice. During his time in prison, Winehouse finally agreed to enter rehab.
The marriage was marked not just by addiction and drug use, but also by domestic abuse; Winehouse admitted that she had attacked her husband while intoxicated. Fielder-Civil was also unfaithful, even leaving her before their marriage to return to a previous girlfriend. These infidelities led the singer to compose one of her most famous tracks, Back To Black.
Effect on Her Career
As early as 2006, while her agent was urging her to go to rehab, Winehouse began canceling performances. This was due to her substance abuse issues; they would continue to affect her touring schedule until her death. Meanwhile, her PR team was publicly denying that she was struggling with addiction while the media speculated wildly.
Several other concerts ended in tragedy due to public intoxication, including one where Winehouse was greeted by boos and jeers. Her performances regularly began late, and she was often visibly drunk or high onstage.
During the show when the audience booed her, she was reduced to tears and began swearing at fans before storming offstage. Her European tour was canceled after a similar audience response; the singer threw the microphone down after vocal frustration from fans.
During a performance in St. Lucia in 2009, meanwhile, the musician struggled to remember the lyrics to her songs and left halfway through the show, saying that she was bored.
Her substance abuse issues also caused her to have problems with the law. She and her husband were arrested in Norway in 2007 for possession of marijuana. In 2008, she was again arrested for possession of a controlled substance.
In 2009, she was arrested in London and charged with assault after allegedly punching a fan; this, along with her arrest record for drug possession, led to her being denied a visa to the United States to perform at Coachella. She was forced to cancel her appearance.
Though Winehouse was acquitted of charges relating to the 2009 assault incident, she continued having difficulties with the law in the following years. The media regularly reported on her arrest rap sheet and her stints in rehab, depicting her as a troubled and violent diva.
When she won her first Grammy Award, she was unable to enter the United States to accept it; instead, she appeared via a remote call to give her acceptance speech.
Winehouse also intended to release a new album in 2010, but nothing ever came of the hope; she recorded a single song with Tony Bennett that year, the last recording of her career.
Her final performance was in Belgrade, Serbia, in June 2011, a month after she left rehab and a month before her death. It was a disaster. She was visibly intoxicated and could not remember the lyrics. Eventually, it was reported, the booing of the crowd was louder than her music, and she left the stage early.
Her planned European tour was intended to kick off with the Belgrade concert; her hope was that this would be the comeback tour that helped her recover. However, three days later, her agent announced that the tour was canceled altogether while the singer focused on becoming healthy and sober once again.
Before Her Death
As early as 2008, Winehouse’s father stated publicly that she had been diagnosed with pre-emphysema. This was due to smoking crack cocaine, a habit that had affected the health of her lungs.
She also developed an eating disorder during this time. Paparazzi photos showed her outside in a bra and blue jeans, with reporters commenting on her skeletal appearance. Her brother, Alex Winehouse, later clarified that she suffered from bulimia, which had severely reduced her weight.
The night before she died, Winehouse contacted her doctor, Christina Romete. She had long been urging the singer to get mental health treatment as well as physical treatment for her addiction, a suggestion to which the musician was strongly opposed. She had refused all suggestions to get mental health counseling. The doctor said that they had switched focus to treating Winehouse’s addiction as well as anxiety.
On July 22, 2011, they spoke on the phone. Dr. Romete said that during their conversation, Winehouse said that she had managed to stay sober for almost three weeks in July. However, she had started drinking again just two days earlier on July 20.
She also added that during their conversation, Winehouse mentioned, strangely, that she didn’t want to die. It was clear that, while she was calm, she also felt guilty about her most recent relapse.
After the call, the singer stayed up until about 2 a.m. with her bodyguard, Morris. He said that she appeared to be mildly intoxicated, a trend that he had noticed over the last several days. They watched YouTube videos of her early performances, and he said that the singer seemed to be happy and laughing throughout their time together.
At roughly 10 a.m. the next day, Morris checked on the singer and found her still asleep. He didn’t think this was unusual, as she often slept late, especially after a recent performance or when she had been up late into the night.
However, as the day wore on and Winehouse didn’t appear, he began to worry. He checked on her again at 3 p.m. and found her still in the same position. At this point, he realized she was not breathing and had no pulse. He called paramedics, who pronounced the singer dead on the scene at 3:45 p.m.
At the time of Winehouse’s death, investigators also found three bottles of vodka in her room. An initial inquest brought back a conclusion of death by alcohol poisoning, officially classified by British authorities as a misadventure.
A second inquest in December 2012 resulted in the same conclusion; she was discovered to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.416% when she died. Again, this put her at more than five times the legal driving limit.
After she passed away, her brother publicly stated that he believed his sister’s eating disorder weakened her overall health and ultimately played a role in her death. Winehouse suffered from bulimia, and photos of her leading up to her death led to public commentary on her gaunt appearance. When she passed away, she may have weighed less than a hundred pounds.
Winehouse’s funeral took place on July 26, 2011. It was attended only by family and close friends. A rabbi celebrated the service, and the family participated in two days of sitting shiva. The musician was later cremated, and her ashes were interred alongside those of her grandmother.
Fans flocked to pay their respects outside her London home. In the days following her death, the street was decorated with pictures, messages, and bouquets of flowers from grieving supporters.
The 27 Club
Winehouse’s meteoric rise to fame followed by her sudden death at the age of 27 prompted fans to induct her into the informal “27 Club.” This unofficial grouping is based on conspiracy theories or superstitions surrounding the deaths of famous musicians and actors of the same age. Other members of the club include singers Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison.
Despite ongoing rumors, researchers have said that, statistically, celebrities do not die at the age of 27 more than any other age in particular. More likely than not, the legendary “27 Club” owes its existence to a combination of coincidence and the fact that many celebrities engage in high-risk lifestyles involving substance abuse.
After Her Death
The media was quick to assign blame for Winehouse’s worsening addiction and ultimate death. Her father was highly criticized for supporting his daughter when she refused treatment.
However, he clarified that his comments about her not needing to go to rehab had been said with the caveat of “at that time,” meaning that, as of 2007, he did not think her drinking problem was bad enough to warrant professional help. He later changed his mind and encouraged his daughter to check herself into a rehabilitation facility.
Speculation also flew about the role that Winehouse’s ex-husband Fielder-Civil played in her death. Though he said that he had introduced the singer to crack cocaine and heroin, he later said that the media portrayed their relationship as more drug-centered than it really was. Nevertheless, he did say that he bore some responsibility for her ongoing issues with drugs and alcohol.
Musicians such as Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, and Adele have attributed their success to Winehouse’s influence. At the time of her death, she had already broken Guinness World Records for Most Grammy Awards Won By a British Female Act.
Despite the decline of her career in her last years, she is considered one of the most talented musicians to come out of the United Kingdom in this century. Her legacy lives on both in her music and in the charitable organizations that were founded in her name.
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