The Rise and Fall of Amy Winehouse: A Review

Amy Winehouse, used with permission
Used with permission

I happened to have been in the United Kingdom four years ago when the BBC announced that six-time Grammy Award winner Amy Winehouse was found dead. It was a tragic media frenzy, and many Londoners went near her home as they were tragically stunned at the death of such a great jazz singer, who at such a young age sang as well as the greatest jazz musicians of the twentieth century.  For days, her death was in the media as the public was awaiting the autopsy report.  I admit, regrettably, that I had not followed Winehouse’s music at the time; however, after her death, I began to think, like others, about her music and wondered about her life.  I wondered how could such a great singer be dead at an early age from the abuse of drugs and alcohol.  When the autopsy was released, it said that Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning and that her blood alcohol level was about four to five times the legal limit.  When I visited London several months ago, I was reminded again of Winehouse’s music and of the fan base that she had while living, and that she has had since her death. After her death, her then manager, realized that the life of Amy Winehouse needed to be told so that fans around the world would know about her rise and fall.

Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia, chronicles the rise and fall of Winehouse who tragically died at the age of twenty-seven in London in July 2011.The film uses footage from personal videos, television interviews, and concert footage. Her family, her bodyguard, her managers, her fellow musicians, and her best friend all give statements that are played while some of the footage (without audio) is shown.  The documentary shows how Winehouse, as a nascent singer, first achieved fame then fortune, and how she became obsessed with Blake, the man who became her husband. The film infuses her music, with the lyrics textualized to ensure understanding of every word.The film is an unbiased attempt to show how Winehouse spiraled downward and how others around her tried to help, but lacked the fortitude and the wherewithal to assist her in the capacity that she most needed. Winehouse was a strong-willed talented singer whose emotional instability caused her to obsess on a man who lacked the ability to help himself as well as herself. The film captures the sentiments of those closest to her, especially her managers and her dad.  Winehouses’s mother states that her daughter was always a strong-willed child, and she had difficulty setting limitations on her. Currently, her family feels that this documentary is an inaccurate depiction of Winehouse and that her father’s statements have been mischaracterized.

According to archival video, Winehouse’s dad felt that she did not need rehabilitation. Winehouse adored her father.  She wanted nothing more than to please him, and thus would have done whatever he recommended.  He, however, did not get her the help that she needed, but began to exploit her by taking advantage of her fame. Her father tried hard to profit monetarily off of her success.  He does not appear to be nefarious, but a person that put his own desires ahead of his daughters.  I believe that he did not think that she would die at such a young age, and thus, she had time to get her life together. He felt that it was her decision to attend or not to attend rehabilitation. Although Winehouse was never a teetotaler, she began to use alcohol as her drug as she began to let go of cocaine and heroin.  However, they noticed that she was bulimic and that was also contributing to her ill health.

The most tragic part of the documentary is that those closest to Winehouse were pushing her to perform, even when she did not desire to sing songs from her most successful album, Back to Black.  They continued to push her because their careers depended upon her’s.  As long as she was making money, they would continue to make money.  When Winehouse was scheduled to perform shortly before her death, she had no desire to sing songs from the Back to Black album, but her manager and her fellow band members told her that her audience was demanding that she sing those songs.  As a result, she relapsed into inebriation.  The shows were ultimately canceled and she died a few weeks after their cancellation.

Prior to her death, there was nearly a two-year period of time in which Winehouse did better without the alcohol and the drugs.  Her manager and her friends told her that they would not allow her to perform as long as she was an addict. Thus, she began to detoxify her life of the drugs and alcohol. Moreover, when her husband (they later divorced) was arrested, she was able to clean up her life because she did not have a drug partner.

Tragically, the UK media, as well as the American media began to satirize and ridicule Winehouse when she was most vulnerable. Various late night television shows poked fun at Winehouse’s drug and alcohol use.  As usual, the media fixated on negative news. Some media outlets did not understand why her closest confidants did not take more drastic measures to get her the needed help.  I am reminded that the love of money is the root of all evil. Because of the negativity of Winehouse’s life, her lifestyle became fodder for the media.

What captured my attention the most about this documentary is that Winehouse was interested in neither the fame nor the fortune.  She just wanted to sing and write music. She wanted to write lyrics that were meaningful to her, and that she would enjoy singing.  Unfortunately, the others around her were interested in affluence and in reaching an opulent lifestyle. When Winehouse performed with Tony Bennett, her humility showed.  She so wanted to sing perfectly because she was singing with her icon.  Bennett said it best when he said that Winehouse belonged in the category of Ethel Waters and Sarah Vaughan.

If you have not seen the documentary, it can be viewed at many local theaters.  It will give you great insight into the life of Winehouse and possibly cause you to sympathize if not empathize with her tragic life. Also, download some of her music to see the potent and inimitable Amy Winehouse.  You will not be disappointed! Comments welcome.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch

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