Celebrity is a strange thing. An awful lot of people who may not go looking for it end up finding it. I’m not talking about your everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety (alright, I’ll stop with the clichés) Hollywood celebrities. People who want to act on screen, whether that screen is the big one or the small one, have an inherent need for fame. At least, that’s what the psychoanalysts say. It’s pretty clear to even the most casual observer that someone like a Lindsay Lohan or a Robert Downey Jr. has a deep, dark, disturbing need to be the person the camera follows. The only difference between the two is that Robert conquered his inner demons and moved on to greater success while Lindsay is still struggling with hers.
This leads us to those celebrities who didn’t seek out fame. More often than not, these are your artists — singers, guitar gods, jazzbos, painters, and the like. These are the ones who invested themselves in their art but got caught up in the success of that art. Unfortunately, these guys have demons, too. In many cases, quite a few of them. The list of artists who have suffered famously for their art and died in the process is essentially endless. From the “Three J’s in the Sixties: Jimi, Janis, and Jim” (the last used to proclaim, “You’re drinking with number three”) to Kurt Cobain in the ‘90s, many, many musicians have dealt with fame by immortalizing themselves — by dying young. Today, we look at one such icon: the legendary Amy Winehouse, British diva extraordinaire, who died in 2011 at the tragic young age of just 27. Here are 15 things about her death you never knew.
15. She Drank A LOT Of Vodka The Night She Died
Amy Winehouse was well known for her struggles with her addiction, perhaps almost as well known for that as for her talent. She was also well known for following her own path and being resistant to the advice of others, even when that advice was very much in her own best interests. I mean, let’s face it; one of her biggest hits was the song “Rehab.” In case you’ve forgotten, that song opens with the lyrics “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no no no.” Um, that’s not the song of someone who’s gonna give up drinking anytime soon. Amy went her own way on that front, over and over again, which was cruelly illustrated the night of her death. Responding emergency services people found two empty vodka bottles on her bed, and her blood alcohol level was 416 mg per deciliter, 350 mg ove the amount said to be fatal.
14. But She Had Been Sober Before That
Surprisingly, at the inquest into her death, Amy’s personal physician, who had been working with her for years to battle her drug and alcohol addictions (sadly, to no avail), stated that she had been recently sober. Dr. Christina Romete was questioned about Amy’s activities before her death, and she stated that Amy had been sober for “12 to 13” days leading up to her demise but had also gone back to hitting the bottle about three days before she died. Dr. Romete also stated at the inquest that Amy had started drinking again because she was “bored.” That just seems like a nightmare both for the singer and her attending doctor. Here you have someone fighting to stay sober and someone else fighting with them every step of the way to help realize that goal, and they fall off the wagon because they can’t think of anything else to do.
13. She Died With Her Laptop In Hand
Amy Winehouse was found lying face down in her bed. The funny thing about it all was what she had with her. When I say “funny,” though, I definitely don’t mean of the “ha-ha” variety. I mean “funny” in the slightly off, slightly odd, slightly upsetting way. I mean it in the sense of “hmm, something seems funny about all of this” way. Anyway, it was funny because Amy had her laptop with her in bed, and she had been watching YouTube videos of herself all night. That strikes me as really, unrelentingly sad. I mean, it’s cool to check out your own accomplishments sometimes, and I’m sure she was proud of her work (anyway, I hope she was!), but to be found dead with your own videos playing seems like such a desperate plea for help that no one ever heard. I really hope she was enjoying herself and not wallowing in self-pity. But we’ll never know.
12. Her Live-In Bodyguard Found Her
Amy was a superstar; there’s no doubt about it. She broke it big in 2007 with Back to Black, which sold over 3.5 million albums in her native England alone and over 12 million worldwide. It’s the second highest-selling album of the 21st century — Adele’s 21 is first. It also had five singles, the biggest being the aforementioned “Rehab” which checked in at number 9 on the U.S. Billboard charts. The album garnered Amy tons of Grammy nominations, and she won for Best Pop Vocal Album along with four other awards. That gave her the 2nd highest number of Grammys at a single ceremony ever — pretty rare air. So she was a big deal, and her live-in security guy had been around for a long time. Sadly, Andrew Morris, who said she seemed her “normal, bubbly self” the night of her death, checked on her at 10am the morning of her death and thought she was sleeping and came back at 3 pm, which is when he realized something was wrong.
11. The Original Inquest Was Messed Up
You would think when a superstar’s death is involved, the authorities would get the official coroner’s report correct, wouldn’t you? I mean, hell — you’d hope they could do that much for anyone! But the London Coroner’s Office totally screwed up Amy’s first inquest. The Deputy Coroner, a one Suzanne Greenaway, oversaw the first inquest in October of 2011, just months after Winehouse’s death. She had been appointed in July 2009 by her husband, who was the Chief Coroner for Inner North London, where Amy lived. However, Ms. Greenaway was way under qualified, having spent far less than the required five years in London Law Society before being appointed. Reid himself resigned in the wake of this scandal before he was to be brought up on disciplinary charges. Wow — talk about favoritism and nepotism. Not cool, Reid and Greenaway — not cool at all. A second inquest had to be called in January of 2013.
10. Her Dad Debunked Suicide Rumors
Two years after Amy passed away, her dad, Mitch, felt he needed to “set the record straight” about her death. This is understandable since there had been rumors flying like mad about how she had died. Mitch wrote a book called Amy, My Daughter, and went on a press tour to “clear” her name. It seems a lot of people in the tabloids and online had accused Amy of using drugs and committing suicide, but Mitch wanted no part of that. In interviews, he claimed that she hadn’t done any drugs in three years (none were found in her system) and that she was “moving toward abstinence.” However, he also supported the coroner’s findings that she had been drinking, even going so far as to say that she had been drinking heavily the last five days of her life, which is a slightly different account than her doctor’s. However, he was very adamant that she was not suicidal, which the doctor had also stated.
9. Her Ex Thinks It WAS Suicide
So Amy’s dad doesn’t seem to think it was suicide, and the coroner doesn’t seem to think it was suicide, but Amy’s ex-husband sure does. The dude in question is one Blake Fielder-Civil, a former music video assistant, who was married to Amy for two years from 2007-09. Amy and Blake were deep into heroin, as well as binge-drinking, during their relationship. Blake says that Amy called him up two months before her death but that he blew her off, which led to her undergoing a serious self-cutting incident that same night. He also says she didn’t care if she lived or died and that “she was completely indifferent, and there’s a very fine line between that and suicide. Amy was a serious danger to herself.” Of course, Blake is also a junkie-psycho with a long history of run-ins with the law. He served two years in prison for assault and, just last year, was arrested for stealing a purse in Leeds. So who knows…
8. Then There’s Her Bro
When a superstar dies of unusual causes, there’s always plenty of rumor-mongering to go around. In Amy’s case it seems to be family, friends, and lovers who did most of the talking and theorizing. Her brother, in an interview given to The Observer two years after her death, fueled the somewhat dormant fire of events surrounding her death by claiming it was her eating disorder that did her in. Alex Winehouse told the mag that “drink and drugs took their toll, but the eating disorder fatally weakened her. . . . She would have died eventually, the way she was going, but what really killed her was the bulimia.” That’s great, Alex — throw some gas on the fire, why don’t you? While it’s true that an eating disorder like bulimia, which Amy reportedly suffered from, can weaken the body’s internal organs, the coroner didn’t feel that this was the case for Amy. Nor did her dad. I guess everybody’s entitled to his or her own opinion.
7. Her Album Sales Skyrocketed After Her Death
Amy died on July 23, 2011. In 2010, her total album sales for the year, according to Billboard, was 58,000 albums. That’s not bad for a modern singer in a year that she didn’t release an album. In fact, she hadn’t released a studio album since her sophomore effort, Back to Black, came out in 2006. So that’s a lot of units sold. In 2011, she was at 44,000 albums sold before she died — basically the same trend as the year before. Then she died, and her sales — and this should come as no surprise — immediately went through the roof. When I say “through the roof,” I mean it — she sold 110,000 albums in the U.S. alone in the week following her death. In slightly less than a year following her demise, she sold 855,000 units. That’s almost a platinum record in less than a year. Some artists wait 20 years for an album to go platinum.
6. She Wanted To Live
This is again from her private physician, Dr. Romete, whom we discussed before. According to the doctor, who was treating Amy on pretty much a weekly basis, Amy had seemed very positive in the weeks leading up to her death. She told the coroner’s inquest that Amy “specifically said she did not want to die.” She also stated that she had just seen her the day before her death and that “in the course of the last consultation, Amy did not appear to be depressed at any stage.” However, the doctor also said that it was abundantly clear that Amy was a very intelligent woman, and there was no way that anybody was ever going to make her do what she didn’t feel like doing. The actual quote was: “It was not possible to convince her to take a course of action unless she wanted it.” So there you have it. Amy wanted to live but apparently she also wanted to drink. The latter desire got her into fatal trouble.
5. Carole King Was At Her Funeral
OK, OK, so that’s not entirely true. But it is true that Amy loved Carole King and her work. Carole, of course, is the great singer-songwriter, who began her career back in the ‘50s and has had an unbelievable run of success for over half a century. In fact, Carole is the biggest female songwriter ever, having written over 115 Billboard Hot 100 hits. That’s really not bad at all even if most of those hits were written for other artists. Carole herself is famous for Tapestry, the ‘70s album that has sold 25 million copies worldwide and was on the chart for six years. Six years — wow! She’s also famous for the song “So Far Away.” That’s where Amy comes in, as the song was her all-time favorite. To remember Amy and her life of music, her friends and family sang “So Far Away” at her funeral.
4. She Had Music In Her Blood
Although Amy Winehouse seemed to rise out of nowhere to become a star in the music business, a lot of hard work went into her ascent. Her parents were working class heroes all the way, as John Lennon would say. Her mom was a pharmacist, and her dad drove a taxi. However, she had uncles in the jazz side of the music biz, and she was performing at a young age. She was already taking voice lessons at nine years old, formed a band at 14 years old, and was already writing songs at that time. Her group was called “the Bolsha Band” and, obviously, never made it big, although she, herself, did. Perhaps because her uncles had been jazz musicians, she always said her biggest musical influences were Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, and Miles Davis. Oh yeah, and Mos Def, which is kind of cool.
3. She Canceled A Lot Of Shows Before Her Death
Amy Winehouse may have sold millions of copies of her two albums, but she also loved to perform. Supposedly straight since 2008 (at least from illegal drugs), she was often found out on the road touring. So it’s very sad and perhaps somewhat telling that she canceled her entire European tour about a month before she died. You don’t just cancel a whole tour when you’re a star of Amy’s magnitude without a damn good reason, whether it be emotional or physical or whatever. It’s hard to imagine the pressures a musical mega-star faces, and most of us scoff at their antics, but, if you’re sick and struggling with addiction, motivation is often the first thing to go. Perhaps Amy really was trying to get clean and flip the switch on her life. And perhaps, she was only trying to hide and continue her drinking ways. Nobody will ever know now.
2. The Family Founded Charities To Remember Amy By
One thing Amy’s family, particularly her father and step-mother, has done in the wake of her death is found a few charities to help others who might be suffering from the same demons Amy was. One of them is Amy’s House, which attempts to stop drug and alcohol addiction in young kids before it can get rooted. The charity was set up only a few months after Amy died. As her stepmother has noted in many interviews, the family had no idea how much charitable giving in money and time Amy was doing, mostly to children’s organizations, until she died, and they wanted to continue in that spirit. The foundation is run not only by her dad and stepmom, who devote themselves to it full time, but also her mom and stepdad and even her brother. It seems to be a true family affair that has helped bring a grieving clan together.
1. A Confused Legacy
So like all of the other great rock and pop artists before who passed on into the Great Divide before their time, Amy Winehouse has left us a fantastic musical legacy but a sad and confused personal one. Did she commit suicide? The answer seems a likely no. Was she depressed and an alcoholic and self-destructive? The answer is almost certainly yes. It’s almost completely certain that no foul play was involved in her death, unless you call a fatal attraction to drama and the bottle foul play. Who knows? Some people might at that. What’s certain is that no matter her state of mind when she died, Amy Winehouse’s death should probably remain classified what it was at her second and final inquest: “Death by Misadventure.” That seems fitting as an epitaph to both her life and death and also indicative of the way she brought her music to the world. Sing on, Amy, wherever you are.
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