Amy Winehouse's Death: A Troubled Star Gone Too Soon

At only 27, Winehouse was highly influential in the music world - but was never able to conquer her demons

July 24, 2011 7:55 PM ET
Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse
Jo Hale/Getty Images

Amy Winehouse, the Grammy-winning British retro-soul singer whose remarkable musical achievements were often overshadowed by her tumultuous personal life, was found dead at her home in the Camden section of London on July 23rd. Though police were calling the cause of death "unexplained" while they awaited a medical examiner's report, many have speculated that Winehouse finally succumbed to addiction following years of well-documented drug and alcohol problems. The singer was 27 years old. 

Even as the initial public reaction to news of Winehouse's death focused on the sense of inevitability that accompanied it, the singer's friends and fellow musicians expressed sadness and condolences online, tweeting everything from the Fleet Foxes simple "Bummer days" to Rihanna's "Dear God have mercy! I am sick about this right now! I am genuinely heartbroken about this." Lady Gaga wrote on Twitter that "Amy changed pop music forever, I remember knowing there was hope, and feeling not alone because of her. She lived jazz, she lived the blues."

Her father Mitch – a London cab driver who recently recorded and released his own jazz album – was scheduled to perform at New York's Blue Note on Monday night, but canceled the appearance and flew home to the U.K. Her mother, Janis, told Us Weekly that Winehouse "seemed out of it" when the two met up just a day before her death. The family released a statement saying, "Our family has been left bereft by the loss of Amy, a wonderful daughter, sister, niece. She leaves a gaping hole in our lives."

Her fans had spent the past few years watching her private dramas unfold while they waited for news that Winehouse was doing well enough to make another album. But even with only a few dozen recorded tracks to her name, Winehouse was already an icon: a badass little Jewish girl with a cartoonishly massive beehive and exaggerated swooshes of eyeliner who found room between all the tattoos and scars from cutting to wear her heart on her sleeve. Moreover, there was just an undeniable power in her voice -- husky and sultry and sad, like a broken heart marinating in whiskey and cigarette smoke. It was a voice that sounded like it came from another time, echoing Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. Her 2006 album Back To Black, a refreshing and stylish blend of modern and classic R&B that appealed to a huge cross-section of music fans, was an instant classic, selling close to 10 million copies worldwide. At the time of its release, the album was the highest charting U.S. debut ever by a British female. That title now belongs to U.K. soul singer Adele, just one of several artists for whom Winehouse undeniably paved the way.

"Rehab" was Winehouse to a T: wise-cracking, defiant, self-deprecating and somehow hopeful. She never made apologies for her personal demons, and the success of "Rehab" even made them her calling card. Her fucked-upness was part of her appeal, and if she could accept it, perhaps we could, too?

But in recent years, she seemed to languish in her own mess, checking in and out of treatment, getting into fights that earned her assault charges, turning up in public with sores on her face or scratches up and down her arms. According to her father, Winehouse even developed early symptoms of emphysema as a result of smoking crack cocaine and countless cigarettes. Her legal troubles kept her from getting visas to travel to the U.S. for work, and the prospect of a serious return to the studio seemed increasingly less likely.

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