Born Amy Jade Winehouse on 14 September 1983 into a Jewish family, Amy was the younger of two children. Nobody could have known she was set to become one of Britain’s most iconic, as well as tragic, singers of the 21st century. Through her 27 years Amy transformed from a confident girl from Southgate in North London to the insecure, complex, drug addicted megastar who sadly came to pass on Saturday afternoon.
Amy grew up with her mother Janis, father Mitch and her elder brother Alex in a quiet suburban part of North London. It was the home where her love of music was nurtured. Her London cab driver father, Mitch Winehouse, was a major influence on Amy’s musical style and taste.
Artists like Frank Sinatra, Carole King and The Crooners soon became a part of family tradition and were pivotal to shaping Amy’s unique 1960’s inspired character and sound. In the Channel 4 documentary Amy Winehouse What Really Happened, Amy opened up about the origins of her love of Sinatra.
My dad always had Sinatra on in the car and I remember so many Sinatra songs, I knew before I had even heard Sinatra sing them because my dad always used to sing.
Though her father left the family when she was just nine years old Amy always maintained a very close bond with him. in 2007 Mitch told Rolling Stone magazine;
She was always very self-willed… Not badly behaved but… different.
At age 12, Amy won a scholarship to the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School, famous for producing stars like Emma Bunton, Billie Piper and singer Preeya Kalidas. In her school entry essay, 12-year-old Amy was asked to write about what she wanted to do with her life. She wrote
I have this dream to be famous to work on stage it’s a lifelong ambition. I want people to hear my voice and just forget their troubles for five minutes.
Amy’s infamous rebellious attitude lead to her expulsion from the private performing arts school when she pierced her nose at age 14. Amy was becoming her own person and it was this stubborn, yet vulnerable, character which soon became her musical backdrop and eventually, her undoing.
Leaving the white teeth and jazz hand world of her childhood, Amy soon established herself as a woman. It was at this stage her relationship with men and her raw persona became the perfect combination for future chart success; it was through these private intimate experiences where Amy’s unique song writing talent came alive.
At the age of 16 Amy landed her first job working as a trainee journalist at World Entertainment News Network (WENN). Her infectious personality meant she was an instant hit with her colleagues. Her boss at the time, and close friend, Joe Mott revealed in a June 2008 Channel 4 documentary about Amy
When I first knew her she was extortionately anti hard drugs… The Amy I knew was in no way shape or form a mess, she was a deep thinker… She certainly thought about things in quite a deep and dark way for a teenager… She was very into men and very into sex and it was a big part of her life.
It was while working at WENN that Amy met her first love, the company’s deputy editor, whom we only know as Chris. Colleagues said the pair were inseparable and Amy became obsessed with him. Though their relationship lasted only 9 months, close friends of the pair were quick to notice that their whirlwind relationship meant this mysterious Chris became her muse and much of the inspiration for her debut studio album Frank.
It was clear that both her debut album Frank and her critically acclaimed sophomore project Back To Black were autobiographical and a true reflection of the bittersweet love she had, firstly for Chris, but fundamentally the dangerously addictive love she would have for her future husband Blake Fielder Civil.
Blake Fielder Civil
Unsurprisingly Amy and Blake met in a Camden pub called the Good Mixer in 2004 and quickly fell in love. Amy had his name tattooed above her heart. This was the start of the violent, alcohol and drug-fulled world to which they soon became victims. When asked by New Magazine if it was love-at-first-sight for the couple, Blake said
Yeah. We were best friends from the start. We were like brother and sister more than anything else.
As a child Blake Fielder Civil grew up in a small village in Lincolnshire and just like Amy, he had an unbreakable bond with his father Lance, even though he also left the family when Blake was young.
Blake was drawn to the bright lights of London in his late teens, not knowing that years later he would be getting married to a feisty songstress from North London. In a $60 drugs-fuelled wedding ceremony in Miami with a wedding breakfast of burger and chips on 18 May 2007, Amy Winehouse and Blake were married.
From that day, the pair’s most deadly addiction became one that was darker, more sinister and yet more destructive than the drugs they were hooked on before. They had become addicted to, and dependent upon, one another.
Drugs and Booze
After a three-day binge of alcohol and drugs at a hotel near Heathrow airport in August 2007 the couple returned to Amy’s £2.5 million flat in Camden, North London where she had a seizure and was rushed to hospital to have her stomach pumped.
Doctors found a potentially lethal cocktail of heroine, ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine in Amy’s system. It was this and the desperate cries from their parents that made the pair book themselves into rehab, though only for a week. Weeks later, Amy’s mother Janis prophetically told News of The World,
A part of me has prepared myself for this over the years. She has said to me, ‘I don’t think I’m going to survive that long… It’s almost as though she’s created her own ending. She’s on a path of self-mutilation, quite literally.
The downward spiral continued when newspapers published shocking images of Amy and Blake coming out of the Sanderson Hotel In London in July 2010. Both their bodies were covered in bloody scratches, and Amy’s footwear was heavily blood stained. The same year, Blake was jailed for assault and perverting the course of justice for unrelated incidents.
In May 2011 Amy checked herself back into rehab only to check herself out again a week later. The following month she cancelled her European tour after she was booed at her welcome back gig in Serbia where she appeared on stage extremely drunk, unable to sing nor perform.
Frank and Back To Black
Though Amy only released two studio albums her work was critically acclaimed worldwide. When Frank was released in October 2003, critics compared her sound to Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Macy Gray. Tracks like Stronger Than Me, In My Bed and Fuck Me Pumps earned her a place on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist, a prestigious Ivor Novello song writing award and two Brit awards.
For her second, and final living, album Black To Black, Winehouse brought on board close friend Mark Ronson and Hip Hop producer Salaam Remi who infused authentic 1960’s soul and RnB into her tracks. The album spent 57 weeks in the UK album chart and went 5 times platinum here. It is the 18th highest selling album of all time in Britain, the 4th best ever by a female solo artist.
Hit singles like Back To Black and Rehab topped charts all across the world and the album won Amy 5 Grammy awards in February 2008, including song of the year for Rehab making Amy tie with Lauryn Hill, Beyonce and Alicia Keys for the most Grammy’s won by a female solo artist in the same ceremony.
Amy was famously denied a USA entry visa to attend the Grammy awards ceremony and instead delivered a truly unforgettable performance via satellite live from Riverside Studios in London. Watching it is watching Amy at perfection. What
could should have been.
Weeks before her death her 15-year-old goddaughter Dionne Bromfield was quoted in The Sun describing how Amy influenced her music.
She knows I can do it and have my own ideas and kinda left me to it… I’ve heard some of her new material and it’s good.
The 27 Club
On 23 July 2011 Amy Winehouse tragically joined the infamous ‘27 club’. Privately she was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a godmother, and a wife. But to most of us, she was a legendary shooting star.
Amy joined a list of iconic musical figures who became victims of their own success, and who lived and died young. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, all true musical pioneers of their time, led troubled lives that lead them to death at 27.
The irony of her biggest commercial hit Rehab will never be missed. They tried and failed to keep her in rehab, leaving us all now shaking our heads, saying no, no no.
Amy Jade Winehouse, born 14 September 1983, London. Died 23 July, London. Aged 27.