Notwithstanding comparison (for a moment) with the terrible events in Oslo, the passing of Amy Winehouse seems to have polarised public opinion and the death of this genuinely gifted young woman will certainly gain plenty of column inches for the subjects of mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse.
The events in Camden Town yesterday afternoon were terribly sad, a pathetic end to a life that promised so much. For me though, her death itself is not a “tragedy”; the tragedy lies in those she left behind including her father Mitch, who (from what I’ve read) tried everything to get his daughter to recognise and deal with her addictions, but could only despair as Amy’s downward spiral towards the inevitable conclusion gathered pace.
Much of the debate on social networking sites concerns her fragile mental state; Amy Winehouse had depression... and I absolutely agree she did not choose to suffer from this cruel and debilitating condition. Some have said it’s wrong to pass judgement without understanding just what this illness can do...well like I’ve said before, take a look inside my medicine cupboard; there are tablets in there I wish I didn’t have to take, but I’m proud that (along with family support) I eventually recognised and accepted that I was poorly and have fought to overcome (or at least deal with) the effects of the illness.
I didn’t turn to drink and I’ve never taken drugs in my life, but that doesn’t mean that battling the demons has been easy. I’m not talented like Amy Winehouse; I don’t have the money, the privileges... or indeed the pressure that her gifts would bring her. But the thing I can’t accept is that her addiction was solely down to her depression.
Many years ago (in 2004 in fact) Amy appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks (with the legendary Mike Peters as it happens) and I found her to be fresh-faced and witty. Was it her “rock and roll” lifestyle that saw her turn to drugs... was the pressure of fame simply too great... or did the illness trigger what would become her addiction?
It has been said that her family believe the death of her grandmother in 2006 was the catalyst; the loss of a stabilising influence resulted in Amy’s hospitalisation following a reported overdose of heroin, ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine and alcohol. The singer herself said “I really thought that it was over for me then”which seems to suggest she recognised she had very serious problems... and that could be seen as the first and biggest step on the long road to recovery. However, her father’s insistence on using the media “to get through” to his daughter indicates the “up and down” effects of illness, medication and the substances she was taking. Perhaps Amy’s quote was not really a sign of acceptance; simply something that was said in a rare lucid moment...
In 2008, singer Lily Allen claimed: “I know Amy Winehouse very well. And she is very different to what people portray her as being. Yes, she does get out of her mind on drugs sometimes, but she is also a very clever, intelligent, witty, funny person who can hold it together. You just don't see that side.”
If that’s true, was Amy’s drug use a lifestyle choice rather than a dependency caused (or at least triggered) by mental illness? Two years later, Winehouse claimed to have been drug free for three years, saying: “I literally woke up one day and was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.”
Truth or delusion? Well you can make your own choice, but the apparent manner of her death would lead me towards the latter. One post on Facebook yesterday said: “There are so many unfeeling w*nkers in the world who are saying she chose this, or she’s weak...” Well there’s also
enough evidence to suggest that love and support were there in abundance for this undeniably troubled young lady; the fact that she did attempt rehabilitation shows that there must have been some acceptance of her condition but the fact that she fell of the proverbial wagon so consistently and spectacularly indicates to me that the path towards self-destruction (and the consequent effect on those who cared so much for her welfare) was Amy’s choice.
Yes we should feel sad – the death of any 27 year-old is sad - and I hope that positives can come from recognising and openly discussing her illness and the dark places it clearly took her, but to say she had no choice is wrong... the people who perished in Norway are the ones who had no choice at all and therein lies the difference between “sad” and“tragic”...
All my own work... almost.