Terrance Heath

Amy Winehouse: She Cheated Herself, Pt. 2

Filed By Terrance Heath | July 30, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Amy Winehouse, cheating yourself, drug abuse

It seems like many people in Amy’s life who cared about her had also come to the realization that they couldn’t help her until she was ready to accept help. Again, Russell Brand put it better than anyone else.

When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they've had enough, that they're ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it's too late, she's gone.

Frustratingly it's not a call you can ever make it must be received. It is impossible to intervene.

Amy’s mother, seeing Amy for the last time just a day before her death, seemed to realize that her daughter’s death “only a matter of time.”

“My Destructive Side Has Grown A Mile Wide”

Those words, sung by Amy in “What Is It About Men?” could summarize the long decline her friends, family, and fans witnessed.

Amy’s final stint in rehab, in May of this year, was initiated by her father, who was concerned that Amy was “drinking too much again.” If any evidence was needed of those Amy’s alcoholism and her attitude towards rehab, it was that she guzzled a miniature bottle of vodka on her way to the treatment clinic.

This trip to rehab was even shorter than the others, lasting only a few days before Amy checked out again, most likely to prepare for a concert tour to promote her long-anticipated third album. It’s something she apparently wanted to do, having worked on it in 2009, after writing songs of death in 2008 for what would have been a “darker” album than Back to Black.

But it wasn’t to be.

The last months were probably the hardest for those close to her to watch, because though Amy was looking healthier (at least) she was far from healthy enough to take on the comeback that she seemed to want. In what’s said to be one of the last photos of her out in public, she is more recognizable as the Amy introduced to us when Back to Black hit the charts. She was eating well again (something addicts tend not to do), and had gained weight. As a result, she looked a far cry from the hollow-cheeked, skeletal-looking woman in some of the worst photos of her.

In her last public appearance, on stage with her goddaughter Bromfield, she seemed happier and much more like her old self. Though she didn’t sing much as she didn’t have a mike, Amy was much more “present” than she was in her own abysmal performance in Belgrade.

According to another report, on the night she died Amy spent an hour on the phone with her best friend, Kelly Osbourne.

But all was not well.

All was not well on the inside. At 24, according to her father, Amy was diagnosed with emphysema, as a direct result of her cigarette and crack smoking. Her lung capacity was reduced to 70%. While a spokesperson for Amy later clarified that she was diagnosed with “early signs of what could lead to emphysema,” such problems are extremely rare in someone 24 years old.
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Amy’s autopsy was inconclusive, according to reports, and toxicology test results that might reveal what was in her system when she died are weeks away. And while a doctor supposedly gave her a clean bill of health the evening before her death, it’s hard to believe that Amy’s abuse of drugs and alcohol didn’t take a toll on her body. Her lungs were already damaged to some degree. It’s not likely that the rest of her body — her lungs, liver, etc. — escaped damage, but the autopsy doesn’t indicate that any ailment contributed to her death. So, the question remains, what did?

“Now You Know This Is The End”

All was not well on the outside either. If Amy was serious about completing her third album and returning to the music scene, all reports indicate she was equally as serious about continuing to abuse drugs and alcohol — or unable to stop. That to some who knew her she “seemed OK” contrasts starkly with reports of her activity in the weeks leading up to her death.

No doubt as much mythologizing and conspiracy-theorizing will sprout up around Amy’s death as with those of other celebrities. But if the immediate reports of those around her in her last days are to be believed, Amy struggled with her addictions right up to the end.

Just days prior to her death, and less than two months after her last rehab visit, Amy’s drinking was worse than ever.

However another friend said: “There was always a danger of something like this. Her drinking is totally out of control. She’s constantly out of ­control on vodka. She’d drink bottle after bottle and ­mixing those ­quantities with drugs is lethal.”

Just two days ago neighbours said they saw her arrive in a cab with Big Brother star Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace. She collapsed when she got out of the taxi and had to be carried inside.

Her behavior, according to those around her, are hauntingly like that which led to what her ex-husband described as a near fatal overdose on heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine and alcohol that landed her in the hospital in August 2007.

A source told The People that she was seen buying substances, believed to be cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and ketamine leading up to the hours before her death.

She is also thought to have been drinking heavily, which may have been the trigger of a lethal concoction of drugs and alcohol.

The source told the newspaper: ‘Amy seemed determined to have a big one on Friday night.

‘She was out in Camden on Friday evening, but seemed determined to carry on the party back at her flat.

‘None of us know who was with her into the early hours of Saturday. But getting out of it was clearly her main priority of the night.’

Another source from one Camden pub told the tabloid that they had also seen Amy buying cocaine from a well known dealer in the area.

She Said “No, No, No”

She was young, talented, wildly successful. And addicted. But was Amy beyond help? Maybe. Why?

Addictions are hard to break. That’s why they’re called addictions. Addicts become physical and psychological dependent, and that dependence is augmented by the flip side of addiction — withdrawal. An addict can’t stop using without suffering adverse effects, both physical and psychological. That’s why so many addicts relapse even after rehab.

Looking at Amy’s reported history of drug use, she had at least three of the top seven hardest addictions to quit: cocaine, alcohol and heroin. Four, if you count cigarettes.

That’s one answer. The other is that maybe too many people said “yes,” and Amy got sucked into what I think of as one of the biggest pitfalls of fame. You can find yourself surrounded by people who say “yes” to whatever you want, because it’s part of the business.

You show up for work, and it's there. You finish work, and it's there. You wake up in the morning thinking about what you're going to do at work, and, look: it's there again. Booze.

On ice. Often served by pretty girls with ringlets in their hair wearing cool band t-shirts, probably inked and pierced. She likes you. She must like you, because she gives you beer, which jangles on a tray placed on the fetid carpet of a small, Sharpied band room, which seems less fetid when you're wasted, if by degrees. After awhile, you ask her for other things, too, but she's gone, so coke, pot, pills: these are what the promoter gets for you.

This is provided the promoter shows up for the gig, but even if he doesn't you play anyway: songs for beer. The gig's great. The crowd is great. More beer, more booze. Rock and roll will never die. And neither will you. At least not right away.

Maybe Amy Winehouse would have died anyway. But maybe, if she wasn't a musician, she might have lived past 27. Maybe, if she'd been an accountant or zookeeper or land speed pilot, she would have exploited her tastes on weekends only; at the disco, the neighbourhood pub, her pal's flat.

You’re surrounded by people who won’t say “no” even though somebody should, as long as something will “get her on stage” or “get her in the studio,” because it’s part of the business.

I was searching through Amy Winehouse’s news feed on the site a few weeks back when it suddenly struck me quite how long her disastrous gigging career went on for. From Serbia and Dubai this year right back to London in 2007 via St Lucia in ’09, V Festival in ’08 and numerous others, Amy Winehouse had a long and illustrious history of shambolic and aborted gigs and it begs the question – why did she keep doing them

Was she forced, coerced or just vigorously encouraged? Did she have a say in the matter, or were they presented as a fait accompli? Why was she consistently prodded onto a stage – forcibly pushed out to the crowd according to one recent report – when she quite clearly was never in a fit state?

I last saw her three years ago at Bestival, and it was a well-documented shambles. It wasn’t funny; it wasn’t tragicomic – it was just tragic. It smacked of someone, somewhere, milking a cash cow bone dry. I don’t know if you saw the Elvis program on BBC4 on Friday but there was a moment when the singer’s impresario Colonel Parker’s overriding modus operandi is revealed: “Get him on the stage”. At any cost. And Parker’s famous words when informed of Elvis’ death: “Why, I’ll just go on managing him”.

There’s already talk of a posthumous third album that’s been on again and off again several times, according to the headlines. My guess is we’ll see more Winehouse recordings released — some great, some mediocre, maybe even some that are awful — as long as there’s money to be made from them. Maybe that’s why her record label didn’t opt for the ultimate intervention and give her a “clean up, or no more record contract” ultimatum, instead of encouraging her to go to rehab. Another Winehouse record, even one not as good as its predecessor, is money in the bank.

Maybe that’s another reason: money. Amy had quite a bit of it. Her estate at the time of her death was estimated at £6 million to £20 million ($9 million to $32 million U.S. dollars). (It has grown considerably since her death.) That made her different from most addicts. And made her addiction more dangerous.

Most addicts, left to the own devices, eventually reach a point at which they can’t manage to support their addiction while also keeping a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs and money in their pockets. That is, unless they have one or more enablers who will do those things for them. Family or friends usually fill that role, until the addict burns them out and burns through any good will or valuable goods they had left. Then, sometimes, the addict hits bottom.

Amy was an addict who had her own money. She didn’t need to beg, borrow or steal money to support her habit. She didn’t need to live under her parents roof, mooch off relatives, or crash on various friends’ couches.

Plus she was famous, and there are always people willing to do just about anything to be near that aura of celebrity — even when the star in question isn’t exactly shining.

So, maybe Amy couldn’t quit. But for many reasons, she didn’t have to.

Maybe she didn’t want to.

That’s why I wrote earlier that “there was nothing anybody could do. No one, that is, except Amy.”

I’ve always been open about being in recovery, and occasionally someone who learns of it or hears me talk about it will approach me with a request — sometimes it’s even come from friends, in reference to a mutual friend or acquaintance — about someone they believe has “a problem” with drugs or alcohol: “Can you talk to him/her?”

My response is usually that I can certainly talk to someone, just like I can talk to anybody else about anything else from the weather to what they had for lunch. But if by “talk to” you mean convince them that (a) they have a problem and (b) that they need to get help for that problem, it probably won’t make a difference if (c) they don’t believe they have a problem, and (d) are desperate enough or in enough pain to want to change. Besides, chances are they’ve already heard it from people much closer to them than I am, and it hasn’t made a difference.

If it’s that serious, I’d recommend they talk to a professional with more experience and knowledge of how to get people into rehab, and maybe research how to perform an intervention.

But, as Nunzia Rider put it, you can’t often save the life of someone who doesn’t think theirs needs saving.

…Whatever demons that possessed you, I don't know. But clearly they had you by the throat and neither you nor they were willing to disengage. Clever, that song, "Rehab." Making your name by mocking the very thing that might have saved your life.

I know only too well, though, that a life can't be saved unless and until the owner of that life sees the need. You didn't, that's clear enough, and that's what truly saddens me. You didn't see enough behind those sad, deadened eyes in the mirror to toss off the shackles that bound you. And because of that, the music ends here.

Strip away the money and fame, and Amy wasn’t that different from most addicts who don’t make it into recovery.

Amy Winehouse has now joined the 27 Club: rock stars who died at the same impossibly young age, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain.

She fought her addiction in the same way recovering addicts like me once did: by denying it, throwing it in your face, saying no to rehab and then saying yes, begrudgingly. Recovery from addiction demands a lot of us, but mostly it asks that we surrender to the baffling fact that the drugs are mightier than our best intentions, and to throw aside our pride (and, in Amy’s case, the trappings of fame) long enough to find the humility necessary to start life again.

This weekend, Amy experienced her terrible, final surrender.

…Amy didn’t just produce music that reflected our heartaches and our hopes. Her disastrous final days reflected a dark corner of our own community. She was brilliant and she was trapped in disease. And she was a lot more like us than we might like to admit.

Nineteen years ago, I looked into a mirror and I guess I saw something that Amy didn’t. Or maybe I just stared into the very same abyss that stared back at her, and was more afraid of it than I was of doing the emotional work that recovery would eventually require of me. Because it was about so much more than just not having a drink.

Had I chosen differently, I’d have cheated myself of the life I have today.

That’s the saddest thing about Amy Winehouse’s death. Not that there won’t be any more music from her, beyond what recordings she leaves behind. I’d have cheered a real recovery for Amy Winehouse, even if getting better meant that she never sang another note, just like I cheer for any addict to get better for their own sake, and for the sake of those who love them — and not cheating themselves out of having more of what Lena Horne called “good old, sweet, hard life,” in one of her concert monologues.

The saddest thing about Amy Winehouse isn’t that she cheated the world out of the music that sprang from her talent and creativity.

It’s that she cheated herself, like we knew she probably would — but hoped to the end that she wouldn’t.


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Terrance, you nail it in this post! ... As I commented to your Part I, it is often the groupies, the yes-men, and the greedy businesspeople that surround a drug-addicted star who help do him or her in, because they are siphoning off whatever they are addicted to: wonderlust of stardom, prestige, sex, or money. And they press and hold their star into addiction for their own selfish reasons. Any friends or family who have the true interests of the central addicted person at heart are quickly overpowered and neutralized -- and their influence over the addict would be limited, even at best.