Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse

Just over a month ago, I wrote a piece called “Amy: A public suicide” for iafrica.com. In it, I questioned the wisdom of allowing her to return to the stage and wondered what was being done, if anything, to get her back on her feet.  I closed off my article with, “Sadly, it may be too little too late for a woman who looks half a move away from catastrophe.”

Exactly a month later, Amy Winehouse was dead.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London apartment on 23 July 2011. She was 27.

It somehow felt so inevitable, and yet still completely unbelievable. We all knew where she was headed – especially because by all accounts, she refused to get help, but there was always that ray of hope, that wish she would come out of it and do what she did best.

We all have those “where were you when you heard about…” moments in our lives. I got yelled at by my mom for changing the channel on the morning of Princess Diana’s death, because the ticker at the bottom of the screening reading “The Princess of Wales is Dead” did not quite penetrate my 10-year-old brain at 6.30am on a weekend morning.

Amy Winehouse’s death is going to be one of those moments for me.

I’d spent most of the afternoon at Mirriam House in Paarl (more about that here) after their home burnt down on 17 July. One of their toddlers was killed and they lost absolutely everything – and so we pitched in to bring them lunch and play with the little ones. Afterwards we stopped off at Simonsvlei for some chocolate-and-wine tasting (as you do) and by the time I got home I was nice and giggly and settling down to watch a movie. Then I checked Twitter (yes, I’m on Twitter – you can follow me here) and bang. “Unconfirmed reports that Amy Winehouse has died”. I hit refresh and almost immediately, Sky News had confirmed it. I jumped up, out of bed, left laptop and lights on and was at the office in just over 10 minutes.

And so, it being my job and I love doing it, I’ve been swamped with Amy news… And so I haven’t had time to sit down and actually process anything.

The two overwhelming feelings I’ve had though is – firstly, it’s an absolute shame and I grieve for her. Her death was a tragedy. She was an absolute force of nature – hands down one of the biggest talents to emerge in the past decade. She paved the way for other British female vocalists – Adele, most notably, but also Duffy and Eliza Doolittle – and redefined the jazz/soul genre for the modern age. More after the jump…

Secondly, people are (by and large) idiots. The next person who says “Well, I don’t feel sorry for her, she deserved it because she chose to do drugs” is going to get a cyber-slap. Addiction is a disease. Granted, she chose to do drugs the first time – but we’ve all done stupid things before. For some people it’s a once-or-twice off, or a recreational habit and (here I include alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine in the list of drugs) the amount of people who do use drugs in some way, shape or form far, far outnumbers the amount of people who don’t.

Russell Brand’s post on his website, entitled “To Amy”, said it best – and each time I read it, I get chills. I’m poaching his final paragraph, but you must read it in its entirety.

“Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there.”

Amy’s death is tragic – but it should also be a beacon of inspiration. Whether or not her death was directly caused by drugs or alcohol is as yet unclear – we will only know when toxicology results come through – people need to take a look back and use her as a cautionary tale. Her death was not preventable, and I hope her family are not blaming themselves (although I know they are) – but maybe discussion and publicity around her battle with the illness will inspire others to start their own battle.

I will miss Amy. Back to Black and her cover of The Zutons’ Valerie are two of my favourite songs of all time – so I will miss her talent. I will miss her powerful voice, her incredible lyrics and her sense of rhythm. I will miss hoping and wishing that she would make it out of the darkness, get her life back together and find the peace she so clearly craved.

I have never been so heartbroken over being so right before. She wasn’t even half a move away.

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