Monday 22 December 2014

She was bright, young and full of talent -- but beyond all help

Amy was pioneering and paved the way for other female artists but drug problems took their toll, says Daniel McConnell

Published 24/07/2011 | 05:00

AMY Winehouse's life and career were all too brief and both were always clouded by her addictions and troubles, which have taken her at the young age of just 27.

Paramedics who found her body yesterday said she was beyond help when they found her. In truth, that is how many who knew her, loved her and admired her from afar would have described her, too.

Born in September 1983, she exploded on to the scene in 2003, with a look as distinctive as her voice. Her beehive hair, exaggerated eyes and delicate frame made her a compelling attraction for critics and fans alike.

Her debut album Frank was critically successful in the UK and Ireland and culminated in a coveted Mercury Prize nomination.

Winehouse's follow-up album, Back to Black, three years later led to six Grammy Award nominations and five wins, tying the record for the most wins by a female artist in a single night.

Winehouse has been rightly credited as being a pioneering influence in the rise in popularity of female musicians like Adele.

She was the first British singer to win five Grammys, including three of the 'Big Four': Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

The following February, Winehouse won a BRIT Award for Best British Female Artist; she had also been nominated for Best British Album. During her short career, she has won the Ivor Novello Award three times, one in 2004 for Best Contemporary Song (musically and lyrically) for 'Stronger Than Me', one in 2007 for Best Contemporary Song for 'Rehab', and one in 2008 for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for 'Love Is a Losing Game', among other distinctions.

But her apparent and very public personal fragilities tied to her success turned her into a subject of endless fascination for tabloid newspapers and gossip rags.

Her highly publicised problems with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self-destructive behaviour, turned her life into a melodramatic soap opera.

She and her former husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, were plagued by legal troubles that left him serving prison time.

From mid-2007 onward, Winehouse faced a series of health complications that threatened both her career and her life.

In November 2007, the opening night of a 17-date tour was marred by booing and walkouts at the Arena in Birmingham.

Other concerts ended similarly, with, for example, fans at her Hammersmith Apollo performance saying that she "looked highly intoxicated throughout".

On November 27, 2007, she announced that her performances and public appearances were cancelled for the rest of the year, citing doctor's advice to take a complete rest.

Her father, manager and touring team tried to dissuade her from playing the Rock in Rio Lisboa festival in Portugal in May 2008. The set was plagued by a late arrival and vocal problems, yet the crowd warmed to her.

By the time Winehouse performed at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday party concert at London's Hyde Park on June 27, and the next day at Glastonbury, her every move was being watched.

'Winehouse went into a seizure and briefly stopped breathing'

Then in July, she played performed a well received 50-minute set at the Oxegen Festival in Ireland..

In May 2009, Winehouse returned to performing at a jazz festival in St Lucia amid torrential downpours and technical difficulties. During her hour-long set it was reported she was unsteady on her feet and had trouble remembering lyrics. She ended her set by walking off the stage in the middle of a song.

In an interview with NME in 2009, Blake Fielder-Civil described how he feared his wife was dying in his arms after a three-day drug binge.

Fielder-Civil, who was divorced from Winehouse on grounds of her adultery on July 16, 2009, told how Winehouse went into a seizure and briefly stopped breathing at a party at her home in Camden, north London.

He recalled: "She started having a fit on the bed. She slid down on to the floor before I could stop her. She started quivering again and it suddenly grew into what seemed like a full-blown epileptic fit.

"I was panicking. I didn't know know how to help her

On February 11 this year, Winehouse cut short a performance in Dubai following booing from the audience. She was reported to be tired, distracted and "tipsy" during the performance.

Then her Belgrade catastrophe happened. Then on June 21 it was announced that she had cancelled all shows. She would never sing in public again.

For many reasons, Winehouse epitomised the modern tragic figure: young, brilliant, troubled and dead.

Sunday Independent

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