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Sunday 17 December 2017

Pop wild child whose talent lost to self-destructive spiral

AMY Winehouse, who was found dead on Saturday aged 27, ticked all the right boxes for a self-destructive wild child of pop.

She had bags of "attitude", a drink and drugs problem and a no-good man; yet underneath the ratty beehive hairdo, oversized plastic earrings, kohl-encrusted eyes and tattoo- covered arms, she was also an addictive and engaging performer with a natural contralto voice who sang with jazzy, passionate energy.

But Winehouse's music -- 60s pop-soul in 21st-century street slang -- was often less interesting than her chaotic offstage life.

Her name seldom featured in the press unless prefixed by the word "troubled" and accompanied by an account of her battles with drink and drugs and her dependent-abusive relationship with her husband, a petty drug dealer and junkie called Blake Fielder-Civil.

Cancelled gigs, brushes with the law and spells in rehab gave the press plenty to write about; commentators saw parallels between her charge towards self-destruction with Fielder-Civil and their punk rock counterparts Nancy Spungeon and Sid Vicious.

Her rake's progress began when, aged 16, she dropped out of school and sang with a jazz band. By 18 she had signed a deal with Island Records and had moved out of her mother's home into a flat in Camden, north London.

Her first record, 'Frank', released in 2003, brought nominations for a host of awards including the Mercury Music Prize. She won a Novello award the following year for her first single, 'Stronger Than Me'.

But in 2005 she met Blake Fielder-Civil in a Camden pub. A "music video assistant", he was already in a relationship, but they began an affair.

He had her name tattooed behind his right ear, and she had his tattooed over her heart. They also had matching scars on their arms (inflicted, so it was said, at Fielder-Civil's "self-harm parties").

When they met, by her own admission, she smoked cannabis and drank more than was good for her.

But as their relationship developed she became notorious for drunken public appearances, including one time when she ran offstage during a performance to vomit.

At the Q Awards in 2006 she heckled Bono during his acceptance speech with: "Shut up! I don't give a f***."

From the story her songs told, in a voice that was big, smoky and sensual, her relationship with Fielder-Civil (whom she called "Baby") burned too hot. After about a year, he went back to his old girlfriend and in the months they were apart she sank into depression, out of which emerged 'Back to Black', an album of heartbroken songs that won her a Mercury Award and sold more than a million copies in the UK.

She made history in America when the album entered the charts at No 7, the highest position ever for a British female artist. In February 2007 she won a Brit Award for Best British Female.

Fans seemed to connect with the authenticity of her suffering, though her hit single Rehab (2006), a song about her past refusal to attend an alcohol rehabilitation centre struck a more ominous note.

By September 2006, she was reported to have dropped three dress sizes and speculation mounted whether drugs or an eating disorder were to blame.

By April 2007 her relationship with Fielder-Civil was back on, and in May, ignoring pleas from her family, they married in a €68 ceremony in Miami, celebrating the occasion with burgers and chips and a 48-hour lock-in at their hotel.

Only then did Amy's partying start to get dangerously out of hand.

On one occasion she woke with scratches on her arm and admitted: "I have no idea. I hate that. The blackouts. Happens too often." As her drug problem got worse, her performances became more and more shambolic.

At the Eden Project in Cornwall, she forgot her lyrics, hit herself in the face with her microphone and spat at fans.

At Glastonbury she staggered incoherently about the stage and was aggressively heckled.

Other concerts were cancelled at short notice, the singer being too ill to appear. In August she and her husband went on a three-day bender.

Amy's inevitable overdose led to a hospital visit, and after her stomach was pumped and an emergency adrenaline shot administered, she checked into a rehab centre in Essex. She stuck just three days of an eight-week course.

After pressure from her parents she and Fielder-Civil checked into rehab again only to quit once more within days, after being caught smoking crack cocaine.

THEN came a midnight rumpus in Soho when the two lashed out at each other in the street outside their hotel and were photographed, him bleeding from scratches on his face, she from her face and -- bizarrely -- feet, leading to suggestions she had injected drugs between her toes.

In October she was arrested while on tour in Bergen, Norway, and held by police overnight on suspicion of possessing drugs.

In November, Fielder-Civil was arrested and charged with assaulting a publican in the East End, but was subsequently sent to prison on remand on charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice after allegedly trying to bribe the man to drop the assault allegation.

Though her parents and friends hoped that her husband's incarceration would bring Amy Winehouse to her senses, it seemed, rather, to have the opposite effect.

In late 2007 her father Mitch was reported to have taken the precaution of writing her obituary.

Last month she pulled out of a European comeback tour after she was jeered at the first gig in Belgrade for appearing too drunk to perform.

She had appeared focused when giving an "incredible performance" for a recent studio recording of a duet with Tony Bennett.

Amy Winehouse is survived by both parents. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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