British singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead at her flat in North London on July 23, 2011 at age 27. Winehouse hadn’t released an album in four years, hadn’t had a hit in just as long, and when she performed on stage, the headlines she usually drew were for atrocious performances. She was an addict who, like so many performers before her, let her talents fall prey to a drugged-up lifestyle. Still, she transfixed. Tabloids chronicled her many tribulations, and fans patiently waited for a third album, knowing that with that amazing voice, along with her bitterly honest lyrics, she could eventually return to form and be that riveting singer-songwriter who captured the world’s attention with the self-revelatory “Rehab.” But on Saturday, as Winehouse’s body was removed from her London apartment, it became clear Floral tributes are seen in Camden Square, near the residence of singer Amy Winehouse.
She never did. On Saturday, the Grammy-winning singer was found dead in her North London home. She was 27 years old.
Ambulances were dispatched to her home, but by the time they arrived, she was already gone. The cause of death wasn't immediately known, and no arrests were made. An autopsy will be performed today or tomorrow.
The London-born Winehouse was many things: a pop traditionalist, a symbol of modern excess, an illustrated pin-up, a cautionary tale, a haunted soul and, above all, an electrifying singer. In time, she is likely to be remembered as a 21st-century version of Janis Joplin, who also died at 27 — a force-of-nature vocalist with a deep love of African-American music whose uncontrollability was a part of her popular appeal.
Although she never had a No. 1 single in the states, her influence over contemporary pop on both sides of the Atlantic is difficult to overstate. Both the American Lady Gaga and the British Adele — arguably the two most dominant voices on the radio in 2011 — have cited Winehouse as an indispensable forerunner.
Producers scrambled to capitalize on the Winehouse sound. Some of her imitators scored enormous hits. But none updated Stax soul or Billie Holiday-style jazz with as much ease, or sang with comparable confidence. None had her wit or her sly, conspiratorial delivery.
Sadly, Winehouse herself was not much of a participant in the retro-pop craze she kicked off. Instead, she spent the years since "Back to Black" battling personal demons: substance abuse, ill health and her own notorious temper. She spent far more time in court than she did onstage. She fought with boyfriends, fans, those who tried to curb her drinking.
Heavily tattooed and forever sporting thick, dark eye makeup, Winehouse was a star made to order for a tabloid culture. Photos of her dangerously emaciated or ravaged-looking after a hard night out were regular features in the Daily Mail and other newspapers. Her stumbling, slurred performance in Belgrade two months ago — the last concert she ever give — became a viral sensation among Internet rubberneckers.
It hadn't always been that way. Winehouse was born in 1983 to working-class parents who loved traditional jazz — one of whom, her crooning dad Mitch, would go on to have a singing career of his own in the wake of his daughter's success. Winehouse developed her distinctive combination of jazz, vintage soul, and hip-hop rhythms young. She began writing songs at the age of 14; by 2001, she was signed to "Pop Idol" impresario Simon Fuller's management company.
On her debut album "Frank" (2003), Winehouse often seemed to be poking fun at young women with drug problems. The vicious, hilarious "F--- Me Pumps" targeted unscrupulous club crawlers who saw substance abuse as an accessory to a fashionable lifestyle. Winehouse might like to party, but she had an identity separate from booze, drugs and mindless hedonism.
But the lead single from "Back to Black" sang a different tune.
"Rehab" became Winehouse's signature song: a stomping, snarling slice of '60s-style soul produced by U.K. hitmaker Mark Ronson. "Rehab" won the British Ivor Novello Award for songwriting, and scored Winehouse Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal. Everything about the recording was a success story — except for its lyrical content. Written by Winehouse, "Rehab" describes the singer's refusal to get treatment for her growing problems.
Mitch Winehouse thought nothing of the sort. After his daughter collapsed at her home in 2008, he told reporters that he feared she'd developed emphysema from smoking crack cocaine. Through the press, he pleaded with his daughter's entourage, warning them that if they kept providing her with drugs, she was likely to die.
It is tempting to call Winehouse a victim of the Internet age that she was tailor-made for. Gossip websites love stories of celebrities falling apart, and ever since the release of "Back to Black," Winehouse had been going to pieces on cameraphones all over the world. It could not have been easy for her to learn that video from her final Belgrade concert had made her a YouTube laughingstock. Even the defense minister of Serbia weighed in, calling the show a shame and a disappointment.
At her best, Winehouse commanded her instrument as well as anybody in contemporary pop. Yet here she was, missing notes and forgetting words, and the world seemed to be delighted to watch.
It would be a terrible shame if Winehouse ends up being remembered more for the sordid detours and train-wreck conclusion of her career than for her influence — and her massive talent, even though it was never fully realized.