She said their final encounter had ended with the weakened Amy saying "I love you, mum." "Those are the words I will always treasure," Janis said. "I'm glad I saw her when I did."
Mitch Winehouse had been vocal in the past—too vocal, for Amy's tastes—about his daughter's substance abuse. As far back as three years ago, he was raising the specter of her possible demise when he publicly revealed that she was suffering from emphysema. "Doctors have told her if she goes back to smoking drugs, it won't just ruin her voice, it will kill her," he was quoted as saying in 2008, while issuing an ultimatum to drug dealers to stay away.
With Amy Winehouse, sadly, drug counselors finally have the all-or-nothing case study in creative stifling they need.
It never helped their cause that other famous members of the so-called "27 Club" who'd also died at age 27—including Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin—had managed to record great music right up until their deaths. These legends' romanticized swan songs helped foster the belief among some drug users that, even if the grim reaper looms, artistic genius can coexist with or even be aided by addiction.
But the five fallow years that have passed since Winehouse released her second and final album, the Grammys-sweeping Back to Black, tell a very different cautionary tale about promises unfulfilled. There's no reason to expect the kind of posthumous releases that followed the deaths of figures like Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur. It's not at all clear Winehouse managed to record anything more than a few cover songs in the half-decade that passed since she released one of the most triumphant recordings of the 21st century.
The only confirmed recording Winehouse has in the can is a duet with Tony Bennett of the standard "Body and Soul," set for his Duets II album, which will be out Sept. 20. Winehouse was said to have been cheeky but capable when she joined the 84-year-old Bennett at London's Abbey Road studio March 23, calling the experience "a story to tell my grandchildren to tell their grandchildren to tell their grandchildren," according to a reporter from the Telegraph who attended the session.But unless the recording sessions were an incredibly well-kept secret, there's no album no. 3 in the vault. Answering fan queries online, she always had an answer ready when the inevitable questions would come about when we should expect the next album: "Soon!" Writing on her Formspring web page last summer, she told fans, "Aww, my album is coming. I can't wait"—followed eight months ago by the tease, "Do you want to know my first song from my new album?" She never did use that forum to name the promised song, or even mention the supposed album-in-progress again.
Last year, there was conjecture of a project with the Roots' Questlove. On March 1, 2010, she tweeted, "Me an Quest, sittin in a tree, makin a s-up-er group." Little was heard about this highly anticipated hookup again.
Her professional relationship with producer Mark Ronson, who was responsible for much of Back to Black, had definitely been on-again, off-again in the intervening years. Famously, in early 2008, Ronson abandoned sessions that were intended to produce a possible theme song for the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, diplomatically saying, "We tried to work for a little bit. I'm not sure she's ready to work on music yet."
In July of 2010, she appeared as a surprise guest at a club gig by Ronson, singing her B-side, "Valerie," though she failed to remember all the lyrics. Things between the two seemed to take a bad turn last September, when she tweeted some invective aimed at her producer: "Ronson you're dead to me; one album I write an you take half the credit- make a career out of it? Don't think so BRUV." But three days later, she attempted to make up with him online, writing, "Ronson I love you; that make it better? You know I love you- it's a jew thing..."
More recently, Winehouse and Ronson collaborated on the last recording released during her lifetime, a cover of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" for a star-studded Quincy Jones tribute album. Her vocal was widely panned, with fans and critics wondering what the unedited tapes sounded like, if that was the best performance Ronson could patch together with the help of editing tools.
Winehouse's last appearance on stage was just three days before her death-a non-singing cameo at a show by her beloved goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield, at the iTunes Festival in London. Her final actual gig had been a disastrous June 18 tour kickoff in Serbia, the booing of which was seen and mocked around the world on YouTube. Three days later, the cancellation of the rest of the tour was announced.
The day after the Serbian disaster, her father, Mitch Winehouse, who had been candid about the extent of his daughter's troubles, tweeted, "Amy was advised by me and her manager not to do gigs. These were contracted months ago when she was well." Two days later, he added, "By the way, Amy is not retiring. She is going to get some r and r and come back better than ever."
Winehouse had an on-and-off relationship with her dad, as with many figures in her life. When Mitch Winehouse joined Twitter in 2009, she was the first to celebrate, crowing that he was already better at social media than she was. But after he spoke about her demons to the press, she tweeted in January 2010, "WHY don't my dad WRITE a SONG when something bothers him instead of going on national tv? An you thought YOUR parents were embarrassing."
Trying to track whether she was or wasn't back together with her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, could prove equally confusing. After many arrests between the two of them, and a long jail stint for him, they divorced in June 2009 after two years of marriage, with his attorney citing Winehouse's alleged adultery. But that was hardly the end of their relationship. "Everything my family says about Blake ain't true an t HURTS me. Blake is so sensitive. I married him for a reason," she tweeted-in December 2009, six months after the divorce became final. In March 2010 she reaffirmed their attachment, writing, "I love my husband Blake an it aint wrong! Marry for life."
But three months later, in June 2010, she was stepping out with a new man, British film director Reg Traviss, who continued to appear in profile pictures on her web pages up until her death. Traviss and her father were both reported to have been at her bedside in May when, according to the Sun newspaper, doctors at the Priory—a rehab facility she'd checked into—warned her that she was at risk of dying if she didn't quit drugs for good.
Winehouse missed the premiere of her boyfriend's movie, Screwed, while she was in rehab. But, apparently, she had plans to marry the director. "Are you excited to wed?" a fan asked on her Formspring page, "Yeah," she responded, in a characteristically short reply. Later, she added, "Hahah, I love him," along with a saucy addendum about a body part she particularly loved.
Winehouse wasn't shy about addressing speculation that she'd had breast augmentation in 2009. The singer had appeared curvy enough when she released her first album, "Frank," in 2003, but by the time "Back to Black" was released in England in 2006 and America the following year, she looked nearly skeletal. The supposed breast job looked to be an attempt to augment a body that, given Winehouse's notoriously unhealthy regimen, was incapable of filling out on its own again. On her web page, fans would constantly ask whether the Winehouse they were writing to was "fake" or not. "My boobs?" she would respond. "Yes."
Since her death, many celebrities have tweeted their sorrow, but Russell Brand, who knew her well before she achieved stardom, wrote what may have been the lengthiest celebrity euology to date. He duly noted her gift for "good banter" but talked about how difficult it was to forge a true connection with Winehouse. "All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they're not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his 'speedboat' there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they're looking through you to somewhere else they'd rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief."
Added Brand, "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." And one that, from all indications, murdered her art five years before it took her life.
- Amy Winehouse