Howard Sounes The Truth About Winehouses Death Wish

Howard Sounes author of the book Amy 27 writes that Amy had died at 27 which made her the latest in a series of iconic music stars whose short, gaudy lives had ended at that particular age, from Brian Jones’s death in 1969, to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, to Jim Morrison in 1971 and through to Kurt Cobain in 1994.

Amy said she always knew she’d join the 27 club: The truth about Winehouse’s death wish and why 27 really is an unlucky number for rock stars

Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain… and then Amy: all dead before their 28th birthday

Amy 27 Howard Sounes

By HOWARD SOUNES published in Mailonline

Amy Winehouse predicted that she would join the ghostly ranks of the 27 Club

It was just after 6pm on a summer’s evening when Amy Winehouse’s doctor visited the star at home in London.

This was a routine house call, routine in as much as Amy’s life had become so troubled in recent years that her doctor visited her at home almost as often as the postman delivered the mail.

Dr Christina Romete saw at once that after two weeks of sobriety Amy had been drinking. She’d started again on Wednesday. It was now Friday, July 22, 2011. Dr Romete reminded Amy how serious this was.

Only two months before, after Amy had drunk herself into a coma, Dr Romete had warned her in writing that her habit of binge drinking was putting her in ‘immediate danger of death.’

Again the doctor tried to persuade Amy to consider therapy, but, as before, she resisted.

For the rest of the evening, with the exception of Andrew Morris – her live-in bodyguard – Amy was on her own at home.

When she was alone, she’d reach out to friends by phone and online, looking for distraction. She spoke to her boyfriend Reg Traviss on the phone on the last evening of her life and tried to contact others.

‘Everyone had missed calls from her,’ says her friend Doug Charles-Ridler. ‘She hated being alone.’

At around 11.30pm, film director Reg called Amy to say that he had finally finished work and was ready to come to see her, but she didn’t answer her phone.

This wasn’t unusual, but Reg had a sense of foreboding. He considered heading over anyway, but took a cab to his flat in central London instead, at one point redirecting it to Amy’s house before changing his mind again, because he didn’t want to show up at Amy’s when she was asleep.

Amy spent a few hours watching YouTube with Morris at home, including looking at pictures of herself online.

After her first album, Frank, was released in 2003, when she was still only 20, Amy began to drink to excess. A nervous performer, she drank to calm down before a show, but then, she began drinking during the show, Andrew later said that this was the only unusual aspect of Amy’s behaviour at the end, remarking: ‘Amy was pretty normal – for Amy.’

Earlier in the week, her father Mitch had found her looking at family photographs. Her behaviour at the end might be interpreted as if she was assessing her life. Doors’ singer Jim Morrison had behaved in a similarly introspective way the night before he died – aged 27.

Finally, Andrew left Amy to her own devices. At 3:30am, she texted a friend.

Interestingly, she didn’t reply to Reg’s texts. She’d now been drinking all day and every day since Wednesday.

At some point in the early hours of Saturday, she went into her bathroom and vomited. As a bulimic, she may have made herself sick deliberately.

The following day, Andrew found her lying dead, still dressed, on her bed with three empty vodka bottles around her. The alcohol in her blood – five times the drink-drive limit – was more than enough to stop her breathing.

That Amy had died at 27 made her the latest in a series of iconic music stars whose short, gaudy lives had ended at that particular age, from Brian Jones’s death in 1969, to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, to Jim Morrison in 1971 and through to Kurt Cobain in 1994.

While the 27 Club is essentially founded on coincidence, all six principal members can be said to have killed themselves, though they didn’t all do so as directly as Kurt Cobain when he shot himself in the head.

For the drug addict and the chronic alcoholic, the decision to be or not to be is drawn out over years – years during which life becomes more tenuous to the point where death becomes likely, if not inevitable.

Like the other principal members of the 27 Club, Amy suffered personality disorders including low self-esteem, the roots of which are often found in childhood.

Amy adored her father Mitch and he doted on her, but when she was nine, Mitch left the family home to move in with girlfriend Jane.

As with Kurt Cobain, who cited his parents’ divorce when he was nine as the point when his life went wrong, this trauma could be said to have been the event that shaped her character more than any other, including her attitude towards men.

While Mitch was ever-present in Amy’s life once her career took off, and he kept a room for her wherever he was living after he left home, during her childhood friends say that he was often absent.

‘Let me tell you, Mitch wasn’t around until his daughter became famous… but she loved him,’ says Amy’s primary school friend Lauren Franklin.

Her mother Janis, meanwhile, struggled as a single parent. To outsiders Janis could seem ineffectual.

‘She’s never been able to stand up to Amy,’ says Franklin. ‘I remember her saying: “Oh, Amy, don’t say that,” and Amy was going: “Ah, I hate you, you f****** bitch!” And this was, like, when we were very young.’

Lauren noticed that Amy ‘became really naughty’ after her parents’ separation. Moving to secondary school, Amy, who’d been ‘so well spoken’ as a child growing up in suburban north London, now adopted the faux cockney accent that she maintained for the rest of her life.

‘None of us speak like that,’ says Lauren.

Amy became disruptive in class and began to play truant, as had Kurt Cobain.

She pierced her upper lip and her mother was horrified when, aged 15, she had her first tattoo done.

Amy later said, ‘My parents pretty much realised (at that stage) that I would do whatever I wanted.’

But even before she had left school and entered the music business she had begun taking antidepressants, with Janis suggesting that she might be bipolar.

Later she would begin self-harming, cutting herself to get attention.

Success arrived quickly after that troubled childhood and, as with the six other principal members of the 27 Club, it proved overwhelming.

Her surgeon cousin Jonathan Winehouse became concerned early on after seeing her perform and meeting her backstage: ‘She was very distant… and really sort of out of it.’

He told her manager that she needed psychological support, but the manager simply said that Amy would go her own way.

After her first album, Frank, was released in 2003, when she was still only 20, Amy began to drink to excess. A nervous performer, she drank to calm down before a show, but then, like Janis Joplin, another troubled and insecure female singing star who lined up glasses of tequila during concerts, she began drinking during the show.

And when she wasn’t performing, Amy went to the pub, the Good Mixer in Camden becoming her second home.

She’d arrive shortly after it opened and usually drank doubles of Jack Daniel’s, sambuca, vodka or tequila. After a while, she was drinking everything mixed together in a pint glass.

After watching a concert where she left the stage after just three songs, Jonathan Winehouse tried to talk to Mitch about his concerns, but he says Mitch ‘just wasn’t receptive to hearing it.’

Then, like Kurt Cobain’s relationship with Courtney Love, Amy fell for someone who shared her weaknesses and exacerbated them.

She was a drinker with a fondness for marijuana. Blake Fielder-Civil used heroin and cocaine and he introduced her to hard drugs, for which many people can’t forgive him.

Yet Blake was the love of Amy’s life. Sarah Hurley, landlady of the Good Mixer, noticed that ‘even though (Amy) went out onstage and did what she had to do on her own as a woman, at the end of the day she wanted to be his woman.’

Stefan Skarbek, a producer who worked with Amy, identified a fundamental conflict between her craving for normality and her need to express herself.

Despite her career, ‘she wanted to make everything homely… making cups of tea all day long, being mum… (but) the two things don’t mesh.’

While her on-off relationship with Blake left her in despair, it inspired the brilliant and poetic songs on her Back To Black album, which made her an international star.

And apart from the drugs, there was always the bottle.

‘I would have liked to have seen someone not give her a drink,’ says Jay Phelps, who played trumpet with Amy’s band.

But, says her stylist Lou Winwood, ‘people found it very hard to stand up to her when she wanted a drink.’

Even Mitch appeared to be unable to stop her drinking. Though he later made strenuous efforts to help his daughter beat the booze, at times during the early days Jay Phelps observed that, along with the others, Mitch ‘was just letting it happen.’

People’s unwillingness to act went deeper than just avoiding confrontation, believes Jonathan Winehouse.

‘There’s a lot of denial, both with Amy and the people around her, and that’s half the problem with alcoholic people.’

When, in the months before Amy’s death, Dr Romete explained that Amy was in danger of killing herself, it still came as a shock to Mitch and Reg, who admits: ‘Even I, to a degree, must be guilty. I said to her several times: “Look, darling, if you want to have a drink, just have a drink. It’s no problem. You can just curb it.” This was a dangerous delusion.

Of Amy’s important relationship with her father, her saxophonist Aaron Liddard says that there was ‘a lot of love and buddiness’, but he isn’t sure how much respect she had for Mitch.

Maurice Bernstein, Amy’s U.S. publicist, feels the music industry bears some responsibility for the 27 Club.

‘I don’t think that the music industry always, with their hands on their hearts, can say they acted in the best interests of getting these artists healthy.’

When, in 2007, Amy suffered the first of a series of drug-induced seizures, she told her mother: ‘I don’t think I am going to survive that long.’

Janis then commented publicly: ‘It’s almost as though she’s created her own ending.’

According to Alex Haines and another of her friends, Amy predicted that she would join the ghostly ranks of the 27 Club.

Blake, meanwhile, took perverse pride in scoring drugs for him and his wife.

‘Mad as it sounds’, he explains, ‘it’s the only thing I was bringing to the table for a while, because I couldn’t match her financially.’

As Amy became dependent on drugs and on Blake as her supplier, she lost interest in her career.

And when Blake was arrested for conspiring to bribe a man he’d allegedly assaulted, Amy’s performances became eccentric.

Some people went to her shows just to see what crazy thing she’d do next, as fans had once gone to gawp at Jim Morrison.

‘She looked like a concentration-camp inmate,’ says her musician friend John Altman of her appearance at a concert in late summer of 2008.

Altman, who’d jammed with Hendrix in the 1960s, doubted that she’d even live to see Christmas.

In fact, she managed to kick crack and heroin, but only by turning to alcohol, becoming a hopeless drunkard in her last years.

The worldwide success of Back To Black seems to have inhibited Amy, who came to dislike singing the songs that had made her famous and lost confidence in herself as a performer.

Yet she was still a superb and powerful vocalist, whose sad life story was present in her voice.

Of her last significant recording, a duet with Tony Bennett, producer Gordon Williams noted how different she sounded from when he’d worked with her on Frank.

‘I heard how tired she was… it actually made me cry.’

At her final concert in Belgrade, it wasn’t clear to her band if she even knew where she was. Amy was unable or unwilling to sing. The audience booed and she hung her head and cried.

There’s a sense that by the summer of 2011, when she was 27, Amy was sick of her career and to some extent herself.

Like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, she’d become a prisoner of her image. She didn’t want to sing the Back To Black songs about Blake any more. She wanted a family, but she’d wanted that family with Blake.

Reg remained a semi-detached boyfriend, who never moved in with her, and he was absent at the end. So were other people Amy had depended upon and, in many cases, simply exhausted.

Like Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, a difficult childhood seemed to have created problems for Amy that poisoned her whole life.

She virtually threw that life away. She may not have meant to die when she did – two years ago this month – but she’d been living dangerously for a long time, and seemed weary at the end.

‘I didn’t want all this,’ she said backstage in 2008 to John Altman. ‘I just wanted to make music with my friends.’

You can buy Amy 27 by Howard Sounes on Kindle through Amazon by clicking on one of the buttons below.

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