By Alison Boshoff
Memories: Amy's father, Mitch, left, said that Amy enjoyed making other people concerned for her well-being
Her father Mitch remembers that when she was a child, Amy Winehouse used to pretend to be choking, or deliberately go missing in London’s Brent Cross shopping centre ‘just to get a laugh out of it’.
‘What she really likes,’ said Mitch, ‘is for people to worry about her.’
And worry about her people did. The past few years have been agonising to watch as the vulnerable singer so publicly played out her descent into a drug and alcohol-ravaged hell.
The tragic conclusion came on Saturday in the big home she bought with the £10million fortune from her ruined yet spectacular career.
Her father insisted only a few weeks ago that she was a recovering addict and had been clean of drugs for 18 months. What is clear, though, is that this prodigiously talented young woman had been recklessly seeking oblivion for some time.
In recent weeks she had been found several times by bodyguards passed out after frightening binges on vodka. She would drink out at night in the bars near her home in Camden, North London, with a crowd of toadies and hangers-on.
An addiction to alcohol had replaced her previous dependencies on heroin, cocaine and crack.
Even though Amy, who as a teenager was an enthusiastic smoker of marijuana, was warned in late May that she had to stop drinking or it would kill her, she was not able – or willing – to.
At one point this spring she confided in a drinking buddy that she felt that only Blake Fielder-Civil, the grammar school dropout and junkie who was her ex-husband, could ‘save her.’
Two of a kind: Amy with ex husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who she felt at one time could put her life back on track
Who knows if she meant it? Blake is currently behind bars for his part in a burglary, and Amy had many times promised her family she would stay far away from the man widely blamed for accelerating her descent into drugs. Within three weeks of their marriage in 2007 she had a near-fatal overdose.
Attempts by both parents to intervene had come to nothing. At times she was sweet, but she would never be told what to do. ‘For most of her life, I’ve been aware of needing to keep an eye on her,’ her mother Janis said.
‘She’s reckless, very determined and if she wants to do something she will just do it. No one can stop her once she’s made her mind up. She never thinks of the consequences.’
This summer was bleak for Amy. Her on-off boyfriend, film director Reg Traviss, told her he couldn’t help her any more. She was said to be ‘inconsolable’ at the end of their love affair.
And she had gained a reputation in the business as a ‘write-off’. Plans to stage a summer comeback had been abandoned after a disastrous drunken performance in Belgrade last month.
Her management had hoped that getting back on the road would re-awaken her appetite for work – and everyone in her team and at her label, Universal, was trying to persuade her that now was the time to release the third album she had been working on over five long years.
Amy rejected those pleas, saying the lyrics were too obsessed with Blake and their failing romance. The irony is that, now she has gone, a way will almost certainly be found to release the album. It will almost certainly be a smash hit.
The story of Amy Jade Winehouse is a tragic but salutary tale of the devastating effects of fame on a headstrong girl from a broken home who had a desperate hunger to be indulged and adored.
Even recently there were glimpses of the fragile child she was when fame found her. She still liked to suck lollipops and was photographed cuddling her father with her thumb in her mouth.
Born in September 1983, Amy was brought up in a middle-class Jewish home in the suburb of Southgate, North-West London. Mother Janis was a pharmacist and her father Mitch was a taxi driver who spent increasing amounts of time away from home, as it turned out romancing a woman who became Amy’s stepmother. Her parents separated when she was nine.
Her father said she was terrifyingly stubborn even as a child, and others say she would always run rings around her gentle mother Janis.
She went to state secondary school Ashmole, then left for the Sylvia Young Theatre School to follow her musical ambitions. She said she was asked to leave for having a nose-ring; others say the school was desperate to keep her on, but her attitude was too intractable.
She was taken on by Simon Fuller’s 19 management at only 17 after being spotted performing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Her debut album, Frank, went triple platinum.
She became noted for her outspoken persona and for championing the smoking of ‘weed’. Her parents despaired – but by then she was a teenager feted by the music industry, so why should she care what they said?
Soon Blake Fielder-Civil, a music video assistant, entered the picture. He had another girlfriend and Amy said later: ‘Whenever he spent the night with her, I would hit the bottle for comfort. I was even drinking first thing in the morning. By early afternoon, I’d be in a mess.’
Close friend and collaborator: Amy struck up a special relationship with producer Mark Ronson, pictured performing with the Back To Black singer at the Brit Awards in 2008
The experience inspired the writing of her definitive album, Back To Black, released in 2006. The song Rehab came about because Fuller, who soon quit as her manager, wanted her to go to rehab and she sang to producer Mark Ronson: ‘I said no, no, no.’ Within a few hours they had written the song.
By now, she and Blake were embarking on a folie a deux of drugs, drama and jealousy.
She dropped four dress sizes in a matter of months, but blamed the stresses of touring and promotion. She admitted she was existing on no more than two hours of sleep a night and said: ‘When you do a show, your adrenaline is so high you have to smoke or drink yourself down, or go out.’
She entered rehab briefly in 2006 – then in May 2007 she married Blake while on a promotional trip to Miami.
She had not told her mother Janis that they were planning to marry, and Mitch – who did know – had begged her not to do it. Amy was deliriously happy. ‘Every day is like a honeymoon, being married to the best man in the world,’ she said.
Three weeks later she nearly died from an overdose, and was taken to hospital. She began to cancel gig after gig. When she did turn up, her performances started to become erratic.
She and Blake had a terrible row in Soho and were photographed, wild-eyed, at 4.30am. Her pink ballet pumps were stained with blood, apparently from injecting heroin between her toes.
She went into the Priory, briefly. Her mother said she was playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with her health and her talent, and added: ‘She won’t stop until she sees the point of stopping.’ Blake’s mother said she thought the pair were killing each other.
At her lowest point in 2008, she was filmed smoking crack using a home-made bong. Blake, who admitted he had introduced her to the drug, was jailed that July for his part in a bar fight.
Amy went to St Lucia for a holiday over the Christmas of 2008, and extended that stay for a year and a half. In this period she appeared to wean herself off heroin and crack, although she continued to self-harm – saying the pain helped her with the withdrawal. She reassessed her relationship with Blake, saying: ‘The whole marriage was based on drugs.’
Her label Universal was desperate for its fragile star to make music, flying out a producer and creating a studio. It seems she failed to lay down anything which it wanted to release and nothing of these sessions has been released.
Unwashed and barefoot, she was seen drinking heavily – six shots of tequila for breakfast – and drinking all day. She was taken to hospital several times.
At one point, guests at Le Sport hotel saw her crawling on all fours, in search of drinks. She was lonely. Mitch went out to see her but left, saying that only she could make herself get well again. Five days later she was back in hospital again, with chest pains.
Her mother Janis said they had to stand back. ‘It’s another demon she has to beat. She came off drugs on her own, so I know she’ll stop drinking so much, too. It has to be her decision, though. No one else can stop her.’
Then Blake got another girl pregnant, and he and Amy began the process of getting a divorce. However as recently as January 2010 she was still talking to anyone who would listen about wanting to have a baby with him.
She desperately wanted to be loved. But as her addiction to alcohol continued, her health problems multiplied. She was in the early stages of emphysema, but continued to smoke cigarettes. But it was her love of vodka which was so disturbing. No one who went out with Amy had ever seen anyone drink so much, so fast.
Mick Jagger, who sang with her, said: ‘Everyone goes through this sort of thing when they become very famous. Hopefully Amy will come out the other side.’ But for her, there was no rescue.