Amy Jade Winehouse is born in London to father Mitchell, a salesman, and mother Janis, a pharmacy technician. Brought up in Southgate, north London, Winehouse's rebellious streak became evident early. "For most of her life, I've been aware of needing to keep an eye on her,” Janis Winehouse, has 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 but she never thinks of the consequences.”
She always loved music—her father would sing Frank Sinatra around the house, and as a child, she formed a rap group, called “Sweet n’ Sour,” with a friend. “She was always singing, even in school. Her teachers had to tell her to stop doing it in lessons,” says her mother.
After first playing around with her brother's guitar, Winehouse gets her own at the age of 13. She begins writing her own music, which her on-again, off-again boyfriend Tyler James sends to Simon Fuller's management company.
Winehouse, age 20, releases the highly-acclaimed debut album, Frank. The album, for which she's co-written all the songs, has a heavy jazz influence. The album ends up going platinum.
Winehouse is asked by Q magazine where she sees herself in 10 years. Her reply: “Well, I'll have at least three beautiful kids. I want to do at least four or five albums and I want to get them out of the way now. And then I want to take 10 years out to go and have kids, definitely. Goodness in life comes from a sense of achievement and you'd get that from having a child and putting it before yourself.”
With help from producer Mark Ronson, Winehouse records Back to Black, which is inspired by her on-again, off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a former video production assistant. Singles include, “Rehab,” and “You Know I'm No Good.” Winehouse has reportedly dropped three dress sizes since releasing Frank; the tabloids buzz about her extreme weight loss.
She and Fielder-Civil are married in Miami. The honeymoon doesn't last long: in June, Winehouse admits in an interview that she can be violent toward him when she's been drinking and in August, the two are photographed, bloody and bruised, in the London streets after an alleged fight.
Winehouse checks into a rehab after taking an overdose of substances said to include heroin, cocaine, ketamine and marijuana, only to wind up spending three days drinking in a Camden pub. Her mother, Janis Winehouse, tells the UK’s Daily Mail, “A part of me has prepared myself for this over the years. She has said to me, 'I don't think I'm going to survive that long.' It's almost as though she's created her own ending. She's on a path of self-mutilation, quite literally.”
The drama continues: Fielder-Civil is arrested and jailed for 27 months for attacking a pub landlord. She confesses on her concert DVD, I Told You I Was Trouble, "The more insecure I felt, the more I'd drink. The more insecure I feel, the bigger my hair has to be."
Winehouse is photographed wearing only a bra and jeans, looking disoriented and upset while wandering the London streets in the wee hours of the morning. Says her mother-in-law (per the Daily Mail), "She's taking more drugs than ever."
Winehouse tells a reporter, "Drinking long-term is a lot worse than doing heroin. Alcohol's a real poison…I’m a terrible drunk." That same month, video surfaces of Winehouse apparently smoking a crack pipe.
She wins five Grammys, including Best New Artist and Record of the Year. Says Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis, "I don't think anybody wanted to be giving awards to somebody for a song about not wanting to go to rehab. That's only funny if you don't have to go."
A sculpture of her, called “Excess,” goes on display at a London gallery. It shows her sitting on top of a smashed champagne bottle, her body covered in tiny pills. That same month, Winehouse is voted the Second Most Hated Personality in the United Kingdom. (The first? Heather Mills.)
A video surfaces in which Winehouse and a friend sing a racist version of the popular children’s song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The next day, she holds an impromptu press conference on her front stoop in which she apologizes and says, “I’m the least racist person going.”
Charged with assaulting a fan at Prince’s Trust charity ball in London in September 2008, Winehouse tells a judge that she is too short to punch anyone. “I had shoes on like this,” she says, showing off pink ballet slippers. “In fact, these are the very shoes I had on that night. Look, they don’t even have a sole. They don’t have a heel.”
Now 27, Winehouse performs a secret set at The 100 Club, in preparation for a 12-date European tour. It goes well. Says a fan, "Gone was the fragile, volatile and unpredictable Amy. She wasn't knocking back vodka on stage—and she definitely hadn't stopped by at the off-licence on her way to the gig."
The London Metropolitan Police are called to a Camden Square apartment where Winehouse lived; she's pronounced dead at the scene. "At this early stage," according to the statement, "it [cause of death] is being treated as unexplained." Earlier in the day, her manager had announced that she was canceling all scheduled performances. A flurry of shocked and saddened celebrities expressed their feelings about the news on Twitter, including Anderson Cooper ("such a waste of talent"), Ryan Seacrest ("incred talent"), and Rihanna ("I am genuinely heartbroken about this").
Alison Prato is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment journalism. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar U.K., Health, New York, Playboy and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, baby and dog. She previously wrote about Jeff Conaway for The Fix.
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