To most, Winehouse will be defined by her drug obsession, erratic etiquette and the fact that her voice was as large as her beehive hairstyle.
Winehouse stumbled into fame in 2003. The British singer/songwriter holds 3 Ivor Novello songwriting and composing awards. Her debut album, Frank, was nominated for Mercury Prize; with her follow up album, Back to Black, being the third best selling album of the 2000s - below James Blunt and Dido.
Winehouse is a 5 time Grammy Award winner – and is the first British citizen, as well as tying the record by a female artist, to have won 5 Grammys in one night.
Amy Jane Winehouse was born into a Jewish family in Southgate, London, and is the daughter of a taxi driver.
At twelve, Winehouse won a scholarship at the Sylvia Young Theatre School. In her entrance examination, she wrote: “I want people to hear my voice and just forget their troubles.”
However, Winehouse was destined to be a rebel from a young age. Aged fourteen, she got a nose piercing - which lead to her exclusion. She later attended the Brit School in Croydon, before attempting conventional school - which wasn’t her forte either, so she dropped out of that too.
Winehouse began singing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Its co-founder Bill Ashton described her as “incredibly aggressive”. He said: “She didn’t listen to a word I was saying, just smoking aggressively, solidly.”
Winehouse worked at 19 Entertainment, a music and entertainment production company run by Simon Fuller – the man behind Pop Idol. After a 9 month relationship with a colleague, she wrote her debut album, Frank.
Frank was released in October 2003 on the Island/Universal label. Her manager Nick Godwin said: “I’m not sure if beautiful is the right word, but [her] voice was like nothing I’d ever heard before.”
The album blended jazz, pop, soul and hip-hop, with lyrics concerning her failed relationship. Stronger Than Me won an Ivor Novello for best contemporary song.
On receiving her first pay cheque, Winehouse moved into a flat in Camden.
Off the rails
2005 saw Winehouse throw herself into an on and off relationship with Blake Fielder Civil - a school drop-out and former video production assistant. She teamed up with producer Mark Ronson and wrote her second album, Back to Black.
Winehouse fell exhaustedly off the rails in 2006. Nick Godwin, her manager, described her as “the antichrist of pop”.
The troubled singer decided on her notorious 60s inspired beehive hairstyle and plastered her bony body with even more tattoos and piercings. To The Mirror, Winehouse admitted to “a little bit of anorexia, a little bit of bulimia”. She said: “I'm not totally okay but I don't think any woman is.”
In an interview with Q Magazine, Winehouse claimed that tattoos are “a way of suffering for things that mean a lot to you”.
On 4th October 2006, Back to Black was released, which reached number 1 on the UK charts and hit platinum. The album featured Rehab - a song which recounts her record label attempting to force her into a treatment facility. Winehouse decided to take care of the problem herself:
“I did [go to rehab], for just fifteen minutes.
“I went in, said 'hello,' and explained that I drink because I am in love and have screwed up the relationship. Then I walked out.”
Winehouse believed that: “Rehab is like Butlins. It’s a holiday camp. It’s an everyday thing for some people, like going to Tesco’s.”
Mark Frith, editor of Time Out, said: “There is no way that anything about the world of recording or being famous is going to modify her.”
Winehouse had huge potential. Stars such as George Michael admitted to being a fan. However, Winehouse had already firmly pressed the self-destruct button.
The New Statesman called her “a filthy mouthed, down-to-earth diva,” and a vast number of publications slapped their pages with photographs of Winehouse looking intoxicated and semi deceased.
Winehouse took her unstable relationship with Fielder Civil to the next level in May 2007, and the couple paid $130 in fees to marry in Miami. “I wasn’t put here to sing. I was put here to be a wife and a mum and look after my family,” she argued in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
She then splashed out on a tattoo which read “I Love Blake” above her heart; and was filmed showing her husband the same phrase that she had written on her stomach, using a shard of broken glass. “It’s just a chicken scratch,” she said, to both of their amusement.
In August 2007 Winehouse overdosed on a cocktail of drugs, including heroin and cocaine and was hauled into hospital, where she had her stomach pumped. The following morning, Winehouse made the news simply for being alive. “It just happened,” she told the News of The World.
Winehouse and Fielder Civil thought it best to check into rehabilitation centre “Retreat” in Essex. It was only a matter of days before they checked out, to holiday in St Lucia.
In October, she released Valerie that peaked at number 2 on the UK singles chart.
In 2008, video footage of Winehouse smoking crack cocaine flooded the press. The Sun described her as “a dead woman walking”. The tabloid mentioned a “temptation to drag her by her [newly dyed] egg-yellow hair round a ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital and show her the children fighting to stay alive”.
The remainder of the year saw Winehouse appear on Never Mind The Buzzcocks liquored up and asking for more; throwing up in the middle of her set at G-A-Y nightclub - and singing Michael Jackson’s Beat It whilst inebriated on the Charlotte Church Show.
Winehouse was arrested twice that year, once for assault after allegedly head butting a man and once in connection with alleged drug offences.
After being spotted in January 2009 in St Lucia with six-pack clad aspiring actor, Josh Bowman - Fielder Civil filed to divorce Winehouse on the grounds of adultery.
Winehouse entered a drug replacement programme, but was still drinking heavily. “For the last six months there's been a remarkable recovery,” her father said.
The divorce was granted in August 2009.
The singer told Glamour magazine in November 2010, that she “literally woke up one day and was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’”.
Written in the style of www.bbc.co.uk, on 07/02/2011.