Amy Winehouse was one of the most extraordinary jazz singers of this generation -- and her self-destructive ways, dysfunctional family, bad marriage, and the insane, invasive nature of the media all ensured an early end.
The new documentary Amy is truly heartbreaking and it must be seen -- as a cautionary tale as well as a celebration of her amazing accomplishments and her far-too-short life. I'm also moved and mad enough to write because who is going to be the next Amy or Whitney or River Phoenix?
I remember driving in Cambridge, Massachusetts one day in 2008 when her song "You Know That I'm No Good" came on the radio. I was floored. The sexiness and sultriness of the song and her rich, full voice were unlike any other music of the time. I immediately became a huge fan, played her songs incessantly (driving my kids crazy), and watched in horror as she descended into the inferno of fame, drugs, and an eating disorder.
I think we all knew the outcome wouldn't be good for Amy if she didn't get help. And she didn't. I'm currently training to become a substance abuse counselor, and it's important to know that the client has to do the work and must want to achieve the goal of abstinence or it won't happen. Amy didn't want it, just as she stated in her Grammy-winning song, "Rehab". (As the adult child of a heroin-addicted father, who died at the age of 37 from drugs, I found watching scenes of Amy stoned out of her mind very disturbing. Being "out of it" is not cool. It's just sad.)
There's lots of wonderful footage of Amy as a 14 year-old girl, when she was sassy, precocious, and quite voluptuous. She tells her parents that she found a new diet -- where she could eat all she wanted and then just throw up afterwards. She got no response from her parents, and her bulimia, according to doctors, contributed to her death.
As an actress, anorexia and exercise bulimia ruled my existence for many years; and it frustrated me when Amy's friend said that she would ask him why she wasn't getting her period. When you are too thin, you develop amenorrhea, which means your body doesn't menstruate (I've been there several times) -- no one told her that. Another friend of Amy's commented that it was almost as if she wanted to disappear. That's characteristic of an eating disorder -- the desire to vanish, to go back to having a prepubescent body and lose your breasts and sexuality. Amy became frighteningly rockstar skinny before our eyes and no one said a word.
Where the hell was everybody?
Her substance abuse and her bulimia were cries for help and no one came.
Yes, she had a self-destructive streak, but she also had an incredible sweetness and earthiness and seemed to really hate all the attention, preferring to simply focus on her music. Fame and greed drove her father and manager to keep booking her when she really needed to be out of the limelight, her mother was curiously absent, and her marriage to her bad-boy husband revolved around their mutual love of drugs and alcohol. The "Day of Locust"-like frenzy of the media also contributed -- all rendering it impossible for Amy to take care of herself, and be nurtured back to the girl she was before drugs and alcohol took hold.
My husband handed me a clipping several years back, when Amy famously appeared so stoned on stage in Europe that she couldn't perform. She was booed off the stage by angry fans. I'm ashamed today to say that I, too, was angry with her - "Ugh. Another self-destructive rockstar!" After seeing the film, I only wish I had opened my mind and heart years ago to see that she desperately needed help. Drug addiction has become pervasive in our country and is destroying the lives and family members of far too many. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, last year more than 24.5 million people in our country were treated for illicit drug or alcohol abuse.
If our role is parent or friend, we need to answer calls from those who need help -- whether they are verbalized or are being acted out in the forms of drug abuse and eating disorders. For many addicts, it takes several attempts at abstinence before they are out of the woods and they and their family can trust that they have truly recovered. Addiction is an insidious disease and any number of things can trigger a relapse.
And as fans (and certainly the agents, producers, and promoters), we need to encourage sobriety from our public figures. Robert Downey Jr. is a wonderful example of a star, who after several attempts at sobriety, hit rock bottom, and then finally found his way to lasting recovery and has become more successful than ever. Perhaps we can find compassion for those who are suffering before our very eyes -- even if they are rich and famous. Especially if they have a unique gift that they have so generously shared with us. It will make Amy's legacy all the more meaningful.