MAKING SENSE OF AMY WINEHOUSE: Another Addict Reflects On An Awful-Feeling Celebrity Death

The news of Amy Winehouse’s death hit me like a truck. Here’s how I’m working through what happened.

Jul 25, 2011 at 8:59am | Leave a comment

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I was hugely, unexpectedly devasted to learn the news of Amy Winehouse's death on Saturday. When I first read about it on Twitter I literally slammed my computer shut, and couldn't open it up and read more about what had happened for a full minute.

And unlike when, say, Michael Jackson died, I still haven't hungrily eaten up the media coverage like I usually do, spending hours poring over the gory details in all the articles online.

Dude, it made me feel really, really f-ing sad.

Then on Saturday night/early Sunday morning, I broke down for 20 solid minutes about her overdose (which, I mean, is what it was). I woke up the not-my-boyfriend guy that I was sleeping with weeping that I was sorry, but that I needed to talk to somebody. I can't stop feeling sad about Amy Winehouse, I said. She was just a girl. I was sobbing so hard that I had snot all over my face (sorry, but I did) and my eyes were swollen shut.

Other than my home, New York, London is my favorite city, and one that I love most for its rock stars. I have stayed there for weeks at a time on my own.  I'm a superfan of the city's scene -- think Kate Moss, Pete Doherty (my most beloved celebrity and someone with whom Amy was very close – remember "Winemouse," or when all the tabloids claimed they were getting an apartment together?), and before them, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg.

I'm a huge Anglophile and I follow most fanatically Pete (whom the Telegraph recently called "the Piped Piper of heroin") and his rock band, Babyshambles. I am also a veracious follower of the UK papers which have chronicled his and Amy's every pace around her block for years now. Amy was the particular kind of star that I cherished: a “dirty glamour” icon of the London streets.

Now I obviously didn’t know Amy Winehouse, but I don’t really believe that the woman actively, meaningfully glamorized her addiction in the end. Or did she? Arguably, Amy just was glamorous, as a musician and a style icon, and she used drugs. Often I thought of doing an “unlikely beauty icon” story on her amazing hair, makeup and lashes. "Amy Winehouse eyeliner" alone is and will remain iconic in beauty lexicon. Same goes for her beehive.

I also loved her skinny jeans (even though you always knew that skinniness came from drugs, drugs, drugs); I loved her chic, filthy ballet flats (see "Amy Wears Ballet Flats To Court") which she wore out all over her bohemian-chic neighborhood, Camden, which is also where she died.

(I don't believe that I am being trite by emphasizing this: She, like me and other creative people in magazines, fashion and the arts, was hugely conscious and appreciative of iconography and glamour aesthetics. These things mattered.)

But the song "Rehab," in which she arguably most glamorized drug abuse and took sickness pop, came out near the beginning of her short mainstream career.

Toward the end, she didn't speak romantically of crack and heroin (which I'm guessing killed her) and act like she thought there was any glitz to her hideous but money-and-fame-enabled celebrity lifestyle. I watched as she tried again and again to get better, even moving all the way to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia -- where she reportedly took shots of tequila for breakfast -- to get away.

Or maybe that's bullshit. I can't tell. As someone who has romanticized/glamourized rock star junkies throughout my prescription-drug-devasted young adult life, I am famous among those who know me for my wildly skewed thinking. Amy wrote her ultra-successful and widely performed and self-promoted pop song not unlike I wrote a beauty product story for this site about needing to go to rehab in Connecticut. It is important to think seriously about addiction.  And maybe Amy didn't always. 

Russell Brand has written an achingly beautiful and heartbreaking essay about his friend for The Guardian, in which he remembered meeting her: she was "sweet and peculiar," but "most of all vulnerable." And more:

"All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they're not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they're looking through you to somewhere else they'd rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief."

Yes, I feel very bad for the unhappiness of her, the darkness that shrouded her, the vulnerability and the shame. It followed her everywhere, and you could see it in photographs.

But if you chase death, you'll find death.

In addition to being a young style icon and rock star, Amy was also a major, major drug addict. And she was a drug addict who became incredibly famous but who never owned it. She was powerful, but at the same time, she wasn’t powerful at all.

In the end, she ran from her pain -- toward death. She was Bambi fleeing from her bad feelings and demons, from flophouse to crackhouse to drug dealer apartment: the paparazzi captured it all. She was fragile, wild-eyed and shaky on painfully skinny, frail legs that nevertheless paced the streets of her wickedly enchanted forest -- also the city of her birth.

I believe she was -- not unlike Britney Spears throughout the infamous comedown from her ultra-hot girl fame -- severely uncomfortable in her own skin. Because she wasn’t beautiful. The media and Internet taunted her as often about her looks as they did about her addiction.

No, it wasn’t ever going to be easy to be Amy Winehouse.