Amy Winehouse died today, and you can read all about it on the righteous Huffington Post obituary that reminds us her demise was just a “slo-mo car crash.”
Her death is not altogether shocking, but it is disturbing nonetheless.
In a sense, her artistic marketability stemmed from a bad-girlification of 1960s soul music. She was a skinny, tatted-up tough girl from working-class London, with big hair and a voice to match. Her struggles with (or seeming acceptance of) drug addiction only enhanced her reputation as a true entertainer, one with moxie, attitude, and presence.
Fans relished her bad behavior, cheering lyrics like “You love blow and I love puff” (“Back to Black”) and “I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good” (“You Know That I’m No Good”). Her refusal to go to rehab was celebrated in a Grammy-winning song (“Rehab”), in which Winehouse admits to suffering from addiction and depression.
This glorification of mental illness and self-destructive behavior sends mixed messages to those who also struggle with these issues. Winehouse’s drug use was not only acceptable but legitimized by her celebrity status. This was a double validation: Her drug use fed into her being perceived as a rock star, and her being a rock star forgave her drug use. And now she’s dead, and no one’s surprised.
So what does it take to remove the idolatry from substance abuse? The wasted talents of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and many others including Amy Winehouse now, have all developed into a tragic mythos of “forever young,” without acknowledgement of what really ripped these creative beings from our midst. The real scourge is untreated illness, the exaltation of which prevents honesty, recovery, and true grit from being communicated to a public sold on the dangerous cheapness of entertainment.