Amy Winehouse, the hard-living retro soul star turned tabloid obsession died in 2011 after a very public battle with addiction. The British musician memorably sang about her refusal to go to rehab, but then died due to problems from drugs, alcohol and bulimia. Amy was only 27 years old, and she was as famous for her personal struggles with addiction as she was for her music.
The new documentary Amy chronicles how a prodigious child from a broken home reluctantly finds fame, then self-destructs, potential unfulfilled, with a hand from enablers in her inner circle.
It avoids definitive finger-pointing, but there is enough blame — and guilt — to go around, with Ms. Winehouse’s family, management team and the gossip-mongering public all indicted to varying degrees.
Rather than focus entirely on Winehouse’s demise, the director (Asif Kapadia) sought to deconstruct the train-wreck narrative and junkie caricature —messy beehive hairdo, bruises and scars, smudged mascara— that dominated Amy’s later years.
“Get rid of the beehive. It’s a mask hiding the real Amy. Most people didn’t realize she was fun to be around,” Mr. Kapadia said.
But there were unsettling revelations as well. James Gay-Rees, a producer on Amy said, “It was darker than we had anticipated.”
Chris King, the film’s editor, said the Amy team found that the singer was spending about $16,000 a week on hard drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine at the peak of her usage.
The documentary details her binge drinking, as well as her largely overlooked bulimia. It traces Ms. Winehouse’s rocky relationships, including her marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil — a fellow addict who says he introduced her to hard drugs.
Her first manager Nick Shymansky describes trying to stage an intervention to get Winehouse into a treatment center in 2005, “She was in a bad place, and it had been going on for a while. I was very worried about her, it being long enough to realize that this wasn’t just a phase. And so myself [and Amy’s friends] Juliet and Lauren, we sort of rallied together, and it resulted in me taking her to rehab. She went to meet someone at rehab, agreed to go in on the condition that I took her to her father’s house, and she got his consent and his approval. I obviously stopped, called him to kind of just make sure he was on the same page, and he agreed he was on the same page. [But] by the time we got to the house, he had changed his mind — and, if anything, went against the idea of her going to rehab.”
The unsuccessful effort inspired her biggest hit, “Rehab.” In it, Amy sings, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no’ … I ain’t got the time, and if my daddy thinks I’m fine…”
The song became an albatross around her neck. “Rehab” made Amy Winehouse famous around the world. But her struggle to stay clean was complicated by competing interests and outside forces, including a management team eager to get her back on the road and a father distracted by fame.
Pleading their own defense, the Winehouse family said in a statement that “addiction cannot begin to be treated properly until the individual helps themselves,” adding, “Amy was an adult who could never be told what she could and could not do.”
On the night of her big Grammy win in 2008, during a sober period, Amy is shown celebrating with friends and family. Her takeaway: “This is so boring without drugs.”