I’d wager that Amy Winehouse fans – casual or otherwise – had a similar reaction to the 27-year-old singer and fashion muse’s death: tragic but not entirely unexpected. You’d only need to listen to a few tracks off her brilliant 2006 album Back to Black to know that Winehouse’s demons were the crux of her too-short existence.
Winehouse’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and mental illness became as much of a part of her identity as her black eyeliner and beehive hair. Her personal battles were relentlessly demonized in all-caps headlines splashed across the front page of tabloids and celebrity gossip websites.
We rolled our eyes when she was arrested – yet again – for drugs, assault or whatever trouble she found that day. We chuckled at yet another disastrous live performance caught on YouTube while quietly willing Back to Black producer Mark Ronson to dust her off and drag her into the studio for another round of that soulful, hip-hop-infused blues-rock we all craved – like in “Love is a losing game.”
Perhaps we owe it to Winehouse to take a step back and consider the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on our friends, families, neighbors, co-workers – and how these struggles are stigmatized by media and society. We run marathons for lymphoma, wear red for heart health and convince pro athletes to don pink cleats for breast-cancer awareness. What about depression? Eating disorders? Alcohol abuse?
We loved Winehouse for her unapologetic honesty and her take-no-prisoners attitude. But addiction and mental illness are far from easily conquered for even the strongest among us with a hearty support network. Now as we’re left to shudder when Rehab pops up on our playlists, let’s start reconsidering how we view substance abuse and mental illness before we lose another star, famous or otherwise.
–By Meg Wiegand