Singer, performer. Born Amy Jade Winehouse on September 14, 1983, in the suburb of Southgate, North London. Her father, Mitch Winehouse, worked as a cab driver, while mother Janis was employed as a pharmacist. Winehouse’s upbringing was surrounded by jazz; many of her uncles on her mother’s side were professional jazz musicians, and her grandmother was once romantically involved with British jazz legend Ronnie Scott. Because of this musical background, Winehouse grew up listening to a diverse range of music, from James Taylor to Sarah Vaughan. At the age of 10, she became drawn to the rebellious spirit of TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, and other American R&B and hip-hop acts, and founded a short-lived amateur rap group called Sweet ‘n Sour.
At 12, Winehouse was accepted into the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School, and a year later she received her first guitar. But by the age of 16, Winehouse was expelled for “not applying herself” and piercing her nose. That same year, she caught her first big break when a schoolmate and close friend, pop singer Tyler James, passed her demo tape to his label, A&R, who was searching for a jazz vocalist. The opportunity led her to a record deal with Island/Universal.
Her debut album, Frank (2003), was a critically acclaimed mixture of jazz, pop, soul, and hip-hop. The album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize as well as two BRIT awards for Best Female Solo Artist and Best Urban Act. The debut single on the album, “Stronger Than Me,” earned the new artist an Ivor Novello award. Frank also hit double platinum status.
During this time, Winehouse began developing a reputation as an unstable party girl, often showing up to her club or TV performances too drunk to sing a whole set. She also started a tumultuos, on-again-off-again relationship with music video assistant, Blake Fielder-Civil, who admitted to introducing Winehouse to hard drugs. In public, the couples’ arguments often devolved into fist-fights and dramatic scenes. In private, their romance centered around drugs, alcohol, physical abuse, and even self-harm.
By 2006, her management company finally suggested that Winehouse enter rehab for alcohol abuse. Instead, she dumped the company and turned the experience into the lead single for her second, critically acclaimed album, Back to Black (2006). The song “Rehab,” which discussed her refusal to receive treatment for substance abuse, became an instant Top 10 hit in the U.K. and earned the artist another Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song. The album was also a critical success, winning the artist a BRIT award for Best Female Solo Artist and a BRIT nomination for Best British Album in 2007. Less than a month after her BRIT win, Back to Black made its American debut. It was an instant smash, hitting higher on the Billboard music charts than any other American debut by a British female recording artist in history. The album stayed in the Top 10 for several months, selling 1 million copies by the end of that summer.
In April of 2007, Winehouse’s relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil also blossomed into an engagement. Winehouse revealed that her romance with the 23-year-old was the inspiration for several of the Back to Black tracks. The couple married May 18, 2007, in a ceremony in Miami, Florida.
Unfortunately, when it came to on-stage appearances, Winehouse returned to her old habits. The first night of a 17-date U.S. tour opened to an incapacitated Winehouse, who showed up to perform while under the influence of illegal substances. The crowd at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, responded with boos and walk-outs. Winehouse responded to the crowd with sobbing and swearing. Her erratic behavior caused an uproar with fans and turned her into tabloid fodder.
Winehouse, an admitted marijuana smoker, was dogged by reports of continued drug abuse and strange behavior. On August 8, 2007, the singer slipped into a coma after overdosing on several drugs. First claiming exhaustion, Winehouse later told the News of the World that she overdosed after she had used a mix of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, whisky, and vodka during a bar crawl in London. The episode put a planned tour of North America on hold. The August 21, 2007, announcement indicated that Winehouse had been ordered to rest and was working with doctors to address her health.
Her European tour in October and November, however, was scheduled to continue. But while in Norway in October of 2007, an anonymous tip led police to the star’s hotel in Bergen, where she was arrested and held in prison overnight for marijuana possession. Winehouse, her husband Blake, and a third unidentified person were jailed. The trio was released after paying $715 in fines. In November, Winehouse’s husband was arrested again for allegedly offering a $400,000 bribe to a bartender he was accused of assaulting back in June. Shortly after he was taken into custody, the singer canceled all concerts and public appearances for the rest of 2007, again citing “doctor’s orders.” A month later, Winehouse was arrested on suspicion of attempting to interfere with her husband’s case. She voluntarily reported to a police station and was arrested before questioning. She later blamed her husband’s legal woes for her inability to continue her tour.
Despite her inconsistent touring schedule, Winehouse’s album continued to sell, going platinum nearly five times that year. It became the best-selling album of 2007 in the U.K.
In January 2008, a video allegedly showing Winehouse smoking crack cocaine surfaced, leading to a brief stint in rehab. She was arrested in May of 2008 for questioning, but wasn’t formally charged in the case after police said they could not officially determine what the singer was smoking. After publicly admitting to illegal substance abuse, Winehouse was denied a U.S. visa due to her “use and abuse of narcotics.” The visa prevented her from performing live at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Instead, the singer performed in London via satellite. During the evening’s ceremony, the artist won a record-breaking five awards, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. The awards tied Winehouse for the most Grammy wins made by a female artist in a single night, and made Winehouse the first British singer to win five Grammys.
Despite her musical success, Winehouse’s health and personal life began quickly deteriorating. Her erratic behavior continued in June 2008, when she appeared to punch a fan during a performance at the Glastonbury Music Festival in England. Londoner James Gostelow, 25, told BBC News that Winehouse elbowed him in the forehead after someone in the crowd behind him threw a hat at her. In a widely circulated video of the incident, Winehouse was seen throwing a series of punches into the crowd. Gostelow said he had no intention of making a complaint to police, and Winehouse escaped criminal proceedings.
After the concert, Winehouse returned to a London clinic where she had been receiving treatment for “traces of emphysema” and an irregular heartbeat from smoking crack cocaine and cigarettes. Amy’s father told reporters that his daughter was warned that she would have to wear an oxygen mask if she didn’t stop abusing drugs. That same month, Fielder-Civil and his three co-defendants pled guilty to assault and obstruction charges. The courts released Fielder-Civil from jail time on the condition that he stay in a drug rehabilitation center for long-term treatment.
In November, the singer’s marriage dissolved. During Fielder-Civil’s court appeal to leave rehab, Winehouse spotted German model Sophie Schandorff mouthing “I love you” to the singer’s husband. Sources say that Winehouse’s spouse later told his wife that he wanted to end their relationship. “It’s over,” Winehouse told reporters. “There’s no way back for us now. It was never going to last.” In January of 2009, Winehouse’s spokesperson confirmed that divorce proceedings have begun between Fielder-Civil and Winehouse, claiming adultery as the reason for the split.
Regardless of personal setbacks, 2009 is proving to be another strong year for Winehouse. Her album, Back in Black, was declared the second-highest selling album in the world for 2008. She also earned entry into the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Grammy Awards Won by a British Female Act.”
In addition, Winehouse announced that she was starting her own record label, Lioness Records. The singer signed her 13-year-old goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield, as the first musician on the label. Rumors of another album for Winehouse were also circulating—while no official date was set for the release, industry insiders said the musician was learning the drums for the new record.
But the singer entered a downward spiral of drinking and drugs yet again, nearly disappearing from the public eye. She began to raise eyebrows again in 2011, when the singer began showing up intoxicated for her performances, slurring her speech and forgetting song lyrics. Winehouse then canceled her entire European tour in June 2011, after she had an emotional breakdown onstage in Serbia. “Everyone involved wishes to do everything they can to help her return to her best and she will be given as long as it takes for this to happen,” her official website stated. Winehouse would never make a full recovery, however; on July 23, 2011, the star was found dead in a London apartment after paramedics received a call for help from a Camden flat. Winehouse was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 27-years-old at the time of her death.