‘I want people to please, please recognise how close she was to being healthy’
A decade after the untimely death of Amy Winehouse and as her name hits the headlines again, the singer's best friend has opened up about her lifelong battle with her demons and wants her remembered in a different way.
To say that Amy Winehouse was a member of the 27 Club as she is frequently referred to is an injustice to the talent of this extraordinary female musician. Truly, there never was, nor has been since her death, a voice quite like hers with its deep, expressive contralto vocals. So much power and emotion in lyrics she penned about subjects light and dark be it in the throes of addiction or love – her gift was a rarity and the cultural landscape is lessened without her in it.
But when she died a decade ago, the tabloids in Britain had already documented her ‘life’; her demons from bulimia to her addiction to drink and drugs and tumultuous marriage and divorce. They hounded her when her phenomenal sophomore album Back to Black catapulted her into superstardom – every unflattering photo they could get was published – and as she struggled to cope with the pressure of her newfound fame, her addiction worsened.
However, Tyler James, who knew Amy Winehouse from the age of 13 and shared her home in Camden, London says he knew a different Amy. Best friends for years, the pair had supported each other through the same additions but he lived and tragically, she did not.
Speaking to The Times James, also a singer, said he left the home two days before Winehouse’s death following an argument with her, in the hope that it would shock the singer into curbing her binge drinking. “I was running out of ideas,” he said.
She is remembered the wrong way, he says, and explained it was her strength she should be known for, not as a “doomed person.”
“I want people to please, please recognise how hard she had worked to come off drugs and just how close she was to [giving up drink] for good, how close she was to being healthy. She was so, so close to being exactly where I am. ”
Amy was a girl in her twenties suffering from addiction, and everybody was a part of it. Everybody was watching it. When you go to rehab, you have to be the strongest you’ve ever been in your life, when you are the weakest you’ve ever been in your life. And she had to go through that in front of people. I want people to know what it was, to stop seeing her as this doomed person.
Fame was the start of what would lead to her death.
“I wanted to tell what it was like for her, having to actually live in that world,” James added (he has written a book My Amy detailing their friendship). “With that level of fame, that level of intrusion, that lack of privacy. I don’t think people really realize the effect that has on a person. She craved normality. The biggest thing that f—-ed Amy up was being famous.”
“Amy went through a lot. It was hard for her. It was a different time back then. If you were famous, you could be hounded. They didn’t care how that affected your mental health, or if it was making your addiction worse…. I don’t blame the music industry. I don’t blame Amy’s management. I blame addiction. That’s what I lost my friend to.”
What he reveals is a woman who wanted to forgo being famous – she once referred to it as “terminal cancer” – and sadly how he has never recovered after losing her.
Producer Mark Ronson who worked with her on Back to Black has also said this week he wishes he had been, “more upfront” about her addiction.
“Obviously, we had our ups and downs and it was troubling,” he told the Irish Times. “I don’t know if I fully loved the way that I behaved around her. When she was going through addiction, I wish I’d been a little bit more upfront or confrontational about it. But I just was like: ‘Ah, she’ll sort it out – she did it already once.’”
A sobering reminder of a “once-in-a-lifetime voice” which we got in exchange for the life of the person who wielded it quite unlike any other.
For support services relating to alcohol or addiction, please see citizensinformation.ie