The demise of Amy Winehouse stands out as a particularly dark day in music history. At just 27 years old, the British musician passed in July 2011 after years of well-known struggles with alcohol and controlled substances. The singer skyrocketed to fame at a young age following the release of her second album, Back to Black, in 2006. Her passing was a shock to millions of people around the world, though her struggles in life were met with everything from disdain to outright laughter.
The documentary Amy changes the story around Winehouse's dark descent. While her downward spiral was clearly documented in the public eye, the real story was often lost in the pages of tabloids that focused on her failings but not the reasons behind them. Through personal home videos, accounts from Amy's parents Janis and Mitch, stories from close friends, and even input from Amy's ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, the documentary paints a picture of a different Amy - one struggling to deal with the pressures of enormous fame and trying to find her place in the world as a young adult.
By presenting the full story of Amy's rise and fall, the documentary shows a clearer picture of Amy Winehouse. Even more, the film sheds light on the darker side of fame, and the toll it takes to have your entire life available for public consumption.
While on the surface Amy appeared to be a wild child with no fears to speak of, inside she struggled with childhood trauma. When Amy was only 18 months old, her father Mitch began an affair with another woman. Although he checked out of his family early in Amy's life, it wasn't until Amy was 9 that her parents officially divorced.
In the documentary, Mitch explains that he was too much of a coward to leave his wife, so he stayed in a marriage that he wasn't committed to for far too long. He also explains that he felt Amy got over it really fast. However, his statements are juxtaposed with the truth - that the separation hurt Amy more than he ever knew.
When her father left the family, Amy stopped trying to impress her parents. She started wearing more makeup, swearing, bringing her boyfriends around, and just generally breaking the rules. Amy herself explains that her dad was never around to bring any kind of guidance to her life, and her mother let her get away with too much. With her dad officially out of the picture, Amy saw no need to play the role of the good daughter.
However, the impact of Amy’s parents’ separation wasn't simply a matter of conjecture. During her first summer relationship with future husband Blake Fielder-Civil, Amy admitted that her dad leaving her mom prompted her promiscuous and self-destructive behavior. While she put on a good front, she was hurt by her father's infidelity - a fact that largely went unrecognized by her friends and family.
Amy was a naturally talented musician. Her swift rise to fame hinged in part on her ability to write emotional songs with painfully honest lyrics. However, her talent was rooted in her own emotional struggles.
Amy's friend and talent manager Nick Shymanksy offered to let her record in a studio, just for fun. As Nick realized her natural talent, he asked her if she ever tried to write a song. She said no, but she did write plenty of poems. Those works became the basis of her first emotional tunes.
Later in her career, Amy explained that her poems and eventual songs were an outlet for her dark thoughts. Although she took a prescribed antidepressant, she didn't understand what depression really was. She just knew that she didn't feel normal and that writing music gave her an escape. "I think it's a musician thing," Amy said in the documentary while discussing her mental health issues. "That's why I write music."
She went on to explain that plenty of people suffer from emotional issues who don't have an outlet. In that way, she felt lucky. She channeled her tumultuous emotions into her songs, barely realizing the impact her lyrics would have on the population.
Amy got her big break in the music industry when she signed with Island Records in 2002. At that time, she moved out of her parents house and into an apartment with her close friend, Juliette Ashley. She completed her first album, Frank, and toured around singing her music in small jazz clubs. She stopped working in January 2005 with the understanding that she would begin writing her second album. Unfortunately, her partying ways got the best of her.
Instead of writing the album, Amy spent most of her days drinking, playing pool, and generally goofing off. At this point, she bought a property in Camden and was living entirely on her own, meaning there was no one to intervene in her self-destructive ways.
It was also at this time that she met Blake Fielder-Civil, a club promoter with a bad reputation. The pair were immediately obsessed with each other, and the relationship further distracted Amy from writing her album. She couldn't find the time or the inspiration to write music, and she didn't seem interested in giving up nights out at the pub and days spent with Blake to work on her new career.
Amy met Blake Fielder-Civil at a pub in Camden. Although they were both seeing other people at the time, they immediately started a relationship. The pair spent the entire summer together, and rarely parted from each other's side. According to Amy's friends, she was deeply in love with him and truly believed they were meant to be together.
Amy's high hopes came to an end during a holiday in Mallorca with her friend, Lauren Gilbert. During that trip, Blake told Amy that he didn't want to leave his girlfriend. He said he just wanted to be friends. Amy lost it. She spent the entire holiday trying to get in contact with Blake. She was angry and bitter, but eventually realized the relationship was really over.
After her split with Blake, Amy's habits took a turn for the worse. She wasn't eating or sleeping well, and she would spend all day drinking. The documentary includes audio of Amy explaining that she reached for a bottle as soon as she woke up, and didn't stop imbibing until she passed out.
At this point, her closest friends - Nick, Juliette, and Lauren - realized that she needed help. Nick drove her out to the countryside and refused to take her home until she finally admitted that she had a problem. Although she resisted at first, Amy eventually agreed to seek treatment.