A lost soul and the culture of self-destruction
Published in: Daily Mail
What a deeply sad waste of a young and talented life. The sudden death of the singer Amy Winehouse, whose body was found at the weekend at her London home, has appalled even those who know little of her music.
The singer had battled drug and alcohol addiction for years, and while the cause of her death has initially been put down to drink, there are reports she bought drugs the night before she died.
Such a death is inevitably shocking. Yet it could hardly be said to have been a surprise since she was so clearly hooked into a spiral of self-destruction.
Indeed, three years ago her mother, Janis, said she was watching her daughter slowly kill herself. Whatever demons were driving her, she was clearly addicted to behaviour that would most probably end her life. But she didn't care. And at the age of 27, this lost soul finally succumbed.
It's a tragedy for her parents and family, who were forced to watch her disintegration. But it's also a tragedy with far wider implications.
It is always awful to see a young life cut short for whatever reason. But to see it wilfully destroyed is far worse. And to see such talent squandered and degraded is worse still.
The terrible contrast between the singer's glorious voice and the debased conclusion to her once glittering career, as she stumbled around a Serbian stage last month too drunk to remember her own lyrics and being booed and jeered by the crowd, was stark indeed.
Unlike other celebrities living debauched lives, her relentless self-destruction was especially painful to watch because she appeared to be so very vulnerable. The prodigy whose early album pictures show a plump and cheery girl distressingly degenerated into a thin, nervy waif who was locked into some private hell.
Her fate serves as a terrible warning about the vicious cycle of drug-taking and alcohol. For these progressively enslave and destroy an individual's personality so that it becomes increasingly difficult to break free. And the damage done by drugs to the brain and body - some of it untreatable - kicks in at a fraction of the intake required to achieve the same level of damage by alcohol.
The singer went through a process of 'cold turkey' to get her off drugs - but she turned instead to alcohol and the whole sorry process of disintegration inexorably continued.
True, she herself chose the louche lifestyle that eventually claimed her life. But many others were complicit.
The man she married, Blake Fielder-Civil, reportedly first introduced her to hard drugs. And drug-taking is commonplace in the celebrity circles in which she moved. But responsibility should surely extend much more widely. For the fame of Amy Winehouse did not rest solely upon the quality of her voice. Her public appeal also lay in the very lifestyle that has now killed her.
The soap opera of her deeply dysfunctional life boosted her appeal and commercial value. Indeed, this is openly acknowledged.
At the weekend, commentator India Knight wrote (after telling us all how devastated she was by the singer's death): 'And I loved that she was a bad girl with bad appetites: a breed that, with her passing, heads further into extinction.'
Even given this particular consequence of a 'bad appetite' for drugs and alcohol -- a wholly avoidable and tragic death over which she says she weeps -- Ms Knight appears actually to regret that there is now one person fewer to behave in this way.
What is this utterly perverse yearning for yet more bad behaviour and self-destruction? And doesn't such a comment itself add to the climate of indifference or even approval which makes such tragedies even more likely?
Amy Winehouse was described elsewhere as a 'poster child for drug addiction'. More than that, she was a poster child for self-destruction.
But, for some people, self-destruction has its own fascination and glamour. They shared vicariously in her torment, lapping up news of her latest excesses -- assuming, in the fantasy world they appear to inhabit, that she would eventually vanquish her demons.
Those fantasies are promoted by the entertainment world in which she lived and died, and which positively lionises and encourages the self-destructive behaviour that brings in such handsome rewards.
Much of the marketing of such stars cynically milks the appeal of the 'wild child' and the prurient fascination of the public with celebrity lives careering out of control.
Indeed, the music and fashion industries appear to regard their excesses with unlimited indulgence - as long as nothing stops them raking in the profits.
Some six years ago, the supermodel Kate Moss was caught on camera apparently inhaling cocaine. Her disgrace, however, was merely a temporary blip. After losing many of her modelling contracts and a brief spell in rehab, she was soon in as much demand as ever.
But far worse, she is now the face of a new lipstick for Dior named - astoundingly - 'Dior Addict'. So it would seem that Dior is explicitly using Ms Moss's own history of cocaine addiction as a way of boosting the commercial appeal of its lipstick. Just how cynical and irresponsible is this?
Nor is the fashion and entertainment world alone in winking at substance abuse. Earlier this month, the singer Pete Doherty was allowed home under curfew just six weeks into a six-month sentence for cocaine possession.
It was his third spell in jail, and the judge who sentenced him remarked on his 'appalling record', which includes at least 13 previous court appearances. Yet none of this 'appalling record' puts him behind bars for a serious length of time; nor does it cause more than a ripple in his career.
More broadly still, Britain has now degenerated into a culture of deregulated pubs and clubs, seemingly intent on luring an entire generation into alcoholism.
Even the young royals are regularly pictured staggering out of some fashionable nightclub or other, very much the worse for wear.
Alcohol abuse is out of control through the imbecilic Labour policy of allowing pubs to open all night.
And drug-taking has been tacitly encouraged by the Great And Not-So-Good, those well-heeled but grossly irresponsible committee clones who have decided that illegal drugs are not as damaging to society as the laws that keep them illegal - and who have accordingly helped present drug-takers as romantic rebels against the system.
People like me have warned for years about the consequences of all this sloppy thinking. But such warnings have been brushed aside by a society that has decided to inhabit a never-never land where evidence, morality and common sense are denied.
With the sad and sordid death of Amy Winehouse, the fantasy now lies shattered. Here instead was the ghastly reality - which goes way beyond the selfdestruction of one young singer.
How many ordinary lives have been shattered, after all, because of the addictive example set by such celebrities and the massive influence they wield as style and fashion icons over the impressionable young?
With Britain awash in drugs and alcohol and with the resulting breakdown in order, the sad fate of Amy Winehouse should indeed make us weep - both for her, and for what it tells us about modern Britain.