David Earl Johnson, LICSW

4 minute read

Tragically another music icon ends an incredibly creative life at age 27. Besides the uncanny fact that so many (10) incredibly talented musicians who died at 27, there is the other apparent truth that they all had everything their peers could have wanted. They were incredibly successful, had huge fan base, and were selling albums and tickets to concerts galore. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Ms. Winehouse said living dangerously generated her creativity, and she was often photographed half-dressed, wild-eyed and disheveled. The English tabloids reported she had suffered brain damage from excessive use of drugs and alcohol.”

Amy Winehouse at the Eurockéennes of 2007

Image via Wikipedia

Teresa Wiltz’s early 2007 profile of Winehouse foreshadowed the singer’s brief career, noting that her song “Rehab,” seemed all too poignant at times.

“Onstage, the more Amy Winehouse drinks, the better she sings, which is often the case. She’s the hottest voice you’ve never heard — her album hit No. 1 back home in England — but right now, at her first U.S. concert, her nerves are bedeviling her. She makes awkward chitchat in that cockney twang. Tugs distractedly at her trademark ratty do. Yanks nervously on the strapless shift that’s sliding dangerously south.

Finally, she requests an amaretto sour — to hoots of approval. It’s a part of her shtick, what her fans have come to expect.” We may never know exactly what led up to her death. An initial post-mortem proved inconclusive. A toxicology report is due within a few weeks. Her family insists that she’d quit drugs years before, and had recently quit alcohol. Family speculated that she may have had a withdrawal seizure or gone into shock.

There is no evidence that she was suffering from depression. In my experience however, depression is often a factor in drug or alcohol abuse. Artists have a unique ability to express their thoughts and feelings in their chosen media, in this case music. Songs of psychological pain are common, and certainly only a small number of authors are depressed or suicidal. Sadness and other negative feelings help color our world, help us appraise our environment, especially in novel situations or with unexpected elements.

Most of us can make some sense of our experiences and move on with new information with ourselves. Some however see negative feelings as evidence of a deeper problem in themselves or see them as signs of a flawed character. The misery of such knowledge without solution can lead a craving to escape it in self destructive ways. Drugs and alcohol is one of those methods.

Without help to find a way out, they may spiral downward into a self-image that is full of shame. Shame feeds the cycle of self-destructive escape and further misery until the trap seems inescapable. As symptoms worsen, concentration and focus deteriorates, relationships flounder, mood plummets until appetite disappears and even the escape of sleep is lost. Temporary escape becomes a preoccupation until it too fails to satisfy. Then, the only escape becomes self-destruction. In simplistic terms, this describes how negative feelings and self-talk can lead to depression and perhaps even suicide.

It is truly tragic that so many of our most talented artists die so young. The stresses of being in the public eye with so much money on the line I’m sure are overwhelming. There is a tragic cost to fame and fortune. Perhaps more awareness of drug and alcohol abuse and depression will save lives in the future.

RIP Amy Winehouse.

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