To speak ill of the dead might be warranted in certain contexts, particularly when it comes to perpetrators of horrific crimes and undue abuse. However, at what point does humanity give Grammy-award-winning artists like Amy Winehouse a break? What many immediately assumed to be a drug overdose fueled by a lifestyle of sex-drugs-rock-and-roll was apparently a death due to “alcohol poisoning.” However, officially it’s still unclear as to whether this is precisely what killed her in the end. Her co-occurring bulimia was often overlooked. With her cause of death not entirely transparent at first, many people and poets alike ran with the nature of her passing, often painting her as just another desperate member of The 27 Club – a tragic list and urban myth of exceptionally talented musicians (and various celebrities) who died at age 27.
Some interpretations of ‘The 27 Club’ even go as far as to describe this phenomenon as some sort of absurd “deal with the devil” that icons like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain made, having “sold their soul” for greatness (perhaps unbeknownst to them) in exchange for an early death at 27. Others see “the devil” as one’s addiction to various substances, a more plausible portrayal perhaps. Nonetheless, the following excerpt from poems like Dancing with the Devil by Roger Turner helps articulate this supposed “phenomenon” and cultural tendency to demonize those struggling with addiction and substance abuse.
“The Forever 27 club
playing in the band
Janis, Jim and Jimi
In hell, oh….ain’t it grand
We thought them all as angels
But, the truth it rings a bell
They were dancing with the devil
And they ended up in hell
Cobain and Amy Winehouse
Oh yeah, they’re down there too
Brian Jones and others
Playing hard rock and the blues
Sell your soul to Satan
Where you go…you do not choose
If you spend time with the devil
It’s nothing but bad news”
While many continue to shake their heads at Winehouse’s supposed “drug overdose,” her autopsy covered in the documentary Autopsy: The Last Hours of Amy Winehouse revealed no illicit drugs in her system at the time of her death. In fact, her fatal alcohol poisoning followed a period of abstinence whereby her reduced tolerance likely contributed. However, according to Dr. Jason Payne-James her autopsy also revealed that if it weren’t for her weakened immune system caused by her eating disorder that started when she was fifteen, her body may have survived the alcohol poisoning. The amount of alcohol she consumed before dying wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Winehouse either frankly. It was the combination of both that became fatal and not necessarily substance abuse alone.
Feature Image: Maureen Barlin, On Flickr, Creative Commons