Today, as you may have by now remembered or been reminded, is the first anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s untimely passing. It is hard to believe how it was a year ago we found out about the death of a legend in the making. Finally on her way to win the long battle against drugs, Amy had finally succumbed to her first vice – alcohol. Aged only 27, Amy was found dead at her North London home after an alcohol binge the night before.
Then just six months later the world mourned the passing of another troubled woman, at a different stage of her career as ironically the night before the biggest music awards globally, the Grammys, the legend that is Whitney Houston was found drowned in the bathtub of her hotel room in Beverly Hills on 11 February, 2012. At a time when she was desperate to resurrect her career almost brought to ruins due to years of drug abuse, she had lost her battle.
One woman had so much talent, potential and promise, cut short by her alcoholism while the other had so much talent and yet so much more to offer a world already dazzled by her talent overshadowed and shorn to bits by her drug abuse.
Much was said about both women, their vices, their family and their significant others, and yet I feel so much was left unsaid, in my opinion. In the aftermath of the death of any celebrity under suspicious circumstances or due to drug or alcohol abuse, both the media and the fans, and the families are often too quick to find a scapegoat to point the fingers at. And this was pretty much the case following both Amy’s and Whitney’s deaths. Amy’s grieving father Mitch Winehouse blamed – and to date blames – Blake Fielder-Civil, her former partner, for her spiral into hard drugs (In his recently released book, Amy, My Daughter, he calls Fielder-Civil “the biggest low-lifescumbag that God ever put breath into” for introducing her to drugs.) In Whitney’s case the fingers were pointed at her family and management who continued to turn a blind eye to Whitney’s drug abuse in order not to antagonise her and lose access to the ‘good life’ they had going for them; but no one bore the brunt of it worse than her ex husband and father of her daughter, Bobby Brown. While through their whirlwind romance, there were instances which showed clear as day they were not good for each other, most fans and media seemed to undergo collective amnesia that Whitney was not as clean cut as her label had so desperately wanted to make her look and she had dabbled in drugs long before Bobby came along.
While there is and will be much more said for years to come about these stars, and perhaps other troubled souls, most recently Sage Stallone, Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone’s son who was found dead on Saturday with prescription drugs in his system, who may yet go too soon, perhaps the most important thing still gets left unsaid or uttered in hushed tones – we still have a long way to go, as society or as experts even, to understand the workings of a troubled mind. Perhaps a psychoanalyst will write an article in a national publication, or a counsellor will go on a morning show and talk about alcohol abuse and rehabilitation facilities but that will be the end of it until the next celebrity death.
What we often forget is that a troubled soul does not need an accomplice, or a facilitator or a devil incarnate; as they have plenty of demons inside to take them by the hand and lead them down the path of self-destruction, whether it is in the shape of alcohol, drugs, self-harm, eating disorder or sexual deviations. Remember Whitney’s ominous words to US presenter Diane Sawyer, “The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy” in the infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Bobby Brown by her side.
Perhaps it is not a surprise that those who struggle with the devil within are the same ones that have the talent and the beautiful minds to create the sort of work inspired by the heavens, whether it is in art, music or literature. As the darkness pulls them under beneath the surface, the light comes in the shape of a talent that can define, surpass and eventually perhaps survive them. No wonder these tormented souls put themselves up there time after time, open to ridicule and criticism, and yet hungry for approval and applause they so desperately crave. They walk on that edge where the power within, guided by angels, can birth peerless creations, or dragged by the demon, cause utter destruction.
The devil need not come dressed as Blake or Bobby, or Courtney – the devil is within, and as much as some see psychoanalytic explanations as a ‘get-out-of-stupid-behaviour-free-card’ to explain the most God-awful self-destructive patterns, it is sadly often fed by years and years of childhood insecurities, teenage troubles and adult worries.
The devil within in some cases is so powerful, as much as the yet-conscious mind knows that one glass of drink is a bad idea, or that the white powder on a silver platter will have a serious low come tomorrow, or the release of pain on the edge of that razor will only be momentary, it takes hold completely and clouds over that semi-conscious mind that still tries to utter words of reason in the face of imminent self-destruction.
Read the biographies of resurrected self-harmers such as Ozzy Osbourne, or Russell Brand, or Slash, you will find it takes not only years but a lot of counselling, support and an iron will to cast the inner demon aside and even then, it is only a few steps away, lurking in the shades, waiting to pounce at the slightest opportunity, whether it is the rim of a glass of alcohol or a 20 pound note.
The devil within is not a metaphorical villain, but one that is very real, and when next you are tempted to reduce the tragedy of a troubled mind to their stupidity, or judge them for their downfall, or point fingers at those closest, remember they each had a unique journey, a unique story, and an enemy within they just couldn’t overcome.