Amy Winehouse Finally in Rehab

July 29, 2011

Amy Winehouse, the London singer who died last week and famously sang that she wouldn't go to rehab, is finally in rehab.

It's too late for Winehouse, of course, but her image has been in rehabilitation mode since news broke of her death. Her death made international news, and tens of thousands of fans and mourners have paid their respects. Though the cause of death has not been determined, almost everyone assumes it was either a drug overdose or drug related.

After smash success and two well-received (and Grammy-nominated) albums years ago, Winehouse fell off the map. Her music was sidelined by brushes with the law and drug use. No one thought (or expected) much from beehived Winehouse in recent years. To most she was just another of a long list of talented has-been musicians whose genius was squandered through drugs. People were sympathetic to addiction, but pointed out that Winehouse chose her lifestyle, and in fact seemed to embrace drugs, famously disinterested in kicking her habits: "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'"

She had a long string of disastrous performances. Just a few weeks ago she was booed off a stage in Serbia. Fans had a right to boo: Winehouse showed up an hour late, was unprepared and unprofessional, stumbling and mumbling through her songs before fans had enough. If she couldn't perform, couldn't put on a good show, she should have cancelled. Musicians do it all the time when they are sick or not feeling up to it.

What a difference a few weeks (and a death) make. The public narrative of Winehouse's story was reframed so that she is now a victim and martyr to a life of success, excess, and addiction.

Interesting insight into this process can be found in the recent book Heroes: What They Do & Why We Need Them, by Scott Allison and George Goethals, both of the University of Richmond. They note that "A dead martyr appears to derive sympathy and support from two different sources. First, we know from our research on the death positivity bias that a person's death leads to great liking and admiration for that person. Second, most martyrs embrace underdog causes, and people tend to root for underdogs." In this case Winehouse's underdog status was her long and storied history of drug addiction.

This is nothing new, of course. Perhaps the most amazing posthumous image rehabilitation in the past decade was that of Michael Jackson. In the years before his death his musical contributions had long since been eclipsed by stories of sexually abusing children, his increasingly bizarre plastic surgeries, dangling his child off a balcony, and so on. Then he died of a drug overdose, and it seemed that all was forgotten, or at least forgiven. The narrative shifted from weird, possibly pedophilic freak trading on his success decades earlier to tortured genius on the verge of a comeback.

Winehouse was a talented singer, and her death is certainly a loss to the music world. No one knows if she would have ever put out another album, or put on another good performance. It's often been said that the best thing an artist can do for their career is to die young, and that was certainly true for Winehouse. Sales of her albums have gone through the roof, and she's far more popular in death than in life-due largely to rehab.