Always close, Amy Winehouse and her dad, Mitch, shared her best moments (five Grammys on a magical night in 2008) and her worst (the arrests and rehab stints). One day in June 2011, the pair curled up to watch videos of Amy’s landmark performances. “She said to me, ‘Dad, give me a cuddle,'” Winehouse, 61, recalls. “I sat with her in my arms for an hour. That was extremely unusual. It was lovely; it really was.”
Just a few weeks later, Amy was dead. Subsequent tests found that alcohol levels in the 27-year-old singer’s system were five times the legal driving limit. Concluding that Amy had died from the “unintended consequence” of drinking too much, a coroner called her death a “misadventure.” Her father calls it “a terrible, unfortunate accident.” Over the years, he says, Amy conquered drug dependency only to fall prey to new addictions: extreme exercise, shopping, alcohol. Brief stays in rehab were good for little more than detoxing: “She felt the 12 steps [program] wasn’t for her,” Winehouse says. “She thought, ‘I can do it my own way; I’m going to come out of this the other side.’ But she didn’t. She should have sought psychiatric help. She never dealt with the underlying reasons.”
Determined that such “reckless” behavior should not be his daughter’s dominant legacy, Winehouse is marking the first anniversary of her death on July 23 with the publication of Amy, My Daughter, a memoir that captures the Amy he knew: “full of life, full of fun, full of vitality and full of mischief.” Proceeds will go to a foundation, named in her honor, that has already aided hospices for British youngsters and helped provide music education for kids in New Orleans.
The young Amy who emerges in her dad’s loving tribute is a playful, feisty girl who always had a parent on hand, despite their divorce when she was 10. Amy and her brother Alex, now 32, lived with their mother, Janis, 57, a pharmacist who suffers from multiple sclerosis. But most days, says Winehouse, then a taxi driver, “I would pick them up from school, take them for something to eat, take them home.”
Her early love of music showed such little promise, says Winehouse, that after he watched her deliver a school performance at 12, he said to his wife, “Thank God she can act and dance.” The following year Amy sang Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” “She nailed it, absolutely brilliant,” says the proud dad. She eventually moved on to London’s BRIT School-which specializes in performing arts-then onto the pop charts and her Grammy-winning album Back to Black.
By then she had begun a tempestuous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a former music-video assistant, whom Winehouse blames for introducing Amy to hard drugs. Along with memories of kicking a dealer out of her house and family interventions, Winehouse also recalls Amy telling him, “Dad, mind your own business.” After her two-year marriage to Fielder-Civil ended in 2009, she didn’t enjoy performing live anymore-especially her most famous songs from Back to Black. “They were about Blake,” says Winehouse, “and they took her back to a very dark period.”
And she had moved on: In her last year she settled down with film director Reg Traviss, 35, with whom she was “planning to have a family and get married,” Mitch says. That’s the Amy he wants to remember: the one who took three hours to stroll down a London street because she kept popping into shops to chat. What the still-grieving father doesn’t do much of these days is listen to his daughter’s music or watch those videos of her performing. “It really is difficult to look up onscreen,” he says, “and there you see Amy, vibrant and alive.”