LONDON — Few artists summed up their own career in a single song — a single line — as well as Amy Winehouse. “They tried to make me go to rehab,” she sang on her world-conquering 2006 single, “Rehab.” “I said ‘No, no, no.’ ”
Occasionally, she said yes, but to no avail: Repeated stints in hospitals and clinics couldn’t stop alcohol and drugs scuttling the career of a singer whose distinctive voice, rich mix of influences and sensibility seemed to promise great things.
The singer was found dead Saturday by ambulance crews called to her home in north London’s Camden area, a youth-culture mecca known for its music scene, its pubs — and the availability of illegal drugs.
The London Ambulance Service said Winehouse had died before crews arrived at the house in leafy Camden Square. The cause of death was not immediately known.
The singer’s body was taken from her home by private ambulance to a London mortuary where post-mortem examinations were to be carried out either Sunday or Monday. Police said in a statement no arrests have been made in connection with her death.
It was not a complete surprise, but the news was still a huge shock for millions around the world. The size of Winehouse’s appeal was reflected in the extraordinary range of people paying tribute as they heard the news, from Demi Moore — who tweeted “Truly sad news ... May her troubled soul find peace” — to chef Jamie Oliver, who wrote “such a waste, raw talent” on the social networking site.
Rolling Stone’s Ronnie Wood said he was dedicating Saturday’s reunion performance of his band The Faces to Winehouse. “It’s a very sad loss of a very good friend I spent many great times with,” he said.
Winehouse was rare in an increasingly homogenized music business — an outsized personality and an unclassifiable talent.
She shot to fame with the album “Back to Black,” whose blend of jazz, soul, rock and classic pop was a global hit. It won five Grammys and made Winehouse — with her black beehive hairdo and old-fashioned sailor tattoos — one of music’s most recognizable stars.
In the end, the music was overshadowed by fame, and by Winehouse’s demons. Tabloids lapped up the erratic appearances, drunken fights, stints in hospital and rehab clinics. Performances became shambling train wrecks, watched around the world on the Internet.
Last month, Winehouse canceled her European comeback tour after she swayed and slurred her way through barely recognizable songs in her first show in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Booed and jeered off stage, she flew home and her management said she would take time off to recover.
Born in 1983 to taxi driver Mitch Winehouse and his pharmacist wife Janis, Winehouse grew up in the north London suburbs, and was set on a showbiz career from an early age. When she was 10, she and a friend formed a rap group, Sweet ‘n’ Sour — Winehouse was Sour — that she later described as “the little white Jewish Salt ‘n’ Pepa.”
She attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School, a factory for British music and acting moppets, later went to the Brit School, a performing arts academy in the “Fame” mold, and was signed to “Pop Idol” svengali Simon Fuller’s 19 Management.
Released in Britain in the fall of 2006, “Back to Black” brought Winehouse global fame. “Back to Black” was released in the U.S. in March 2007 and went on to win five Grammy awards, including song and record of the year for “Rehab.”
Music critic John Aizlewood attributed her trans-Atlantic success to a fantastic voice and a genuinely original sound.
The songs on “Black to Black” detailed breakups and breakdowns with a similar frankness. Lyrically, as in life, Winehouse wore her heart on her sleeve.
“I listen to a lot of ’60s music, but society is different now,” Winehouse said in 2007. “I’m a young woman and I’m going to write about what I know.”
Though she was often reported to be working on new material, fans got tired of waiting for the much-promised followup to “Back to Black.”
She also had run-ins with the law. In April 2008, Winehouse was cautioned by police for assault after she slapped a man during a raucous night out.
The same year she was investigated by police, although not charged, after a tabloid published a video that appeared to show her smoking crack cocaine. In 2010, Winehouse pleaded guilty to assaulting a theater manager who asked her to leave a family Christmas show because she’d had too much to drink. She was given a fine and a warning to stay out of trouble by a judge who praised her for trying to clean up her act.
In May 2007 in Miami, she married music industry hanger-on Blake Fielder-Civil, but the honeymoon was brief. That November, Fielder-Civil was arrested for an attack on a pub manager the year before. Fielder-Civil later pleaded guilty to assaulting barman James King and then offering him $400,000 to keep quiet about it.
Winehouse stood by “my Blake” throughout his trial, often blowing kisses at him from the court’s public gallery and wearing a heart-shaped pin labeled “Blake” in her hair at concerts. But British newspapers reported extramarital affairs while Fielder-Civil was behind bars. They divorced in 2009.
Her last public appearance came three days before her death, when she joined her goddaughter, singer Dionne Bromfield, on stage at The Roundhouse in Camden, just around the corner from her home.
Winehouse is survived by her parents and an older brother, Alex. Her father, Mitch, who released a jazz album of his own, was in New York when he heard the news of her death and immediately flew back.