Amy Winehouse’s life, legacy and tragic death

Biopic Back to Black looks back at the life, legacy and untimely death of Amy Winehouse

NEWPORT, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 06:  Amy Winehouse headlines the main stage on day 2 of Bestival on the Isle of Wight, England.  (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)
Amy Winehouse pictured in 2006, the late singer is being given a biopic apart her life titled Back to Black which will explore her rise to fame. (Getty Images)

Back to Black is set to re-examine the life and legacy of Amy Winehouse, the legendary musician who died far too soon.

The film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, charts the singer's (Marisa Abela) rise to fame from her start in the music industry to her Grammy award-winning album that the movie takes its title from. It also explores the struggles she faced with addiction, and her personal relationships with her loved ones like her father Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O'Connell).

Read more: Back to Black review: Amy Winehouse biopic is touching if serviceable

Winehouse was the voice of a generation, and the movie aims to give her back some agency in death after a life marred by exploitation and tragedy. For those unaware of the singer's life and what happened to her, here is everything that you need to know before watching the film.

Amy Winehouse’s life, legacy and tragic death

ARGANDA DEL REY, SPAIN - JULY 04:  Amy Winehouse performs on stage during Rock in Rio Day 3 on July 04, 2008 in Arganda del Rey, near of Madrid.  (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
Amy Winehouse's meteoric rise to fame began when she released her first album Frank in 2003. (Getty Images)

Winehouse was a prolific singer whose star rose quickly and burned brightly, her meteoric rise to fame began when she released her first album Frank in 2003. The album saw the world discover her unique voice, which was like nothing else heard in Brit-pop at the time.

The singer was influenced by genres like jazz and R&B, and her first album was a huge commercial success and was nominated for the Mercury prize. Shortly after its release, Winehouse adopted her iconic look of a beehive and dark eyeliner.

She followed up the album with her 2006 hit Back to Black, which has gone on to become one of the best-selling albums in history and saw her sweep the board at the Grammys and the Brits — where she won British Album of the Year and was named the best British Female Solo Artist.

But while her music saw her reach dizzying heights it also meant that her personal life was coming into the public eye more, which led to her being bombarded by paparazzi and receiving negative media scrutiny particularly over her substance abuse, her eating disorders, and her relationship with Fielder-Civil, who was also an addict.

TELFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 16:  Amy Winehouse performs on day one of the V Festival at Weston Park on August 16, 2008 in Telford, England.  (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)
Amy Winehouse pictured in 2008 performing at the V Festival in England, during a time when she was struggling with substance abuse and eating disorders. (WireImage)

In an interview with The Times in 2007, Winehouse's first manager Nick Godwyn said: "Amy changed overnight after she met Blake. She just sounded completely different. Her personality became more distant. And it seemed to me like that was down to the drugs. When I met her she smoked weed but she thought the people who took class A drugs were stupid. She used to laugh at them."

Winehouse increasingly used drugs and alcohol, with her substance abuse beginning to have an impact on her work as well as she'd perform drunk, forget her lyrics, or even cancel last minute because she was unable to perform. She went to rehab several times in order to battle her addiction.

Speaking with The Times, the singer's friend Tyler James reflected on the last years of her life and said: "Amy was a girl in her 20s suffering from addiction, and everybody was a part of it. Everybody was watching it. When you go to rehab, you have to be the strongest you've ever been in your life, when you are the weakest you've ever been in your life. And she had to go through that in front of people."

“It was hard for her," he went on. "It was a different time back then. If you were famous, you could be hounded. They didn’t care how that affected your mental health, or if it was making your addiction worse or sending you off your rocker."

LONDON - JULY 06:  Amy Winehouse makes a surprise appearance as she performs with Mark Ronson (R) at the 100 Club on July 6, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)
Amy Winehouse pictured performing with Mark Ronson at the 100 Club on July 6, 2010, at the time she was working hard on getting sober and had kicked her drug habit but still drank. (Getty Images)

James added that Winehouse worked hard on her sobriety, and spoke of "how close she was to being healthy" and giving up alcohol for good before her death. She'd managed to overcome her addiction to heroin and crack years earlier, and he feels "she never gets credit for that."

He also spoke about Winehouse's last days during an interview on This Morning in 2021, sharing how the singer "didn't touch drugs" in the last three years of her life, and he "could see she had started to replace drugs with alcohol".

He explained: "She was so close, she was just about to get over that hill... she was just about to get there, she'd be sober for five weeks and relapse for three days. She'd look up to me, because in her eyes I was the worse alcoholic in the world... she looked up to me and I helped her, we'd go through alcohol withdrawal together and she was so close.

LONDON - OCTOBER 7:  Amy Winehouse performs at the launch party of City Burlesque on October 7, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)
Amy Winehouse was 'so close' to getting sober, her friend Tyler James has said in an interview, adding that she would 'be sober for five weeks and relapse for three days'. (Getty Images)

"She was running on the treadmill, she was at the gym, she was drinking green juice, she wanted to be sober. I didn't for the life of me expect [her death] to happen, at the very end there the last year I took a new tact which was whenever she relapsed I'd leave... I used to leave because I was worried she'd think I was supporting her even though I said I didn't want her to drink.

"So I'd leave and every time I left she'd call me two or three days later and she'd say 'Tyler come home', and I'd say 'get sober and I'll come home'. The last time was just one of those times, I left.

"I had a massive argument with her because there were letters from the doctor saying if she drank any more she'd die. I came back one afternoon after a walk and she had a glass of wine in her hand, and it's really hard, I just flipped. The last time I saw Amy I had an argument with her."

Winehouse died on 23 July, 2011 at the age of 27, she died from accidental alcohol poisoning which was exacerbated by years of bulimia — her blood alcohol level was .416% at the time of her death.

Back to Black is released in cinemas on Friday, 12 April.

Watch: Back To Black filmmakers explain why Marisa Abela was picked to play Amy Winehouse