Amy Winehouse died two years ago today. She would have turned 30 on 14 September this year. At the time of her death, she was one of the most talked about stars in the UK and the world. Her drink and drug addiction and the resulting drama that swirled around her personal but very public life was the source of endless column inches and numerous newspaper front pages. But our real fascination with Amy was borne out of a raw musical talent that, we all recognised, doesn't come along very often.
There's a tendency to romanticise about the cultural impact of a celebrity following their death. But Winehouse was iconic. Partly because of her voice, her songs and the extraordinary success she achieved in a relatively short career; partly because of her style; partly because she was so synonymous with London; and, in part, because her tale was a tragic one.
Cast your mind back to 2007 and it was impossible to go for a night out without spotting an attempt at Winehouse-inspired fancy dress, or hearing a ropey version of Valerie on karaoke. A quick run-through of the accolades she received include two Mercury Music Prize nominations, three Ivor Novello awards, a Brit Award for Best Female and six Grammys including Record of the Year. All in the space of four years from 2004 to 2008. When she died it had been almost five years since her second album 'Back to Black' had been released but there was still a huge appetite for new music from her. She once said that "every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen". As a writer and a singer, she would probably have got better and better, and perhaps that is why her death still seems like such a loss.
When someone becomes such a part of popular culture, it can be easy to forget what makes them so distinctive. But an array of artwork devoted to the singer in and around London serves as a reminder. Last week, a new portrait of the singer was unveiled by south London street artist Miss Bugs, composed of hundreds of prescription drug capsules. It’s evidence of the enduring strength of her image that it’s so instantly recognisable, colourful and at the same time, controversial. Earlier in the year, artist and designer Scott Eaton was given permission by Camden Council to produce a more traditional, life-size bronze statue of the singer, to stand out on the balcony of Camden Roundhouse, just a mile away from her old home in Camden Square. The sculpture is set to be unveiled later in the year. It's the latest in a long line of memorials and tributes that continue to spring up around the city.
The Jewish Museum is currently staging an exhibition curated by Amy's brother Alex and her sister-in-law Riva. Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait features private family shots, her first guitar and record collection, some of her most famous outfits as well as Amy's own battered suitcase of photos, which she looked through with her Dad just a couple of days before she died. The collection has been lovingly put together and it's a touching look at Amy's early life. Anyone who considers themselves a fan would be well advised to pay a visit before it closes on 15 September.
September will see a range of events to mark what would have been Winehouse's 30th birthday and to raise money for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, set up in 2011 by her dad, Mitch. The foundation has so far helped thousands of young people who are battling with drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and eating disorders. A new exhibition, For You I Was A Flame, is one of those events. It will run at Proud galleries from 12 September until 6 October. It features photos of Winehouse taken throughout her career, as well as street art, paintings and drawings. The theme is a celebration of Amy’s life and the collection will reveal a happier, more relaxed artist at her peak. It should serve as a good contrast to the paparazzi shots that first spring to mind when you think of her public image.
Amy Winehouse wasn’t everyone's idea of a role model, but she was gifted and funny and an inspiration to many. Two years after her death, the tributes continue.