You sexy, filthy thing. You charmed us with your old-school bebop style and sailor-swearing Cockney chatter. You repulsed us with your hideous heroin-skinny limbs and helpless alcoholic pathos. You introduced us to Mr. Donny Hathaway and the term “fuckery.” You were hard-core and brittle as an old bubbe‘s bones; you made the nervous breakdowns of pop tarts like Britney and Demi Lovato look like toddler tantrums.
Most of all, you held us captive, our mouths hanging open, our toes tapping no matter how old or self-righteous, with that voice—that soulful, husky voice that reached deep down and brought heaven and hell together, funneled forth from a 90-pound songbird teetering on F*@# me stilettos.
You were never a nice Jewish girl. Too many tattoos. So much public barfing. But watching you tearfully hugging Mama Winehouse with an armful of Grammy awards, we felt the pride for one of our own. We concentrated on the music, not the shanda. That’s why “Rehab” could pop up ironically in bar mitzvah DJ rotation. No longer.
In terms of creating your own legend, you couldn’t have picked a better time to self-combust: All the great ones died at 27. Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt—they all killed themselves through whiskey and needles and pills and playing with guns. Whatever your special recipe for destruction was, you join the pantheon of those who couldn’t handle the fame and fortune and artistic pressure, those who possessed heart-breaking talent but no sense of self-preservation. Welcome to the club.
Though many have recently reveled in the schadenfreude of your stage stumbles and wicked hot messiness, so many of us were rooting for your salvation. To hear that sober album. To maybe watch you marry a nebbishy Jewish businessman who adored you and see the tabloids scurry over how you got fat when you had babies. To cheer when you appeared svelte and mature in 2018 to release a smokin’ comeback that knocked us out all over again.
Instead, for generations to come, your songs will resonate with and be downloaded by every disenfranchised global youth with a penchant for jazz and weed. Your addictions will serve as a morality tale. You will be the poster icon for the ultimate Bad Girl. Whatever you believed came after death—if you ever thought about it at all—you’ll achieve immortality, at least in this current cycle of human civilization. It is in our sick world, I suppose, the zenith of artistic achievement. So congratulations.
We only wish we could have heard more.