One year ago Monday, Amy Winehouse’s body was discovered in her Camden, London, apartment, forever silencing a voice that was as powerful as it was pained and ending a career that, in just a few short years, burned brighter — and crashed harder — than most.
Winehouse was just 27 when she died, and though many feared that her hard-living ways might lead to her early demise, that didn’t make her death any less shocking. In fact, those closest to her maintained that, in the months before she passed, Winehouse had become focused on sobriety (a subsequent toxicology report seemed to back up those claims) and was working hard on the follow-up to her once-in-a-generation album Back to Black. Sadly, we’ll never know just how that record would have panned out — 2011′s posthumous Lioness: Hidden Treasures featured only two new songs — but, in a way, that fact is also strangely fitting. After all, Amy Winehouse was a timeless talent, and the music she gave us speaks volumes.
Instead of wondering what might have been, to mark the one-year anniversary of Winehouse’s death, MTV News spoke to her father, Mitch, about the day he learned his daughter died, how he’s spent the past year recovering from the loss and how he plans to keep her memory alive.
Mitch recalled the day Amy died: “I was in New York City. … I was due to start a tour with my jazz band. We were going to be in the Blue Note that night, so I went to rehearsals about 11:30, 12 o’clock, then I went up to my cousin, who lives near Columbus Circle, and his wife. They just had two little twins.
“I was playing with the kids, and the phone went off, and it said ‘Amy Security.’ She was always losing her phone, so I said to my cousin, ‘Oh, Amy’s calling,’ because she said to me, ‘When you get to the house, dad, video the kids on your iPad and send it to me,’ because she hadn’t seen the babies, and I thought she was phoning me to remind me to video.
“So I said, ‘Oh, there’s Amy now,’ and I said, ‘Hello, darling,’ and I could hear it was Amy’s security, Andrew, and he was incoherent,” he continued. “And I just heard him say, ‘You’ve got to come home, you’ve got to come home,’ and I asked if she had died, and he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Soon after, Mitch was on a plane headed back to London, still trying to come to grips with the news. His memories of that five-hour flight are understandably spotty, and when he finally landed and met with London police, the next few days were even worse.
“I remember my manager and Amy’s manager being inconsolable [on the flight]. Obviously, I was in shock, I didn’t cry at all, but I felt that my mind was slipping away. I really couldn’t wait to get home to be with my family,” he said. “I really didn’t want to grasp any of it. For the first few days, I stayed with my friends … they looked after my wife and I, and there was a constant stream of people coming in and out. And then we had the cremation and the Jewish ceremony and the Shiva, and our lives were full of people. But that doesn’t last, and over the days and weeks that followed, I started to struggle a lot.”
It took Mitch Winehouse months to finally grieve for his daughter, and he spent most of his time defending Amy’s name against reports that she had died of a drug overdose or committed suicide. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get one image out of his mind — an image that still haunts him to this day.
“I had a breakdown, and a recurring image in my mind of Amy being in the mortuary. She was very beautiful, looked like she was asleep, and I can look at it now without crying, which shows my progress, but it’s not an image I want to keep in my mind,” he said. “But now, with professional help, I was able to deal with that image and to move on and to have an image in my mind of Amy doing what we were always doing … messing around and laughing.”
In the year since Amy’s death, Mitch started a charity in her name that helps disadvantaged children around the world — it was founded on September 14, 2011, which would have been her 28th birthday — and wrote a book, “Amy, A Daughter,” that details their relationship. The proceeds from the book go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a common theme for Winehouse these days. He’s dedicated his life to preserving his daughter’s legacy and using her considerable clout to help those less fortunate. In doing so, he’s managed to climb out of the darkness — and share memories of a woman he knew better than most: a prodigiously talented singer who liked nothing more than sharing a good laugh.
“I’ve finally managed to get a sense of how brilliant she was. Hopefully, I will be able to sit and listen to her music and watch videos someday, because that’s how I want to remember her,” he said. “I’ve been putting it off, but I think now I’m moving to the point where I’ll be able to do that.
“And I have so many memories. Amy and I would walk in Soho, in London, and she’d go, ‘Just a sec, dad,’ and she’d pop into shops. She knew everybody … she’d go in and say, ‘Hello, Daphne, how’s your uncle? Has he gone to prison yet?’ or ‘Have you had the baby yet?’ ” he recalled with a smile. “It would take four hours to walk down the street. And that’s my memory of Amy. She was this great kid, a very strong person. … She had big weaknesses as well, but she was a lovely, lovely girl.”
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