It may seem that I am veering off-message to note the passing of soul singer Amy Winehouse on a day when the financial fate of the republic hangs in the balance. But I don’t think so.
I think there is a moral for all of us who believe that people should be held responsible, whether it’s for spending the public’s money or controlling other appetites, in the death of this very talented woman.
Sally Satel, M.D. and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has an excellent piece on Winehouse and the addictions that, according to friends and family, killed the singer, in today’s Wall Street Journal.
The culture of stardom feeds erratic behavior. Managers insulate their famous (and profitable) clients from the consequences of their behavior and tolerate lapses for which the rest of us would be held accountable. As for Ms. Winehouse, her talent was as fierce as her heartache. She won five Grammys in 2008, three of them for Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year.
But Satel is unwilling to let Winehouse off the hook:
As her friend, British actor Russell Brand, observed in a tribute on his website: “The priority of any addict is to anesthetize the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.” The insight comes from personal experience: Mr. Brand went to rehab for heroin addiction and quit in 2002. He was then 27, the same age that Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix died.
The American actor Robert Downey Jr., once a poster boy for excess, summed up the desire to use in a different way: “It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger’s on the trigger, and I like the taste of gunmetal,” he told a judge in 1999, in one of a series of drug-related arrests.
It seemed only a matter of time before he’d meet a horrible end. But in 2003 he entered rehab and decided to change his life. He imposed upon himself a regimen including voluntary random drug testing and 12-step meetings….
Messrs. Brand and Downey made a commitment to change themselves. Ms. Winehouse would not. “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no,'” she sang in her catchy, award-winning song “Rehab.” It might have only been a matter of time before she said “yes.” In the meantime, the singer danced on a razor’s edge.
As a youthful fan of Janis Joplin and her druggy lifestyle, I am not immune to the sordid glamour of Amy Winehouse’s alcohol-fueled plight. But it would be wrong to say her addictions killed her. She was responsible for her death.
If this isn’t a tale about personal responsibility, something we take seriously at IWF, I don’t know what is.