Winehouse and Addiction: What’s the story?

Here are some articles discussing the implications of rock star Amy Winehouse’s tragic demise at a tender age of 27.

From TIME:

Another addiction death comes at age 27, with Amy Winehouse joining Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and most aptly, Janis Joplin among the rock icons who died from their disorder at the same point in their young lives. And sadly, her passing also presents another occasion for well-intentioned people who misunderstand addiction to push counterproductive solutions.

Janis Joplin once said that she made love to 25,000 people at her concerts, but went home alone.  It’s that yearning for love and acceptance, that aching but unanswered need for connection that underlies both the drive for fame and the pain of addiction, which may be why the two are so often found together.

Charles Karel Bouley argues that the general public has wrongly chastised her behavior and has shown little appreciation for the unique difficulties and challenges faced by an artist:

It’s easy for the general public to pass judgment on Winehouse, or any of the other host of celebrities that left too soon because of drugs, alcohol, fast cars or a myriad of other ways to die. Those critics are not artists.

What people should be asking is, why artists? Since the dawn of time artists have left early, been addicted, been “not right.” If Prozac existed a hundred or more years ago, would we have Van Gogh’s work? If Joplin or Hendrix had Dr. Drew and didn’t have their demons, would they have had their brilliance?

The fact is, at times, being an artist hurts, and so many choose to self-medicate because it gets them out of their heads, it slows things down, it removes, temporarily, the unbearable lightness of being. From GaGa fessing up to earlier drug use and the fact that she still smokes pot (which neither she, nor I, consider a dangerous drug) to pictures of Sinatra or Davis, Jr. with glasses of booze and cigarettes hanging from their lips, artists medicate.

Sacha Scoblic from NPR argues otherwise, insisting that addiction affects everyone the same and we should not grant them any leeway simply because they are artists.

So, for once and for all, let’s give the lie to this silly notion that artists must suffer for their work via drugs and alcohol. Or that artists are so innately tortured that they must use drugs and alcohol to tolerate the injustices of the world (especially if they are rich and very, very famous). Or that creativity is solely derived from this artist-addict round-robin. “If Jim Morrison was sent to a 30-day program with Dr. Drew, would he have lasted, and if so, would he have created the same music?” wonders Bouley— in a wildly discordant epic pop-culture sophistry— as if Morrision’s music were worth losing his life over. Why doesn’t anyone ever wonder if his art— or Janice Joplin’s or Jimi Hendrix’s or Kurt Cobain’s or Heath Ledger’s or Jim Belushi’s— would have actually become even better with sobriety? Because, for every died-too-young artist, I can name ten got-it-together artists who went on to do even greater things in recovery: Robert Downey Jr., James Hetfield, Johnny Cash, Mickey Rourke, Betty Ford, Stephen King, Rob Lowe, Stevie Nicks, Craig Fergusen, Steven Tyler, Russell Brand, Ewan MacGregor, Robin Williams … I could go on. I bet they are all glad they didn’t die young for their art.

What were your first reactions to Winehoue’s death? Should society respond with more compassion for artists or for stricter health monitoring and intervention? 

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