Yesterday marked what would have been Amy Winehouse’s 40th birthday. Winehouse, a London native, was far from an ordinary artist. Her music disobeyed the boundaries of genre and era, which gave her vocals a tinge of timelessness. She was inspired by old music but never constrained by it; Winehouse would often sing covers and make them thoroughly hers. This includes her hit song “Valerie,” which was originally written by The Zutons. 

Winehouse’s first album was released when she was 20. Three years later, her second album, “Back to Black,” won her international acclaim and five Grammys. As she rose to stardom, a close friend observed her unwillingly transform from a human being into a brand. Fame proved to be a curse she said she “wouldn’t wish … on anyone.” 

Winehouse often claimed to be unbothered by the criticism she received, but not even the most free-thinking of souls could be unaffected by the antagonism she regularly faced. In part due to the pressures of fame, she turned to substances. 

Winehouse’s various episodes with drugs and alcohol were not private: the ruthless paparazzi and machines of tabloid journalism broadcasted her darkest days to the entire world. To make matters worse, some of those closest to her were woefully unsympathetic; while grossly intoxicated, her management forced her to perform on stage. 

One of Winehouse’s most popular songs is “Rehab,” which includes the haunting lyrics, “They tried to make me go to Rehab / but I said no, no, no,” and “I don’t ever want to drink again / I just, ooh, I just need a friend.” 

Winehouse eventually did go to rehab, but it proved incapable of concluding her cycles of recovery and relapse. 

In 2011, Winehouse, aged 27, unintentionally died in her Camden home of alcohol poisoning. We turned a blind eye to her cries for help, allowing our campaigns of cruelty to march on until it was too late. It would be inadequate to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the media and music industry. Our demand for gossip, need for celebrity and failure to empathize are also at fault. We exploited her together.

We cannot get Winehouse back, but we can ensure her death was not in vain. This demands not only a firm commitment to respecting the humanity and privacy of public figures but also a promise to confront substance abuse and the social ills behind it.

Winehouse was far from alone in her plight. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2021, 29.5 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder and 24 million had a drug use disorder, meaning 16.5 percent of Americans 12 or older suffered from one or both of the disorders. Our neighbors are opting for toxic escapes from the world we have created. Substance abuse will continue to brutally rob brilliance and potential from our communities until we confront its root causes, among them misguided standards of success, social atomization and adverse home environments. 

Winehouse’s line, “I just need a friend,” is instructive. Those suffering do not need a friend only when they enter the abysses of life; they need one well before. To put it more directly, we should care about our neighbors even in times of seeming advantage. Although this would only serve as the beginning of any true effort to prevent substance abuse in our society, it is a tremendous and irreplaceable step in the right direction. 

When it comes to confronting existing substance abuse, true friendship often means encouraging someone to find professional help and rooting them on, during and after that process. Healthy relationships do not call for destructive levels of sacrifice; instead they ask that we do our best to discern and uplift the welfare of others. Showing our care can make a world of difference. 

The culture that killed Winehouse endures with troubling intensity. We are so infatuated by the concept of celebrity that it has become a common career ambition. A 2022 survey by HigherVisibility observed that nationally, over a quarter of Generation Z “plan[s] to become social media influencers.” Though we should know the perils of fame and necessity of friendship, so many of us still try to fill voids of community with the glorification of celebrities. 

Just as Winehouse refused to conform in her music, let us refuse to conform with the maladies of our time. We do not need to shun public figures or their work completely; we just need to allocate our attention in a healthier, less obsessive way. We can begin by investing more of our love and time in the organizations and people that matter instead of offering undivided attention to celebrities and seeking to become them. To start, we can aspire to be the friend Winehouse so clearly needed.

JUSTIN CROSBY is a junior in Silliman majoring in Political Science. Contact him at