Why Do We Care So Much About Amy Winehouse’s Death?

I never met Amy Winehouse. We weren’t texting buddies. I didn’t go over to her house when her and Blake would get into a fight. I wasn’t at any of the multiple interventions she presumably had and she certainly never offered to fly my ass out to St. Lucia for some island vacation time. But when she died over the weekend, it made me feel the kind of sadness one can only experience when someone they don’t know dies.

I don’t know Amy Winehouse and yet I know “everything” about her. Every arrest and meltdown she had, I was aware of. Right now, I could go on YouTube and watch hours of footage of her. Or I could listen to her two records. I can always hear/see her when I want to in a way that I will never be able to with my mom or dad. They aren’t on YouTube. Besides, when they die, it will be a more private kind of grief, the kind that you won’t be able to have a discussion about on Perez Hilton.

In American culture especially, we worship celebrities. They’re our version of royalty and I suppose that’s why we take celebrities’ deaths so personally. For some reason or another, their life meant something to us. In some ways, we might be more involved in their lives than our own. It’s for that reason that I found myself annoyed that people were going apeshit about Amy Winehouse dying. I felt like I and many others grieved her death out of some misguided sense of duty. It hit us so much harder because Amy Winehouse never got her shit together. Americans love to tear celebrities down (Amy included. I’m sorry but the American press and “fans” weren’t particularly kind to her. She was mocked relentlessly.) and then we love to bring them back up. We love a comeback even more than a downfall. And what’s perhaps most tragic about Winehouse and the reason why so many people flipped out over her death is that she never got her happy ending. We were never able to rehabilitate her and put a bow on her next album. That’s what we wanted most of all, right? To see her happy and healthy? But it’s hard to tell if those wishes were ever genuine. It’s hard to discern whether or not we truly gave a shit about Amy Winehouse or if we just needed her to fit the typical celebrity narrative.

The same thing happened with Michael Jackson’s death. The day before he died, Michael Jackson was a pariah and complete joke. He hadn’t been relevant in a long time, hadn’t released anything of musical worth in a decade. But when he died, people were beside themselves. They played his old records and commented on how sad it all was. But the whole thing just ended up making me feel gross to be a participant in celebrity culture. Never mind that America thought of Michael Jackson as a pedophile. Never mind that we treated him terribly in the press. Now that he’s dead, let’s cry about it and listen to “Rock With You”. WHAT?

I just feel like we’re hypocrites. I believe that people were genuinely touched by Amy Winehouse’s and Michael Jackson’s music. I don’t doubt that when they died, it made people upset for valid reasons. Amy Winehouse’s death is truly upsetting, another life taken by addiction. But I also have conflicted feelings about mourning a singer who we collectively taunted when they were alive. A lot of faux fans come out of the woodwork in these deaths, claiming that they’re absolutely devastated by this loss, and it all just seems so disingenuous to me. It’s like American Cheez Whiz being poured on top of the coffin.

I’m sad about Amy Winehouse dying because she seemed like she lived a tortured life and had trouble being happy. I’m also sad because she never got to make her third record and Back To Black was so amazing. Imagine what her next one would’ve been like. See, grieving her death even feels selfish. I’m upset because I didn’t get a “Rehab” part two.

When celebrities die, it will always be sad because they touch our lives. That was their job. It was why we bought their records or books and bought tickets to their movies. But I also think it’s important to be aware of our role in all of it. You can’t disregard how someone was treated when they were alive and you can’t rewrite history. I guess I just want everyone to think about why they’re really sad and why they care. I bet a number of people will have trouble answering that. TC mark

image –

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


More From Thought Catalog

  • Blim

    We don’t.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1606470105 Xaxira Nathalya Velasco

      Agreed. I couldn’t care less about her death. Didn’t even bother reading this one even though I usually love Ryan’s posts.

      • https://unemploymentisnotsexy.wordpress.com/ To

        maybe you should before you post bullshit

      • Nicole

        Why do you think your comment means anything then? How self-obsessed are you that you have the nerve to comment on something you admit you haven’t read?

  • reena.chohan

    True. Regardless of all of the misguided fan frenzy now, she was a true vocal talent.

  • Anon

    Could you fucking little arrogant pricks wait until she is in the coffin, Jesus this pretty low even for though catalog

    • http://twitter.com/steviekew Stevie Kew

      Seconded, but with minimal harshness.

    • Another Anonymous Coward

      What are you even objecting to? Use your words, anonymous hater. Use your words.

    • Anonymous

      Did you read the piece, or any of the comments, or just the title of the piece?  

    • Anon

      Calm down coffee drinking pretentious Americans, yes I read the piece I find it amusing and ironic that thought catalog have managed to already turn someones death from two days old into a satirical self indulgent essay on pop culture this quickly.

      • Annabelle

        True a little too soon. I love thought Catalog but sometimes lately their stories seem to come from the gutter of New York literally

      • Victoria

        That’s a little unfair to the gutters of New York, isn’t it?

      • John Dough

        Its all becoming like a snake eating it’s own tale. This entire website runs on self indulgence and a few hipsters assuming that every thing they think is somehow a relevant view on modern culture, we still view the pieces then bitch through comments. Its all quite therapeutic, but lets face it getting boring. Next article “How much cock I have ever sucked”

      • Kobayashi

        Yet you’re on this site and care enough to leave a comment…. Hmmm… Me thinks I have spotted a raging hypocrite…

      • Kobayashi

        Yet you’re on this site and care enough to leave a comment…. Hmmm… Me thinks I have spotted a raging hypocrite…

      • Kobayashi

        Yet you’re on this site and care enough to leave a comment…. Hmmm… Me thinks I have spotted a raging hypocrite…

      • John Dough

        yes thanks Kobayashi if you had read my comment about a snake it’s own tail, I’m well aware of the hypocrisy so much so I kinda pointed it out myself…hmmm

      • Rogerthat

        WOOOOOAAAHHH….self indulgent. You didnt think ‘Breaking up with my blackberry’ was just amazing. Hah this is the end

  • ThePerplexedPantaloons

    When I was pre-teen know-it-all, I said harsh things about her and didn’t even know what she was about. The things I said were misguided, and even recently, some six years later, I didn’t have a high opinion of her. That was, of course, until I heard her voice and actually sat down and listened to her. Such a beautiful voice and music. I’m ashamed for letting the media misguide me in my opinions towards the woman. It sucks being a fan of her music after she’s died, as if, death makes her better. But I will still continue to listen.

  • Laurie

    Yes, but. She was one of the greats: both lyrics and voice.

    • https://unemploymentisnotsexy.wordpress.com/ To

      she’s probably my favorite when it comes to delivering honest and raw lyrics..if only those who are so quick to judge what the media portrays of her would take a listen to her music

  • Mr Shankly

    Michael Jackson is rolling in his cheez whiz filled grave.

    • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

      Not sure what it really means but the image is hard to shake

  • Alejandro

    There were real fans out there hoping she would make it through her troubles. The ones that knew she can shine brighter than her addictions. The people who gave others her music so they can make their own judgement not based on the garbage the media spewed. She was truly an amazing artist and a great loss to the music industry. Her raw talent is something we havent seen in years, yes we have people like Adele now but there wouldnt be an Adele without Amy. I obviously didnt know Amy but her death was truly premature, gone too soon. 

  • luddles

    she did make a third record.. that’s why it’s so sad. fact check.

    • anony

      no, you’re wrong.

      • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

        I read that the record was done, but waiting to be released, in some newspaper.

  • smh

    I think you’re right on with this, Ryan. I, too, was questioning why people were grieving over Michael Jackson after the public  continually flogged him and wrote him off for his erratic behavior and pedophile charges.

    As I seen in other conversations, her death really isn’t a total surprise – her art, though tragic and morbid, showed the truth. She was a tormented soul. She didn’t want to go to rehab (no, no, no). Naturally, if she had an addiction to these mind-numbing substances and truly didn’t want to get off of them, then this is the result. It is sad, but in a way, this is what her reality was and accepted it a long time ago. Many fans (including myself) like to have my cake and eat it to. We mock her when she’s alive (i.e. halloween costumes, snl skits, etc), throw a snide joke about being super drunk is being “Amy Winehouse” drunk, and then when she passes, we instantly mourn her loss and expunge ourselves for those previous actions.

    Amy Winehouse is now at peace, and people should pay respect – however, it’s a little bit of a crime to ignore the general fan’s actions prior to her passing and truly question why everyone is overtly grieving over her. This may sound harsh, but as a person loosely observing Amy Winehouse’s career (I respected her work but wasn’t a huge fan), this is the way I see it – just as Ryan suggests.

  • matt

    I agree. Great article, Ryan.

  • Flinders Petrie

    you really got sad? jesus.

  • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

    I seem to be the only one in the uk who doesn’t get it, the majority of people are acting like they’ve lost a close family member and apparently I’m a heartless bitch for wanting to talk about something else

    • Kobayashi

       I’m with you there. Then again, living in Sweden, we’ve got bigger problems on our hands… Namely the massacre of our neighbors… No biggie right? Anyway yes, I’m with you MissK.

      • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

        I’m with you too Kobayashi, that whole thing is so fucked up. Saying he’s insane seems a strange move and why has he demanded a copy of wikileaks? I feel bad for reading his manifesto but the worst thing is that it will make a lot of sense to many people. More trouble on the way I think

      • Kobayashi

        I read his manifesto as well, I am just seeking answers. I cannot wrap my head around the situation and I want to understand. Don’t feel bad for reading his manifesto, it’s only human. :)

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        An article and thread on that event (given the politics and timing)
        would be interesting; I’ve actually watched the video and was struck by
        the incongruity of its “anti-hate-group” message near the end
        (apparently, he’s an anti-Nazi Nazi who abhors Muslims but feels
        protective towards Israel).  Slightly revolted by the media’s bizarre
        tendency to bombard us with his 2 “heroic”, photo-shopped “handsome” photos when, in fact,
        it’s clear that he’s pretty schlubby. Also interesting how they’re now burying the “accomplice” angle (as they did with Jared Loughner’s Arizona event)…

  • yosoyrichie

    i think what made it more sad is the fact that everyone knows that she was a really talented girl and if only she kept it straight we would hear lots from her. she was really a great artist. hope her goddaughter learned enough from her.

  • rchlpr

    I tend to find Russell Brand quite annoying but the letter he wrote on his website sums up everything I think about Amy Winehouse’s death. http://www.russellbrand.tv/2011/07/for-amy/ just in case anyone’s interested..

    • Skylar

      While i agree with the sentiment, I find it very hypocritical of him to urge the media to stop romanticizing addiction when he stars in films like Get Him To The Greek. Perhaps “romanticizing” is the wrong word for that film, but it certainly treats addiction as a hilarious novelty and not something that ruins lives and kills

      • warlordsteve

        Dude, Russell Brand struggled with addiction for years and finally kicked it, he DEFINITELY gets  that addiction is no “hilarious novelty.” And if you recall, he gets clean at the end of the film. Either way, Russell didn’t write that movie, he just starred in it.

  • lou lou

    I am oddly obsessed with dead celebrities and I will readily admit it. River Phoenix is my ultimate – so beautiful, so talented, such a paradox. Train wrecks like Anna Nicole and MJ interest me on a whole different level, it’s as if they aren’t even real people but these weird figments that the media created for mass amusement. Our culture is sick, our emphasis are all wrong – yet so many of us, myself included, feed into it. It’s numbing and intriguing and really empty and sad but it’s also understandable. These people had moments of beauty, sometimes of brilliance, played out in front of millions and millions of people until it all crashed down around them. It makes them more human, seems tragedy tends to bring things down to a digestable level. Heath Ledger, John Candy (love him), Kurt Cobain, and now Amy Winehouse – these are people somehow frozen in time, pristine despite their fatal flaws. It’s wrong, but maybe that’s the best we can do.

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    Winehouse’ suicide, for me, was kind of over-shadowed by all those kids getting machine-gunned in Norway

    • Pfft

      it wasn’t really a competition?

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        My comment wasn’t competitive? It was an observation?

      • Kobayashi

         Learn to use question marks correctly?

  • http://www.facebook.com/meliza.anne Meliza Mitra

    I completely agree. I also do think it says a lot about American culture (or maybe the twitter (less so) and facebook worlds) that Winehouse’s death totally seemed to overshadow the shooting/bombing in Norway recently. That tragedy in Norway should have shaken us up more so than Winehouse’s death, yet an astounding amount of people rather comment on Amy’s death than what happened in Norway. With that said, I’m not trying to reduce the sadness of Amy’s death… I’m just saying. Maybe Amy’s death hit closer to home than the deaths of 93 some youth/others?

    • rchlpr

      I totally agree but that’s the thing about being human, this situation is like the monkeysphere.

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    “Never mind that America thought of Michael Jackson as a pedophile.”

    Single non-celebrity middle-aged male sleeps with young boys who aren’t his relatives in a house decked out with obvious lures for children, it’s fairly clear-cut, no?

    • guest

      not really

    • FC

      That is sort of beside the point though isn’t it?  Pederast or not, most folks threw those accusations out the door the moment he passed. I guess for icons in death people like to have a crystal clean nostalgia-based legacy in their minds, as opposed to the hated/tarnished image they held up premortem. 

  • Come on

    The whole “NORWAY!!! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!” response strikes me as painfully naïve. “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” Every time.

    • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

      You are clearly a “fan” and an idiot, too.  A) a million kids weren’t killed on that island B) you’re quoting Stalin.

      • Come on

        A.) You’re actually going to dispute the relevance of the quote because the number of people is different? That clearly isn’t the point, honey.

        B.) I’m well aware. I’m not saying WOO STALINISM. Most people accept the quote on its own.

        C.) Perhaps I should clarify for the slower among us: I’m not attempting to say her death is sadder in any way, shape, or form. What I find frustrating is that people are surprised others care more about the death of one very well-known public individual as opposed to a much higher number of deaths in a country most Americans probably know very little about. Of course people care more about the celebrity; it’s someone they feel like they know on some level, as opposed to a numeral they read in the paper. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s painfully obvious why people would intuitively feel that way.

        Honestly, you are not bright enough to call anyone else an idiot.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        “B.) I’m well aware. I’m not saying WOO STALINISM. Most people accept the quote on its own.”

        Uh… huh? But it’s still a fucking quote from The Psychopathic Beacon of Wisdom called Stalin, you idiot. A quote you clearly don’t even understand.

      • anony

        damn, you’re pretty hostile. feel tempted to tell you to shut the hell up but I’m pretty sure you’d call me an idiot – not sure I can take it.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Anony-Lou Lou, calling idiots “idiots” loses its novelty after the first couple of times. So, you know…  unless you have something else to share… ?

      • anony

        yea, I have something else to share – I just took a huge shit. That is all. good night!

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        I can’t believe I ever called you an idiot.

      • Come on

        Quotes can be applied in a variety of different ways, obviously. If you’re honestly going to deny that ONE such interpretation is that the psychological impact of a single, emotionally vivid death can be greater than that of an anonymous number, you must be illiterate.

        Also, sweetheart, there’s no documentation it was actually from him. Prove me wrong, I dare ya.

        Fabulous job ignoring the other bits! You’re still not qualified to call anyone else an idiot.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        I think you probably don’t understand the conceptual difference (in the context of that quote), between “dozens” and “millions”, but “dozens” are closer to the “single, emotionally vivid death” you mention than to the “millions”, by orders of magnitude. Very few humans of my acquaintance would fail to consider the slaughter of those children on that island a bona fide tragedy by any conceivable metric. Just as very few would actually consider Winehouse’ essential suicide to be more upsetting (despite your juvenile theory). 

        But maybe you’re an idiot and a sociopath, too? Nothing wrong with that, obviously.

        I’ll meet you back here when Bieber kicks it, k?

      • Come on

        I would push the point farther, but fighting on the internet is like running in the Special Olympics: even if you win, you’re still retarded. XOXO LYLAS!

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Ouch… you didn’t! The last time I saw someone use that one was in a MySpace flame-war in c. 2004!  Thanks:  I actually laughed!

      • Kobayashi

        Oh god, did he/she really go there? That is so old and overused. Just admit you’re either a) bored with the topic or b) you realized you’re wrong. I’m guessing it’s the latter….

      • Devin

        pretty sure she admitted she was bored with the topic when she stopped talking about it. 

      • Kobayashi

        No, he/she gave up mid-discussion. They’re either stupid or realized they were out-witted. Not a hard feat.

      • Kobayashi

         We aren’t “surprised” people are reacting this way, we’re APPALLED.

        And it’s fucking NORWAY, everyone knows about Norway, it’s not Moldova or something (which I’m sure most Americans really don’t know about). You’re acting like it’s some obscure country. It’s not.

        You’re not very bright yourself. At least St. A has a cohesive argument with a valid point.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/VirtualKarim VirtualKarim

    I actually liked this article.

     At first, I was a bit against it because I read the overall tone as, “I don’t care about Amy Winehouse’s death, and neither should you!”, but then I realized that it was more in criticism of people who were mocking her one day and then suddenly tweeting their sympathies the next.

    I do think that people should take a step back and think to themselves, “what about Amy Winehouse dying makes me suddenly like Amy Winehouse?”

    In the month after Alexander McQueen’s death, the number of his facebook fans literally doubled, and to be honest, I didn’t even know who he was before he died. I certainly hope the same doesn’t happen with Winehouse, and although her death is tragic, almost nothing that would make you love/hate her has changed. 

    Yeah, posthumous fame is a bitch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ontheseashore Michele Koh

      I agree with you the celebrities have not changed in death. In fact, I think many would be shocked by the amount of adulation they’ve received too late. But I guess there’s also something romantic about that potential and talent never fully realised. Ryan said that” When
      celebrities die, it will always be sad because they touch our lives. That was
      their job.” Maybe that job, to inspire and to create, takes over their own lives sometimes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Amy Winehouse is dead?

  • Ryan O'Connell


  • Rebecca Aranda

    I think that the people who are “mourning” her are different people than the ones “mocking” her, but when you become a little media/pop culture sponge, all the disparate voices combine into one hypocritical voice. Except it’s not hypocritical, you’re just experiencing a sea change in which voices are more vocal.

    Also note that criticism is easier when we’re applying it to living things & beings, and distasteful when used against the dead (they can’t be worked on in the grave, after all).

  • Brenda

    I honestly really loved her music and I got into it about  a year ago. I would listen to her albums at work almost everyday. 
    And after waking up with a huge hang over, hearing that she died really bummed me out. 
    She was a great artist. 

  • Jess

    This coincides with that saying, “We never realize what we have until it’s gone.”

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