Russell Brand understands the perils of addiction and today he is grieving a lost mate whose struggles with substance abuse appear to have proved fatal.
"I've known Amy Winehouse for years," the British comedian and actor wrote on his website in a lengthy tribute titled "To Amy," who was found dead in her London flat yesterday. She was only 27.
"When I first met her around Camden she was just some twit in a pink satin jacket shuffling round bars with mutual friends, most of whom were in cool Indie bands or peripheral Camden figures Withnail-ing their way through life on impotent charisma."
But he was soon to realize that Amy—or Winehouse, as he fondly called her—was the real deal.
Hearing from a friend that she was a jazz singer, Brand assumed Amy to be some kind of "eccentric."
"I chatted to her anyway though, she was after all, a girl, and she was sweet and peculiar but most of all vulnerable," he recalled.
"I was myself at that time barely out of rehab," Brand noted, "and was thirstily seeking less complicated women so I barely reflected on the now glaringly obvious fact that Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction. All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they're not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil."
Brand was pleased when she became "massively famous," he wrote, but, funny enough, he still hadn't seen her sing, so he didn't quite get what the so-called "jazz singer" had to offer just yet. It was only by chance, in fact, that he first saw her perform at the Roundhouse.
"From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness," he remembered. "A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager...the lips that I'd only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasn't just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a f--king genius."
But not long after her Grammy-winning rise came her epic fall.
"Amy increasingly became defined by her addiction," Brand wrote. "Our media though is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising her gift to chronicling her downfall. The destructive personal relationships, the blood soaked ballet slippers, the aborted shows, that youtube madness with the baby mice. In the public perception this ephemeral tittle-tattle replaced her timeless talent.
"This and her manner in our occasional meetings brought home to me the severity of her condition."
Brand noted that he was 27 when we sought treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.
"Addiction is a serious disease; it will end with jail, mental institutions or death...Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy's incredible talent. Or Kurt's or Jimi's or Janis's, some people just get the affliction."
Brand began his tribute with an observation about the nature of addiction and ended with one, as well.
"Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had," he concluded, "but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not. Either way, there will be a phone call."