While London authorities investigate singer Amy Winehouse's death at age 27, critics are debating the admitted drug abuser's legacy. Her Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black modernized vintage soul music, showcasing her tortured, brassy voice on singles like the ominous "Rehab." But after years of being defined by her substance abuse and erratic behavior, and, now, her untimely end, will Winehouse's personal disasters overshadow her widely acknowledged talent?
Her voice was unparalleled: Winehouse boasted "one of the most unforgettable voices of her generation," says Wesley Case at The Baltimore Sun. Each song was packed with "raw emotion, biting sarcasm, intelligence," and a "beehived swagger." The soulful nuances in her vocals "could send a chill down your spine" or even make you cry.
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As an artist, she was in a league of her own: Winehouse's trademark beehive and '60s fashion sense may have been distinctive, says Tricia Weight at Technorati, but it was her artistry that set her apart. As a songwriter, she penned "bitingly honest" lyrics that revealed "the harshest truths of one's own soul." Few singer-songwriters are so open.
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And she paved the way today's stars: When Winehouse broke out on the music charts, says James Montgomery at MTV, she was "an instant antidote to Britneys and Christinas" that were dominating pop music. Her sound recalled a time "more glamourous and gritty," and paved the way for today's "retro-leaning" music stars. Lily Allen, Duffy, and Adele all follow in her footsteps — that will be her "enduring legacy."
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But she was self-destructive: As Winehouse publicly spun out of control, her hit single "Rehab" began to take on "an ominous significance," says Ludovic Hunter-Tilney at the Financial Times. Despite admitting to drinking too much and abusing drugs, she refused numerous pleas to enter rehab. The few times she agreed to go, she left before her treatment was over. Dubbed "Wino" by the press, she became known as much for chain-smoking and "swigging noxious cocktails" as she was for her music.
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And couldn't escape her demons: She also acknowledged struggling with an eating disorder and manic depression, says Sky News. As paparazzi-documented accounts of her "erratic behavior" multiplied, she began to look "vacant-eyed" and "unhealthily thin," with scabs on her body and face. She was arrested numerous times for assault, and began smoking crack cocaine during her tumultuous marriage with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
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She'll be lovingly remembered in the 27 Club: "For a singer of her renown," says Chris Richards at The Washington Post, "Winehouse's discography was miniscule." Yet like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the other singers who tragically died at age 27, she "sounded wise beyond her years." Her songs had "a strength and purpose" that spoke to a generation, which is why her small catalog — and Winehouse herself — will be remembered as legendary.
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