Soul star Amy Winehouse was found dead at her north London home yesterday in what police described only as an "unexplained" death. Winehouse, 27, who sold more than five million records and was heralded across the globe for her Back to Black album, died as she had lived – immersed in controversy.
Police chiefs speaking outside her house in Camden Town warned against speculation that she had been killed by a drug overdose. The singer's well-publicised battles with drink and drugs had haunted her career and often threatened to overshadow her undisputed talent. She cancelled a European tour recently after a performance in Belgrade in which she appeared to slur the lyrics to her best-known hits. Weeks before she had entered rehab for alcohol abuse. Doctors allegedly told her she would die if she did not stop drinking. Last week, she was back on stage again, looking relaxed if a little unsteady at the Roundhouse in London during a cameo appearance alongside singer Dionne Bromfield, her goddaughter. Less than 72 hours later, Winehouse was dead.
Her father, Mitch, was reportedly on a flight to New York when news of her death broke, and took the next plane back to London. The former taxi driver had spoken in the past of his worries over her wildchild lifestyle, once explaining how he had written a eulogy to read at her funeral, so fearful was he that she might die young.
Yesterday evening, beyond the police tape wrapped round her house in Camden Square, crowds of fans arrived with flowers and teddy bears. The group had dissipated by the time a body-bag was removed from the house later in the evening.
More fans gathered to toast the singer at The Hawley Arms, one of her favourite pubs in Camden – she was occasionally seen pulling pints behind the bar. Candles were lit outside, in her memory. The pub's owners said: "She was a special person with a good soul and this should not have happened. We will sorely miss her."
Winehouse was already dead when ambulance teams arrived at her house. Police superintendent Raj Kohli said: "I am aware of reports suggesting that the death was a result of a suspected drugs overdose, but I would like to re-emphasise that no post-mortem examination has yet taken place and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death."
Winehouse's ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, had long expressed the fear the singer would "die in his arms". He told The Sun that two years ago he put her into the recovery position and pulled her tongue out of her mouth to stop her biting it. "I felt sure I was watching her die right in front of me," he said.
A statement on Amy Winehouse's website from her manager before her death alluded to her troubles. It read: "Amy Winehouse is withdrawing from all scheduled performances. Everyone involved wishes to do everything they can to help her return to her best."
Some of the world's best-known musicians lined up to pay tribute. Crooner Tony Bennett said: "She was an extraordinary musician with a rare intuition as a vocalist." And producer Mark Ronson said: "Amy was my musical soulmate and like a sister to me."
Her album Frank was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. But her real success came with Back to Black in 2006. It led to six Grammy nominations and five wins, equalling the record for the most wins by a female artist in a single night. A Brit award for Best British Female Artist followed in 2007, and she won the Ivor Novello Award three times.
Winehouse joins a long list of musical greats who died aged 27, while still having so much to give their craft. They include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Rolling Stone Brian Jones.
Oh Lord. Just heard the news of Amy Winehouse's death. Poor unhappy creature
Stephen Fry, actor and writer
It's just beyond sad. There's nothing else to say. She was such a lost soul. May she rest in peace
Lily Allen, singer
This was such a waste of a young life. It's a sad warning to youngsters of what can happen. We all hoped that she was in control of her drug problem, but ultimately drugs were in control of her. I knew Jimi Hendrix, and his talent was met with similar demons
Max Clifford, publicist
Sad, sad news of Amy Winehouse – great talent, extraordinary voice, and tragic death. Condolences to her family.
Sarah Brown, wife of ex-prime minister Gordon Brown
Sad news man!! My thoughts go out to her family and friends. RIP Amy Winehouse x
Tinchy Stryder, Grime rapper