This year tragic songstress Amy Winehouse would have turned 30 – but next month her family will mark a very different milestone – the second anniversary of her shocking death, writes Sharon Feinstein. In an explosive and heartfelt interview with the Jewish News, Amy’s mother Janis revealed that she never expected her daughter to be alive for her 30th birthday. [divider]
“When I think Amy would have been 30 this year it doesn’t feel right,” she says sadly. “I’m not saying I always foresaw this, I think it’s that I wasn’t surprised. I couldn’t see Amy as an older person. She was this young girl who exploded into the world like a fire cracker and then it was, ok, I’m done, I’m off.
“Better to be remembered for that – it was almost the best way. That’s the irony of her passing, Amy was never meant to be 30.”
Janis, who suffers from progressive Multiple Sclerosis, says life with her wilful and talented daughter was such a battle that she gave up when Amy was just 10.
She admitted: “Amy ruled the roost. Her brother Alex is like me in that he steps back, doesn’t get involved. When she was 10, Amy took over. Mitchell left and Amy became the dominant character in the house, and I was powerless to do anything.
“I screamed and cried, but Amy never listened. I couldn’t get her out of bed for school. I’d have to drag her out and virtually put on her uniform while she tried to climb back.
“Her schooling was very fragmented, because she just switched schools when she wanted.
“I don’t believe there was any one point where you’d say: “This is where things started to go wrong for Amy.” It was just the life she led and I was no match for her.
“Eventually I stopped lying awake at night worrying, and accepted that I couldn’t do anything. I stopped feeling tormented, because I knew it wasn’t me.
“When I tried to control what she was doing, I would get like knocked out, torn up and she’d say something like, “mum get out of my face.
“She just did what she wanted. Amy had no sense of consequence.
“I didn’t punish her, because she could override whatever I did. She was too strong for me.
“Do I wish I’d behaved differently as a mother to Amy? It’s a bit like saying, ‘do I wish I was another person?’ We can only be ourselves. Do I think that if Mitch had been home he could have disciplined her? That I don’t know?”
Janis, who married again to an old family friend, says Mitch treated Amy as though she were his creation.
Still on amicable terms, they work together for the Amy Winehouse Foundation which helps drug and alcohol addicts, which the Mayor of Camden has just named as his charity of the year.
Janis said : “I’ve often felt that Mitchell thought Amy was born by immaculate conception, that Mitchell gave birth by himself – I didn’t even come into it. I had two massive personalities in my life, him and Amy, and I was squashed, so I stepped back and did my thing. I became a born again student, and made my own life. That must have been the only way I could survive.
“Mitch’s behaviour since Amy’s gone is about grieving. He is really hurting. Of course it’s hurt me, but I think I’m more able to deal with it. He’s turned everything to the Foundation so he’s doing good. He’s publicising himself as well, but that’s Mitchell, bless him.
“I don’t say too much, I just feel it within.”
Janis recalled how Amy started drinking spirits at functions when she was 14, and then following fad diets which affected her health. “Whenever we went anywhere she would have too much, help herself to drinks at bar mitzvahs, weddings, you name it,” she said.
“Instead of wanting to meet the boys there, she was bored and wanted to leave. Parties bored her, even her own parties, she hated them.
“What did she enjoy? Singing, writing, reading about Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. Her attitude to food was also very upsetting because she was always trying a dreadful diet. She’d say: ‘I found a really good diet mum, I chew the food and spit it out’. So she’d get her favourite Kentucky Fried Chicken every night, and spit it out.
“She lost two stone, until she was stick thin like a Belsen victim. I watched it happening, but couldn’t stop her. I don’t know whether I would have been a different mother if I hadn’t had MS for so long. I would certainly have had more energy and more fight against Amy.
“She was never going to be the typical Jewish girl, her journey was different. Of course I wish she’d married and had kids and been that archetypal Jewish girl, but that was impossible. In a funny way I’m OK about not having grandchildren, because it keeps me younger. Alex is talking about children now but I’m not longing for grandchildren – I’m the opposite of a typical Jewish mother.
“Amy wasn’t domesticated and never cleaned, though she liked to cook her grandfather’s spaghetti and meatballs recipe. She went through phases where she wanted to be clean and got down on her knees to scrub, but it lasted ten minutes. It was all about drama, about the whole performance of scrubbing the floor.
Everything in her life was like a story, a chapter unfolding, never just a regular life. She had absolutely no interest in money. She might have been making a fortune, but I know but she couldn’t care less.
“If I told her that I was using her money to get something, she’d say: ‘I don’t mind, take it’. She had no interest in fast cars, she didn’t even drive.
“Her house wasn’t beautiful, it was just a building, somewhere to live. It wasn’t a warm home, there was a black and white kitchen, very sparse living room, no artwork, rugs, flowers, nothing homely, just a place where she laid her head. But I didn’t teach her how to make a home, because I’m not a homely person. It’s just where I sleep at night.”
Janis may appear calm and detached, but her voice falters when she speaks about her beloved daughter, and she says she longs for Amy to put her arms around her like she used to.
While she dreads the second anniversary of her daughter’s death on July 23, every day carries the same grief and void.
“I’ll light the candles, but for me every day is like the day she died,” she said. “Every day is terrible, but I believe one can choose to enjoy life or not, so I try to move on and be positive otherwise I would be a heap. I’ve made the choice to live my life.
“I have this spirit within where I step back, look at life and think, Okay Janis, just keep going.”
Both the family and the foundation have organised commemorative events for what would have been Amy’s 30th birthday. “I light candles, lie in the bath and listen to music, cry most days, and think of Amy,” chokes Janis. “What I miss most is her hugging and kissing me. She was always telling me she adored me.
“I’ve found some Mother’s Day cards from when she was 13 and the words are so telling: ‘Mummy I’m so often naughty, but I love you so much.’
“Amy had no regard for her possessions or herself. She knew what she had become and didn’t like it, but couldn’t see a way out of it. She was getting there. She’d kicked the drugs, but I also know she was bored – with her entertainment, with doing the same gigs and the same music.
“I would definitely say Amy was bored with life.
“I believe in life after death and that when Amy passed she probably met with her grandma who said to her: ‘You see, I told you this would happen! I told you to stop your mad way of life. And Amy probably said: ‘Oops, I didn’t mean to do that.’
“I think she surprised herself. She probably thought she was immortal.”