Amy Winehouse’s Talent and Tragedies Are on Full Display in Her Biopic ‘Back to Black’

amy winehouse holding a standing microphone and singing as her name is illuminated in the background
Amy WinehouseGetty Images
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Latest News: Amy Winehouse Inspires 2024 Movie Back to Black

Playing Amy Winehouse in the new biopic Back to Black came with “an obligation and a responsibility” to tell her story accurately, according to British actor Marisa Abela. Now in theaters, Back to Black stars 27-year-old Abela as the late singer and chronicles Winehouse’s life and music career, including her battles with drug addiction and bulimia. In addition to months of vocal training for the role, Abela underwent a physical transformation and lost a significant amount of weight in order to give a realistic portrayal.

“When you are a different size, you take up a lot less space and that just changes how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you,” Abela told Harper’s Bazaar UK. “I think Amy can be defined by a million things, most of all her power and her voice and her legacy, but it’s true that she was victim of a disease, which was addiction, and she had an eating disorder—and that changes you physically. I didn’t feel like it was my place as an actor to say that we don’t need to tell that part of the story. It’s her story.”

Abela hopes the biopic, which has been in progress for almost six years, and her performance “capture the essence of [Winehouse’s] soul.”

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Who Was Amy Winehouse?

British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse earned worldwide acclaim and multiple Grammy Awards for her 2006 album Back To Black and its most popular song “Rehab.” Winehouse found an early footing in the music business at age 16, when a classmate shared her demo tape with his manager. Critics praised her 2003 debut album, Frank, and even louder kudos and greater commercial success followed for her sophomore effort, Back To Black. It remains one of the best-selling albums of this century in the United Kingdom. Winehouse was named Best New Artist at the 2008 Grammy Awards, where she won a total of five trophies. Toward the end of her life, her talent was overshadowed by her drug and alcohol abuse. The singer, known for her beehive hairdo and cat-eye makeup, was forced to cancel tour dates and encountered legal troubles starting in 2007. Winehouse died from accidental alcohol poisoning in July 2011 at age 27. The late singer is the subject of the 2024 biopic Back to Black, starring Marisa Abela as Winehouse.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Amy Jade Winehouse
BORN: September 14, 1983
DIED: July 23, 2011
BIRTHPLACE: London, England
SPOUSE: Blake Fielder-Civil (2007-2009)

Early Life and Parents

Amy Jade Winehouse was born on September 14, 1983, in the London suburb of Southgate. Her father, Mitch, worked as a cab driver, while her mother, Janis, was a pharmacist.

In her early years, Amy was immersed in music. Many of her uncles on her mother’s side were professional jazz musicians, and her father sang as a child with his family. Winehouse’s paternal grandmother was also once romantically involved with British jazz legend Ronnie Scott. Winehouse grew up listening to a diverse range of music, including folk singer James Taylor and jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan. At age 10, she was drawn to listen to American R&B and hip-hop acts, including TLC and Salt-N-Pepa, and she founded a short-lived amateur rap group called Sweet ’n Sour.

When she was 12 years old, Winehouse was accepted into the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School. She received her first guitar a year later. But by age 16, Winehouse was expelled for “not applying herself” and piercing her nose. Things weren’t entirely bleak that year. She caught her first big break when pop singer Tyler James, a schoolmate and close friend, passed her demo tape to his manager, Nick Shymansky. Winehouse initially played it cool, but soon, Shymansky had a new client.

Music Career: Songs, Back To Black, and More

Working with manager Nick Shymansky led Winehouse to sign a deal with Island Records in 2002 when she was 19. The singer was initially a jazz vocalist, but her music blossomed into an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, soul, and R&B. Her first two albums, Frank (2003) and Back To Black (2006), were critically acclaimed hits that made her an international award-winning star. Her third and final album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2011), was released posthumously.

amy winehouse smiles while standing behind a microphone and playing guitar, she wears a floral pattern sleeveless dress
Amy Winehouse performs in 2003, the same year her first album released.Getty Images


Winehouse’s debut album, Frank, was a critically acclaimed mixture of jazz, pop, soul, and hip-hop. The 2003 album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize as well as two BRIT Awards for Best Female Solo Artist and Best Urban Act. The debut single on Frank, “Stronger Than Me,” earned the new artist an Ivor Novello Award. In the United Kingdom, the album hit platinum status and peaked at No. 3 on the Official Albums Chart.

During this time, however, Winehouse began developing a reputation as an unstable partier, often showing up to her club or TV performances too drunk to sing a whole set. She eventually began using hard drugs after her then-boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil introduced them to her. The couple was known to cause a public scene.

Back To Black

By 2006, her management company finally suggested that Winehouse enter rehab for alcohol abuse. Instead, she dumped the company and used the experience to create her critically acclaimed second album. Back To Black released in October 2006 and proved to have such staying power that it was the best-selling album of 2007 in the United Kingdom. The anchor single, “Rehab,” addressed her refusal to receive treatment for substance abuse and became a top 10 hit in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Trophies arrived in 2007 to match her commercial success. Winehouse won the BRIT Award for Best Female Solo Artist that February, as Back To Black was nominated for best British album at the awards show. Then in May, “Rehab” earned the artist another Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song.

amy winehouse holding a standing microphone and singing as her name is illuminated in the background
Amy Winehouse performs in November 2007 in Munich.Getty Images

Back To Black made its American debut in March 2007. It was an instant smash, hitting higher on the Billboard music charts than any other debut by a British female recording artist in history. The album stayed in the Top 10 for several months, peaking at No. 2 and selling one million copies by the end of that summer. By March 2008, it was a double-platinum, Grammy-winning album in the States.

Winehouse won five Grammy Awards in 2008 off the success of her second album. As “Rehab” earned Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Back To Black took home Best Pop Vocal Album. The 24-year-old was also named Best New Artist, beating out Taylor Swift, Paramore, Feist, and Ledisi. Winehouse’s haul tied Beyoncé’s then-record of the most Grammy wins by a woman in a single night. (Beyoncé set a new record in 2010 when she won six Grammy Awards in one night; Adele then tied that record at the 2012 Grammys.)

Following Winehouse’s death in 2011, Back To Black experienced a surge in sales to become, for a time, the highest-selling album of the 21st century in Britain. (Adele broke Winehouse’s record with her 2011 album, 21.) Since its release more than 17 years ago, Back To Black has spent six weeks atop the U.K. album chart and has been in the top 100 for at least one week nearly every year since (it was absent in 2010).

Top Songs

“Rehab” was Winehouse’s only top 10 song in the United States; it peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2007. That December, it became a U.S. gold-certified single before achieving platinum status in 2010. Winehouse’s only other platinum-certified song in America is “Back To Black.”

Both songs were also massive chart successes in the United Kingdom, along with some of the singer’s other marquee songs:

  • Upon its debut, “Rehab” became Winehouse’s first top 20 hit before rising to No. 7.

  • “Back To Black” became the third-highest selling U.K. single of 2007 and was eventually added to Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Beyoncé and André 3000 performed an updated version of the track for the 2013 movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald book.

  • Winehouse and Mark Ronson’s 2007 cover of the Zutons song “Valerie” rose all the way to No. 2 and remained in the top 20 for 19 consecutive weeks.

  • “You Know I’m No Good” and “Tears Dry on Their Own,” both songs from the Back To Black album, also became top 20 hits.

Performance Problems and Attempted Comeback

As Winehouse dominated the charts and award ceremonies, her substance abuse, turbulent personal life, and legal problems spelled trouble for her live performances. An August 2007 drug overdose put her planned North American tour on hold, though her European tour that fall continued as scheduled. That October, Winehouse was arrested and held overnight in a Norwegian hotel for drug possession. The next month, Winehouse showed up seemingly intoxicated for a performance at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena. Some of the crowd responded with boos and walkouts. The singer then canceled the rest of her concerts and public appearances for that year.

Winehouse’s stint in rehab in early 2008, along an American visa denial for “use and abuse of narcotics,” prevented the British artist from attending and performing in-person at that year’s Grammy Awards. At the last minute, her visa denial was overturned, but it was too late to change plans. Winehouse temporarily left her rehabilitation clinic to watch the ceremony, where she won five trophies, and perform live via satellite from London.

amy winehouse hugs her mother with one arm and holds a microphone on a stand in the other, both women smile as they stand on stage with a few men in suits in the background
Amy Winehouse hugs her mother, Janis Winehouse, while accepting the 2008 Grammy for Record of the Year from London.Getty Images

Her erratic behavior continued in June 2008, when she appeared to punch a fan during a performance at the Glastonbury Music Festival in England. Londoner James Gostelow, 25, told BBC News that Winehouse elbowed him in the forehead after someone in the crowd behind him threw a hat at her. In a widely circulated video of the incident, Winehouse was seen throwing a series of punches into the crowd. Gostelow said he had no intention of making a complaint to police, and Winehouse escaped criminal proceedings.

In 2009, news broke that Winehouse was starting her own record label, Lioness Records, and had signed her 13-year-old goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield, as her first musician. Another positive announcement arrived in July 2010 when Winehouse shared her next album would be out by the following January. “It’s going to be very much the same as my second album, where there’s a lot of jukebox stuff and songs that are—just jukebox, really,” she told Metro. However, producer Mark Ronson offered the less encouraging update that recording work on the album had yet to begin. Unfortunately, the project never materialized before her unexpected death in June 2011.

Winehouse’s final song was a 2011 collaboration with Tony Bennett titled “Body and Soul,” which appeared on his album Duets II: The Great Performances. The song earned Winehouse a posthumous Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

“Body and Soul” was also included on Winehouse’s posthumous December 2011 album Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Released just over four months following her death, the 12-track project featured unreleased songs and alternate versions of some of Winehouse’s most popular singles, including “Valerie” and “Tears Dry on Their Own” (released simply as “Tears Dry”). The album quickly went to No. 1 on the British charts and debuted at No. 5 in the United States.

Ex-Husband Blake Fielder-Civil

blake fielder civil and amy winehouse embrace while standing and posing for a photo, both smile softly as they stand in front of a wooden paneled wall, he wears a white tank top and black pants with a dark hat and gold necklaces, she wears a black halter dress with white polka dots and holds a white clutch in one hand
Blake Fielder-Civil and Amy Winehouse, seen here in June 2007, were married for two years.Getty Images

In 2005, Winehouse started a tumultuous, on-again-off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a music video assistant she met at a London pub. He admitted to introducing Winehouse to hard drugs. In public, the couple’s arguments often devolved into fistfights and dramatic scenes. In private, their romance centered around drugs, alcohol, and physical abuse.

Despite their troubles, Winehouse and Fielder-Civil were engaged in April 2007. The couple eloped and married on May 18, 2007, in a ceremony in Miami.

Winehouse revealed that her romance with Fielder-Civil was the inspiration for several songs on her album Back To Black. But the relationship continued to impact Winehouse negatively, too. The couple was arrested and fined for marijuana possession while in Norway in October 2007. The next month, Winehouse’s husband was arrested for allegedly offering a $400,000 bribe to a bartender whom he had allegedly assaulted earlier that June. In December 2007, Winehouse was arrested on suspicion of attempting to interfere with Fielder-Civil’s case. She voluntarily reported to a police station and was arrested before questioning. She later blamed her husband’s legal woes for her inability to continue touring at the end of that year.

In June 2008, Fielder-Civil and three codefendants pleaded guilty to assault and obstruction charges. The courts released Fielder-Civil from jail time on the condition that he stay in a drug rehabilitation center for long-term treatment.

By the end of 2008, the singer’s marriage had dissolved. Winehouse had begun an extended stay on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, during which time she had allegedly met a new love interest. And tabloids had linked Fielder-Civil to German model Sophie Schandorff. In January 2009, Winehouse’s spokesperson confirmed that divorce proceedings had begun between husband and wife, with Fielder-Civil filing for divorce and citing adultery as the reason for the split. A London judge granted their divorce that July.

Substance Abuse: Arrests, Rehab, and Career Ramifications

As Winehouse’s star rose, so too did her reputation of strange behavior. The admitted marijuana smoker was dogged by reports of drug abuse beginning in 2007.

On August 8, 2007, the singer overdosed on several drugs and was hospitalized. First claiming exhaustion, Winehouse later told The News of the World that she overdosed from a mix of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, whisky, and vodka that she had consumed during a bar crawl in London. Doctors ordered Winehouse to rest, and as they worked to address her health, the singer paused her upcoming North American tour.

It wasn’t long before Winehouse’s next drug-related drama. At a tour stop in Norway in October 2007, an anonymous tip led police to the star’s hotel in Bergen. She, her husband, and a third unidentified person were arrested and held in custody overnight for marijuana possession. The trio was released after paying $715 in fines.

Her erratic behavior continued during a November 2007 performance where she was seemingly intoxicated. Afterward, Winehouse canceled all concerts and public appearances for the rest of the year, again citing “doctor’s orders.” That December, Winehouse was arrested again on suspicion of attempting to interfere with her husband’s bribery case. She voluntarily reported to a police station and was arrested before questioning.

In January 2008, a video allegedly showing Winehouse smoking crack cocaine surfaced, leading to a brief stint in a London rehab clinic. She was arrested that May for questioning but wasn’t formally charged in the case after police said they couldn’t officially determine what the singer was smoking.

After a June 2008 concert where she was caught on video throwing punches into the crowd, Winehouse returned to a London clinic, where she had been receiving treatment for “traces of emphysema” and an irregular heartbeat caused by smoking crack cocaine and cigarettes. Winehouse’s father told reporters that his daughter was warned that she would have to wear an oxygen mask if she didn’t stop abusing drugs.

amy winehouse walking toward a car in the foreground with her father next to her
Amy Winehouse leaves home with her father, Mitch Winehouse (left), for a March 2009 court appearance.Getty Images

The singer soon found herself in more legal trouble when a burlesque dancer named Serene Flash accused Winehouse of hitting her in the eye at a London charity event in September 2008. Winehouse testified in court she did push Flash away but only after feeling intimidated when Flash asked her for a photo and attempted to embrace her. “I think she was being overly friendly but that was intimidating. I was scared. I’m not Mickey Mouse, I’m a human being,” Winehouse said. In July 2009, a district judge dismissed the case.

Last Performance, Death, and Funeral

Winehouse gave her final concert performance on June 18, 2011, serving as an opening act for DJ and singer-songwriter Moby at the Tuborg Festival in Belgrade, Serbia. Winehouse slurred her words and uncomfortably swayed back and forth throughout the set, receiving a cascade of boos from the 20,000 fans in attendance. The singer, who had recently ended a stint in rehab, was rushed back to her hotel, while her band continued playing to fulfill their time obligation.

Only weeks later on July 23, 2011, Winehouse was found unresponsive in the bedroom of her home in Camden, London, and pronounced dead at age 27. Authorities determined the cause of death was accidental alcohol poisoning.

Saddened fans gathered outside of the home to leave flowers and hold candlelight vigils. “Amy was about one thing, and that was love,” her father, Mitch, told the crowd, according to People. “Her whole life was devoted to her family and her friends and to you guys as well.”

Three days later, a memorial service took place at a synagogue in Edgware, North London. About 150 people attended, including her family and bandmates, producer Mark Ronson, and her close friend Kelly Osbourne.

Movie and Documentary

Winehouse’s life and career were the focus of the critically acclaimed documentary Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia, which hit theaters in 2015. Although the film was widely celebrated, receiving an Academy Award in 2016 for Best Documentary, its less than flattering portrayal of Winehouse’s father upset her family. The family released a statement through a spokesperson after Amy was shown at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, stating that the project “is a missed opportunity to celebrate her life and talent and that it is both misleading and contains some basic untruths.”

The late singer is also the subject of the upcoming biopic Back to Black, releasing in theaters in May 2024. The movie began taking shape in October 2018, when The Guardian reported Winehouse’s family had reached an agreement with Monumental Pictures to make a film about her life. British actor Marisa Abela will portray Winehouse, with Jack O’Connell playing her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

Abela earned the coveted role of Winehouse after impressing director Sam Taylor-Johnson in her first audition. “Marisa came in as Marisa—absolutely no cat-eye makeup or anything. She was very sweet and very quiet. And then I turned on the camera, and she looks down the lens, and literally, we all just went, ‘What?!’” Taylor-Johnson told Empire. “We’d seen some brilliant impersonations, but [Marisa] managed to just bring every fibre of her being in alignment with who Amy Winehouse was, and is, to many people. She inhabited her.”

According to the director, Abela admitted at her audition she couldn’t sing and began undergoing voice training on her own before officially getting the part. She performs all of the vocals used in Back to Black.


  • I don’t think your ability to fight has anything to do with how big you are. It’s to do with how much anger is in you.

  • I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff. I just like the old stuff. It’s all quite dramatic and atmospheric. You’d have an entire story in song.

  • I’m a musician. I’m not someone who’s trying to be diplomatic, you know, trying to get my 15 minutes. I’m just a musician who is honest.

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