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Before she died last July at the tender age of 27, Amy Winehouse was well on her way to being The Illustrated Woman, with a series of provocative tattoos that were usually highly visible to the public, thanks to her preference for tank tops, bras, and low-cut shorts. She never got a chance to write a memoir, but a lot of her life story is right there in ink—the romantic obsessions, the familial sweetness, the aspirations, the sauciness.
"It's a way of suffering for the things that mean a lot to you," she said about her penchant for going under the pen. "Actually I like the pain. To me, it relieves you."
Here's a look back at what Winehouse had to tell us through her body art:
Father Mitch Winehouse just published a memoir titled Amy, My Daughter. Naturally, the dust jacket has a photo of his late offspring in profile, the better to show off the prominent "Daddy's Girl" tatt on her left arm and the lucky horseshoe that went smack in the middle of it. Her father, a cab driver and a jazz singer in his own right, was clearly beloved in her life, even though he often spoke out to the press about her bad romances substance abuse while she was alive, in what he said were attempts to spur her into getting her act together.
Blake the rake
In his memoir, daddy Mitch writes: "It occurred to me recently that one of the biggest-selling U.K. albums of the twenty-first century so far [Back To Black] is all about the biggest low-life scum-bag that God ever put breath into. Quite ironic, isn't it?" He's referring, of course, to her greatest obsession, Blake Fielder-Civil. But daddy's disapproval didn't mean that Blake didn't merit his own tattoo. She had his first name emblazoned just above her left breast, along with a pocket, presumably to confer that she was comfortably settled into his. After their divorce, Winehouse was reportedly shopping for tattoo removal services to get Blake off her chest.
Perhaps her final boyfriend, Reg Traviss, didn't enjoy seeing his predecessor's name embellished near an erogenous zone. Traviss never earned a tattoo of his own, that the public knows of, by the way. He may not have been that much more virtuous of a catch than Fielder-Civil, anyhow: Just this past week, Traviss was arraigned to stand trial in London on two counts of rape relating to an incident last December.
The "Never Clip My Wings" songbird
The sweetly chirping bird on her right forearm suggested melodiousness, but the slogan that went with it carried a whiff of "don't tread on me"-style defiance. The bird illustration is now the logo for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity that was set up after her death to provide support to young people dealing with addictions. This month, the non-profit organization was recently chosen as eBay's charity of the week.
The topless pinup girl
Winehouse clearly was a student of the Bettie Page school of naughty nostalgia, and besides a small Betty Boop tatt, Amy had a much larger and much more exhibitionist pinup girl on her arm...right below dad. When she performed on the Grammys in February 2008, producers asked her to cover up the revealing ink. But rather than overdress for the occasion. Winehouse used a black pen to draw a bra onto the tattoo.
Cynthia, the grandmother/hottie
Amy's mum never earned a tattoo of her own. Said her mother, Janis, "When Amy got her Daddy's Girl tattoo, she asked me, 'Do you want me to get mummy tattooed, too?' I said, 'No, don't worry. That's not my thing.'" But Winehouse did have the name of her grandmother, Cynthia, also a singer, scripted onto her body. Cynthia died in 2006, but from the illustration of a a leggy gal in red shirt and short-shorts, Amy's beloved grandma must have had quite the gams.
The eagle/ankh combo platter
Prominently placed in the upper middle of her back, Winehouse had an odd, mixed-metaphor melange that blended an eagle with an Egyptian ankh colored in American stars and stripes. Maybe the ankh represented a quest for eternal life, and maybe the other symbolism represented a quest to (if nothing else) always be big in America.
A, for Alex Claire
When Winehouse broke up for a time with Fielder-Civil before their marriage, she took up with Alex Claire—long enough to get the letter A tattooed on her ring finger in his honor. She broke his heart when she went back to Blake... and the man scorned retaliated by blabbing about their unconventional sex life to the hungry British press. Just as well that she never got to shield that tattoo with his ring, or the engagement token of any of her other unsuitable suitors.
No one ever accused her of lacking a randy side, well exemplified by this come-on. The anchor and invitation were located right next to her naval... er, navel.
What woman with a penchant for showing off the skin right below the small of her back wouldn't want to dedicate it to the cartoon character most famous for having trouble keeping her slip on? In a way, Boop symbolized the seemingly not-so-bright side that, amid her intoxications, kept much of the public from realizing just how brilliant an artist she really was.
One of Winehouse's last tattoos was a dove imprinted on the left side of her neck. But if flying away from her troubles was an aspiration, that goal was more easily illustrated than lived out. Maybe it was too symbolic that this one, unlike her bolder adventures in inking, was a temporary tattoo.