Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home on July 23, 2011. After an autopsy, it was determined that she died of accidental alcohol poisoning. Her BAC (blood alcohol content) was 5 times the British legal limit. She had reportedly been trying to give up alcohol and had spent most of the month sober. However, earlier in the week she had started to binge drink again. When she was discovered, there were 3 empty vodka bottles near her bed.
Several shrines popped up around the world in tribute to the 27 year old Grammy-winning star. The largest was located near the London home where she died. Placed at the shrine were teddy bears, flowers, votive candles, CDs, personal notes and…empty vodka bottles.
In my experience, it is quite common to find alcohol left at spontaneous shrines–especially cans and bottles of a person’s favorite beer. If the person was a smoker, there are often cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters left as well. However, I think it is quite a different situation when these objects are left at a shrine for a pop culture figure.
While Winehouse’s propensity for alcohol was common knowledge [her award-winning song “Rehab” deals with this issue], other intimate details about her likes and dislikes that would otherwise have influenced the choice of how to decorate her shrine may not have been known. Because the shrine was created by her fans, rather than her family or close acquaintances, I believe it was more in memory of her persona rather than her as a person.
Her death at the young age of 27 secured her spot among interesting company, as a member of the “27 Club,” a group of rock and roll [and popular music] icons who all died at the same age. This group includes Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones [Rolling Stones], and Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], to name a few. When she died, her created persona–her character–Amy Winehouse the Star–died as well. While those who were close to her might mourn the loss of their loved one, her fans mourn the loss of their beloved artist.
For example, Jim Morrison’s grave site in Paris is a popular pilgrimage site for young musicians. Along with the usual offerings of notes, candles, and flowers, his grave is known for being covered in wine bottles, condom wrappers, needles, and other drug paraphernalia. These appear to be offerings to more than just Jim Morrison; they are in memory of the rock and roll era for which he was a figurehead. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll, the ethos of the 60s and 70s, Jim Morrison–all are lost and must be remembered.
Likewise, there is more being remembered than simply ‘Amy the 27-year-old’ at her shrine. The empty vodka bottles are for the musician who would sing openly about alcoholism and drug addiction, rehab and depression. They are for a person who is known for enjoying vodka. They are for the person who sang: “I don’t ever want to drink again / I just need a friend.”
It is ironic that the offerings to Amy Winehouse are the same bottles of alcohol that caused her death, but they are the offerings that loyal fans associate with a musician they cannot and will not forget. In a way, there is no harm that leaving the alcohol can possibly do. They cannot hurt her now, and while they may be seen by some as “glorifying” a culture of alcoholism, they might also be the only way for those who knew her through her music alone to pay respectful and personal tribute to her life and work.