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Amy Winehouse
Matt Dunham  /  AP
Amy Winehouse's hit song, "Rehab," also reflected some harsh realities about her own life.
updated 7/23/2011 7:22:39 PM ET 2011-07-23T23:22:39

There may not be another singer whose life was so defined and embodied by one song.

When Amy Winehouse first released her biggest hit, 2007's "Rehab," it was received as a wry, witty, and brilliant form of self-reflection, given her history of drug and alcohol addiction, already well-documented though she was just 23 years old then.

As the album that it came from, "Back to Black," became a multiplatinum sensation and the singer behind it fell deeper and deeper into addiction, the lyrics —"They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, 'No, no, no,'" — became harder to enjoy.

Story: Singer Amy Winehouse found dead in London home
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And as she repeatedly relapsed after several rehabilitation attempts and went into a drug free-fall, the lyrics became cautionary, and later, contributed to the caricature of a deeply disturbed woman whose stunning talent was wasting away, along with the body that talent occupied.

With Winehouse's death Saturday at age 27 — joining the ranks of drug-addled rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison, who died at the same age — perhaps now people will be able look past that one song. Perhaps now we can appreciate her for what she was — a dazzling, versatile singer blessed with a mind that produced lyrics that were coarse, hilarious, heartbreaking and revelatory, and always spellbinding.

Story: Winehouse just latest musician to die at 27

Just as Winehouse was so much more than a drug addict, her music was so much more — and richer — than "Rehab."

Certainly, it was the song that made her a worldwide sensation — it also captured her record and song of the year honors at the Grammys in 2008. But the former teen celebrity came into her own as an artist a few years before, with the 2003 album "Frank." Whereas "Black to Black" relied heavily on a retro, 1960s soul groove, "Frank" harkened to an even earlier time. On the album, she enveloped a world inhabited by jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, yet decidedly modern: One song was titled "(Expletive) Me Pumps."

Her malleable voice had great range, and expertly embodied the emotion of the moment — from sassy defiance to lovelorn longing. The album made her a hit in her native Britain, and also made the spotlight white-hot on the singer, and her apparent demons.

Remembering Amy Winehouse's talent

Tabloids chronicled her drunken behavior, drug use, dramatic weight loss, and troubled love life — it was around this time she became involved with Blake Fielder-Civil, who would later become her husband, as well as her drug partner.

Though Winehouse would remain a fixture in the press, it would take more than three years for "Back to Black," her next album, to come out. A triumph when it debuted in Britain in late 2006, its release in the United States was highly anticipated: At one intimate showcase before its release, VIPs like Jay-Z showed up to get a listen to the much-heralded performer.

Musically, Winehouse delivered. The album was considered one of the best of that year, and will likely be considered as one of the best of her generation. Delving into her own warped mindset, the album chronicled her troubled romantic life and the despair over it with sultry brilliance: Her drug troubles only took center stage once, on "Rehab" (A song "Addicted," about her love of marijuana, was left off the album's American edition).

Story: Celebrities express grief at Winehouse's death

"Rehab" was the album's biggest single, becoming a top 10 hit in the United States. While the album didn't spawn any follow-up hits, it was a cohesive gem that transfixed the music world.

Although she was a musical triumph, she became better known to the masses worldwide for her precipitous decline into the depths of drug addiction. When she put out "Back to Black," she declared herself sober: by the end of 2007, she was dealing with troubles with the law, failed attempts at rehab, erratic behavior, and canceled concerts.

Still, she was the belle of the Grammys in 2008 as she captured five trophies, including two of the night's most prestigious trophies for "Rehab." The fact that she could not attend the Los Angeles ceremony because she was in rehab — and performed from London after getting a brief reprieve from her facility — only crystallized her reputation as an extremely fragile, self-destructive persona.

Story: Remembering meeting Winehouse at London pub

The night, during which she won five trophies, was the highlight of her life, and a moment she could never recapture.

Instead of taking the path toward sobriety, Winehouse descended into more drug-induced madness. She appeared at concerts sporadically, and when she did, often gave incoherent, disheveled performances that angered the crowds. At times, she also flaunted her drug use in the media.

Musically, with the exception of an occasional recording here and there, she faded into the background, as other new talents — Adele, Lady Gaga — took her place as the sensation of the moment.

Story: Kelly Osbourne mourns loss of Amy Winehouse

Still, many music fans were still waiting for her comeback. But with each moment that passed, it seemed unlikely that she would be able to get herself together for such an undertaking. Though a new album was teased for 2011, she clearly wasn't in any shape to sing; In June, she checked into a clinic that treats drug problems. Later that month, she canceled her European tour after embarrassing herself yet again with another disjointed mess of a performance in Serbia.

So, like so many deeply disturbed performers, Winehouse's life ends with no chance for another act: She becomes yet another cautionary tale that some will follow, and others choose to ignore.

Remember Winehouse on our Facebook page

But like Hendrix, Joplin, Michael Jackson, Judy Garland and other celebrities with tragic downfalls, her musical legacy — though ever so brief — will provide that comeback, for her musical legacy.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Amy Winehouse

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  1. Father's farewell

    Mitch Winehouse, the father of the late British singer Amy Winehouse, arrives at Golders Green Crematorium in London for a ceremony for his daughter on Tuesday, July 26.

    Amy Winehouse died at her London home on Saturday, July 23, at the age of 27. The cause of death has not yet been determined. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Remembering a friend

    Winehouse friend Kelly Osbourne, sporting a beehive style hairdo in tribute to the deceased singer, leaves after a cremation ceremony in London on Tuesday, July 26. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Always a story

    Photographers angle for a shot of guests at the ceremony for Winehouse outside the Golders Green Crematorium in London on July 26. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fade to 'Black'

    Mark Ronson leaves the cremation of Winehouse in London on July 26. The music producer worked on Winehouse's smash album "Back to Black." (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A family mourns

    Amy Winehouse's father, Mitch; brother Alex; former boyfriend Reg Traviss and mother Janis look at memorabilia left by fans of the singer outside of her London flat on Monday, July 25. Mitch Winehouse thanked admirers of his daughter for showing their support, saying "it means so much to me and my family." (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Showered with flowers

    A mourner adds to the floral tributes outside Winehouse's home in London on Sunday, July 24. (Danny Martindale / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sharing sorrow

    Fans gather outside Winehouse's home on Sunday, July 24. (Kerim Okten / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Leaving tributes

    Fans place flowers and tributes in memory of the singer on Sunday, July 24. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A sad farewell

    Winehouse's body is carried into a private ambulance on Saturday, July 23. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Paying respects

    An Amy Winehouse fan puts a note outside Winehouse's home in London. It reads in part: "Dearest Amy. I'm glad u made it home." (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mourning Winehouse

    British singer and filmmaker Reg Traviss, who reportedly dated Winehouse, looks on as a member of the public passes to lay flowers near the late singer's home. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Final turn in the spotlight

    In this June 18, 2011 file photo, Amy Winehouse performs on stage during her concert in Belgrade, Serbia on June 18, 2011. The singer slurred her way through a set as the crowd of 20,000 booed, then left the stage early while her band played without her to fulfill the contract. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. An early end

    Winehouse performs on stage at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, Britain, on June 28, 2008. (Frantzesco Kangaris / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. In court

    Winehouse arrives at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court north of London on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. The singer pleaded guilty to assaulting a theater manager who asked her to leave a family Christmas show starring Mickey Rooney because she had too much to drink. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Front and center

    Winehouse attends The Q Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The singer's father, Mitch Winehouse, said recently that she had breast-enhancement surgery. On the British TV show "This Morning," he said she looks "absolutely fantastic." (Dave M. Benett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Back in court

    Winehouse arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London, on Thursday, July 23, 2009. The British singer faces trial for an alleged assault on a woman at a charity ball last September. (Shaun Curry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. For her Blake, incarcerated

    Winehouse arrives at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London on Monday, June 2, 2009, where her husband Blake Fielder-Civil was appearing on charges of perverting the course of justice and assault. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Sip of Winehouse

    Winehouse pauses for a drink while performing for 90,000 spectators on the main stage of the Rock in Rio Lisboa music festival at the Bela Vista Park in Portugal on Friday, May 30, 2009. (Steven Governo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Q&A with police

    Winehouse arrives at Holborn police station after being invited in for questioning on Friday, April 25, 2009, in London. The troubled singer had been accused of assaulting a member of the public during an incident at a pub. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Brit diva

    Winehouse performs at the Brit Awards 2008 in London on Wednesday, Feb. 20. The event is the UK's biggest music awards show. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Grammy success

    Winehouse hugs her mother Janis Winehouse after accepting a Grammy Award at the Riverside Studios for the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony via video link on Feb. 10 in London. Winehouse won five out of her six nominations including record of the year, best new artist, song of the year, pop vocal album and female pop vocal performance. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Blonde having less fun

    Temporarily blond and without her trademark beehive hairdo, Winehouse leaves Snaresbrook Crown Court in London after a hearing for her husband Blake Fielder-Civil on Friday, Jan. 18. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Free to bee

    Winehouse performs at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago on Aug. 5, 2007. The tattooed, beehived soul singer has often had her immense musical talents eclipsed by her struggles off stage. (Brian Kersey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'No, no, no ...'

    Winehouse performs at the Glastonbury music festival, in Pilton, England on June 22, 2007. "Rehab" became the hit song from the British singer's second album, "Back to Black." (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Before their troubles

    Winehouse and husband musician Blake Fielder-Civil arrive at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 3, 2007, in Universal City, Calif. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Bursting onto the scene

    Winehouse arrives at the Earls Court Arena in London for the Brit Awards on Feb. 14, 2007. She won the award for Best British Female Solo Artist. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Understanding addiction

    Actor Russell Brand hugs Winehouse in 2006. Himself a former addict, Brand wrote a touching blog post after Winehouse's death about the struggles of addiction and pleaded for readers to help those in their lives with similar troubles. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pre-bee

    Looking a bit healthier, and without her trademark hairdo and tattoos, Winehouse poses in the pressroom at the annual Nationwide Mercury Music Prize at the Grosvenor House on Sept. 7, 2004 in London. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Life and times of Winehouse

A look at her early musical success, personal stumbles and unexpected death at age 27.

TODAY.com | Link |

Video: Singer Winehouse dead at 27

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