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How did Amy Winehouse die? What to know ahead of new biopic 'Back to Black'

Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at age 27 of accidental alcohol poisoning. The British singer lived with addiction and mental health issues for much of her life.
Amy Winehouse on stage at T in The Park.
Amy Winehouse on stage on July 13, 2008, in Kinrosshire, Scotland.Ross Gilmore / Redferns
/ Source: TODAY

It's been nearly 13 years since Amy Winehouse's death, but her legacy still lives on.

A new biopic titled "Back to Black" highlights the late singer's wildly successful career and gives viewers an intimate look at her troubled life behind the scenes.

Before the film hits theaters on May 17, here's a look back at the health struggles Winehouse encountered throughout her life and the details surrounding her cause of death.

When did Amy Winehouse die?

The “Back to Black” singer passed away on July 23, 2011, in her North London home.

How old was Amy Winehouse when she died?

At the time of her death, Winehouse was only 27 years old. She was less than two months shy of her 28th birthday when she died.

Amy Winehouse's cause of death

Amy Winehouse died of accidental alcohol poisoning, according to NBC News reporting. A coroner determined that the singer “died as a result of alcohol toxicity” and had a blood alcohol level that was five times the legal driving limit.

Coroner Shirley Radcliffe ruled out any possibility of a suspicious death and said the singer “voluntarily consumed alcohol — a deliberate act that took an unexpected turn and led to her death.”

Pathologist Michael Sheaff, who was involved in the death inquest, told officials that Winehouse most likely experienced a respiratory arrest as a result of her drinking.

Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" during 2007 MTV Movie Awards.
Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" during the 2007 MTV Movie Awards.Christopher Polk / FilmMagic

Dr. Christina Romete, who treated Winehouse while she attempted to address her drug and alcohol addictions, said the singer previously took marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin, but had given them up. The doctor added that Winehouse had continued to binge on alcohol after periods of being sober.

Per the doctor, Winehouse had stopped drinking for almost two weeks when she resumed drinking just a few days before she died.

Winehouse's official cause of death was released a year and a half after she was found dead in her home with empty bottles of vodka around her. An initial death inquest produced the same results.

What is alcohol intoxication?

Alcohol intoxication is another name for alcohol poisoning. The condition can be deadly, according to the Mayo Clinic, and typically results from "drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time."

"Drinking too much too quickly can affect breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex. In some cases, this can lead to a coma and death," the website reads.

What causes alcohol poisoning?

Per the Cleveland Clinic, alcohol poisoning can be "life-threatening" since it affects "life-supporting functions." And it's not just alcoholic drinks that cause it.

“It often happens from drinking excess alcohol-containing beverages, like beer, wine and/or liquor. But it can also occur due to non-beverage alcohol (ethanol), which is in things like mouthwash, cologne and cough medicine," Cleveland Clinic explains.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when your blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches an unsafe level.

"As your body digests and absorbs alcohol, the alcohol enters your bloodstream. Your blood alcohol content (BAC) begins to rise. Your liver breaks down alcohol to remove it from your body because it’s a toxin. But when BAC levels are high, your liver can’t remove the toxins quickly enough," according to Cleveland Clinic.

Certain factors can also lead to alcohol poisoning, including binge drinking, drinking on an empty stomach and using certain medications and alcohol together.

What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, inability to walk, lack of coordination, trouble staying awake, vomiting, delayed or absent gag reflex, slow heart rate and breathing, incontinence, hypothermia, seizures, and skin that’s blue, gray or pale. 

How to treat alcohol poisoning

Treatment for alcohol poisoning includes IV fluids, stomach pumping, oxygen therapy and blood filtration, per Cleveland Clinic.

Amy Winehouse in February of 2003.
Amy Winehouse in February 2003.Rick Smee / Redferns

What illness did Amy Winehouse have?

Over the course of her lifetime, Winehouse experienced several health challenges.

Bipolar disorder

Winehouse rarely spoke publicly about her bipolar disorder, but she did address her condition during an interview on a British TV show.

“I do drink a lot. I think it’s symptomatic of my depression,” she said, per the Washington Post. “I’m manic depressive, I’m not an alcoholic, which sounds like an alcoholic in denial.”

Manic depression is another term for bipolar disorder, which is a mental illness that cause drastic shifts in a person's mood, energy and ability to focus, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

In a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone, Winehouse also briefly addressed her mental illness: “I do suffer from depression, I suppose, which isn’t that unusual. You know, a lot of people do."

She also shared that she'd self-harmed during "desperate times."

Substance use disorder

The lyrics of one of Winehouse's most popular songs, "Rehab," allude to her ongoing addiction to alcohol and drugs.

During a 2007 interview with CNN, the musician spoke about the inspiration behind her album, “Back to Black,” and described a period in her life when her management team encouraged her to go to rehab.

“I had about a year and a half off and I was drinking a lot — not anything terrible, I was just trying to forget about the fact that I had finished this relationship. And my management at the time thought I (needed to go to rehab)," she said. "They just kind of stepped in and thought they were being the good guys just stepping in and strong-arming me into a rehabilitation center. But I just really didn't need it."

In a separate interview with MTV, the singer said the song "Rehab" is about "a bad patch" and acknowledged that she was acting "reckless and stupid and idiotic" during this period.

Despite her opposition to rehab, the singer did enter a rehabilitation facility on several occasions. However, her father, Mitch Winehouse, said she never fully committed to the process.

While appearing on the “Tamron Hall Show” in 2021, he revealed that his daughter had been off drugs for three years before she died.

“She never dealt with her addictions properly by going to rehab, so the drugs stopped (and) the alcohol started. And alcohol doesn’t have the social stigma that drugs (have). You can get alcohol easily,” he said.

Following her death, Winehouse's family created the Amy Winehouse Foundation, an organization that works with young people in a variety of ways, including music therapy and offering a recovery house.

Amy Winehouse on stage at the Eurockeennes Music Festival in 2007.
Amy Winehouse on stage at the Eurockeennes Music Festival on June 29, 2007, in Belfort, France.Jeff Pachoud / Getty Images


Winehouse also struggled with an eating disorder throughout her life. In 2013, her brother, Alex Winehouse, spoke to The Guardian about her bulimia, which began in her teenage years.

“She suffered from bulimia very badly. That’s not a revelation — you knew just by looking at her. … She would have died eventually, the way she was going, but what really killed her was the bulimia. … Absolutely terrible,” he said.

“I think that it left her weaker and more susceptible. Had she not had an eating disorder, she would have been physically stronger," he added.