I had the pleasure of interviewing Janis Winehouse who lost her only, very talented daughter Amy, who died from alcohol poisoning due to excessive drinking.
Patricia: As you know, I interviewed Mitch a few months back. He filled me in on Amy’s childhood and how she got into music. So, what I would like to do is talk to you from a mothers perspective. We both know losing a child is the worst tragedy and heartache any mother can go through. If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would you do?
Janis: I don’t know. We tried everything we could and then some. We had family members, friends, nobody will ever know how hard we all tried to get Amy to see the light, but Amy was very headstrong. She believed she didn’t have a problem and that she could deal with it on her own. And, we do need to remember; she did get herself off of drugs with the help of rehab and therapy, so she felt she could do the same with drinking. The problem is drinking is evil.
Patricia: That’s because her body was allergic to it, right?
Janis: No, drinking is different. It’s the villain. Once you’re addicted to it, it controls your whole being. It controlled her in a way she never understood. We know she was clean for a period prior to the event, but, when we saw her the day before she passed away she was obviously suffering from the effects of a heavy drinking session.
Patricia: I know from losing my own child and speaking with other mothers who have lost their children, there is always the question “what if”- “what if I did this”, “what if I did that”, “what if I said this” etc. Do you ever ask yourself “what if”?
Janis: Of course. The classic “ifs”.
Patricia: I sit in a bereavement group and we all ask ourselves
“what if” but the truth is we all did the best we could.
Janis: And would we have been able to do anything differently?
I don’t think so. The most important thing for me is that I saw her the day before and I was able to say “I love you Amy” and she said “I love you mum” So, I had that exchange and we were able to complete with that and the next day she was gone.
Patricia: Did you have a close relationship with Amy?
Janis: Oh yes! She adored me. She would throw herself on me. If we were out together she would be hanging on to me. Oh, yes, very close. But that’s what she was like.
Patricia: Did Amy live at home with you?
Janis: Yes, until she moved out at 16 to a flat with a friend of hers. That was the Amy just busy elsewhere.
Patricia: When did she begin singing publicly?
Janis: She was typecast as Rizzo in a school production of Grease at the age of 11, performed at her cousins Bar Mitzvah in Deerfield Beach, FL at the Hillsboro Yacht Club at age14, and then, at age sixteen is when she started making music and when EMI first noticed her. They saw the potential in her. They sent all this recording equipment to our home. It was after that, that she moved out of the house and started recording. Her friend Tyler James got her…
Patricia: So, up to this time she was a happy go lucky person?
Janis: Oh yes… Tyler was her best friend and one day he came over to her flat and asked if she wanted to record a song and she said yes, and that was it! His agent heard her sing and said, “Whoa, we need to do something with this”.
Patricia: Did she confide in you how she felt about fame once she started to become famous and her records became well known?
Janis: No, but she didn’t like it. She hated it. She was very nervous performing and that’s why she drank alcohol, unfortunately. She was just so nervous on stage. There is a famous quote from Amy “I would have rather been a singing waitress”.
Patricia: lol- She liked singing but not the spotlight.
Janis: Exactly. It didn’t sit right with her. She loathed it but that was her industry.
Patricia: They go hand in hand unfortunately. So up to the point of her album, Back to Black, she was just enjoying her life. Was this the album that catapulted her to fame?
Janis: Yes, it was her rocket to the moon. The album chronicled her break up with her husband Blake.
Patricia: When were they married?
Janis: Well, before the album obviously. It is well documented that he turned Amy on to hard drugs but she was a willing participant. The thing with Amy is, she thought she could save him. Amy went out to help him. She loved him, adored him, and would have done anything for him. She was addicted to him.
Patricia: So, he got her addicted to drugs prior to this album?
Janis: Yes. The album is about their breakup. It’s like something bad bites back and that’s what he did unfortunately, hmmm…shame…She created a story about him. It really is a story, like Sid and Nancy all over again. Amy was like this hot, broken lover trying to help her poor addicted husband.
Patricia: Meanwhile, he got her addicted.
Janis: Yes, because that’s what it does, it bites back. No matter what you do.
Patricia: Right. Its also who you surround yourself with sometimes, but, no matter what, they can still say no. I guess sometimes you get caught up in the situation. They could say no, but they don’t.
Janis: Not when they need to. Again, it was love.
Patricia: Was she clean after they broke up?
Janis: Yes. She had stopped drugs but then started drinking.
Patricia: Did they ever get back together?
Janis: No, they were very bad for each other and they knew it. Amy knew she needed to divorce him even though she didn’t want to. She knew they were no good for one another.
Patricia: But she knew she needed to leave him. It seems like her head was screwed on straight. Not many young people would do that, especially when they were in “love”. Let me ask you, the holidays are coming, it’s a time for families to get together, how do you feel about the holidays? Do they have the same meaning that they once had?
Janis: The holidays are a very poignant time. Amy left a very large gap in our lives and is especially missed on the holidays. I often say that I lost Amy years before. I really did. It wasn’t a surprise. She was hospitalized quite a few times for seizures and there were many close calls…I just felt one day that call was going to come.
Patricia: I think that’s every mothers worst fear or I should say any family that has a loved one that’s abusing drugs or alcohol. We always fear that phone call.
I heard she struggled with Bulimia as well. What were some of the symptoms in Amy that made you realize she was doing drugs? After all, she wasn’t living with you.
Janis: Amy was very clever. She would not be high in front of me. If we stopped over her house and she lit a cigarette she would realize and say “mummy, mummy, I am so sorry and put it out. If we saw a beer bottle, it would be the same thing, she would say, “I am a terrible drunk, sorry mummy sorry”. She was very aware of my MS and didn’t want to upset me at all.
Patricia: She didn’t want to hurt you.
Janis: No, she was very protective of me. I was always her go to person. As I said, we were very close so when we did get together or meet she always made an effort to present herself in a healthy manner and not be high or drunk. She was very respectful and considerate of me.
Patricia: That’s very special. We all know that nothing we say or do will make them use, and nothing we say or do will make them stop. I think as parents sometimes we walk on egg shells because we are afraid if we say the wrong thing they will go out and use, but we begin to understand after time that we can’t control any of it and nothing we say can cause them to use or get them to stop.
Janis: There are times you realize you can’t do anything because addiction is the beast. People don’t understand it. The public felt that we didn’t do enough but what could we do? We spent a fortune on therapists and psychiatrist and the thing is, if they aren’t ready to get clean, you can’t make them.
Patricia: I know, you can lock them in a room and if they want drugs, they will find a way to get them.
Janis: That’s right. We couldn’t lock her away because that would be kidnapping, we couldn’t section her because she wasn’t a danger to society, the only person she was hurting was herself.
Patricia: Exactly, and they wont lock them up for drugs, so what is the answer for families?
Janis: The press was really hard on us.
Patricia: Unless someone has a loved one addicted to drugs or alcohol, they have no clue what it’s like. You can tell the addict what to do from today until tomorrow and they will still do as they please. They don’t hear you. As my mother use to say, she always quoted Dr. Phil- “It’s like talking to a wall- they don’t hear you”. Any advice for a family who’s child is trying to get into showbiz?
Janis: Yes, good luck. They need to have the right people around them and they need to be there for them. Listen, there are thousands of actors and singers all in the public eye and most are doing fine. They don’t have an addicted personality. They are normal people who work during the day, go home and close the door at night. Then you have people like Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Eric Clapton and Elton John. They all have addicted personalities. Unfortunately, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain didn’t make it, but Eric Clapton and Elton John both reached out for help and are living happy, healthy and successful lives. We just saw Boy George not too long ago and he is another person who got himself clean and is doing amazing today. Recovery is possible but you have got to want it.
Patricia: You have taken something very tragic and have turned it into a positive. You are helping many people across the globe in so many ways. Please share with the readers some of the things you are doing.
Janis: What aren’t we doing! We are involved with the LCCCP, a cerebral palsy charity. We fund music tutors and music therapy. We funded the Haven House, which is a children’s hospice, and were able to provide the Amy Winehouse music therapy room as well as funding a part- time therapist. There is Amy’s Place, which is a recovery house for women in inner London, we presented the The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music with a grant in support of scholarships for their Teen Jazz Program, known as the Amy Winehouse Jazz project – which I might add, I am originally from Brooklyn.
Patricia: My mother was from Brooklyn as well.
Janis: We run two projects in St Lucia, both music therapy based. We have The Amy Winehouse Foundation Resilience Program that runs in 200 schools around Britain which warns students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as bullying. This program has reached in excess of 100, 000 students and is being monitored by Harvard and Bath Universities. The Amy Winehouse Foundation has also raised funds and donated to help disadvantaged kids in Palm Beach County through their association with Dreyfoos School of the Arts and we now have the Amy Winehouse Project in Delray Beach, FL which is an intensive Outpatient Program designed for the client that is living at home or is in sober living, and is working.
Patricia: Is that all? Lol. I thought I was busy. I have to say, it’s so nice to see all you are doing to make a difference. We need more people like you dedicated to helping and educating the families and those struggling with an addiction so hopefully, they won’t be in same position as you and I, and countless others who have lost a child or family member. Thank you so much for taking the time out to meet with me.
Janis: I am happy to do it. Keep doing what you’re doing because you are really making a difference.
Patricia: Thank you.