Since Amy Winehouse’s tragic death in July 2011, I assumed she had passed away from a drug overdose.
Stories of her turbulent relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a broken marriage she subsequently explained “was based on doing drugs” – in combination with her reported heroin and crack cocaine addiction – informed my belief the songwriter overdosed on illicit substances.
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I never gave the circumstances of the iconic singer’s death much thought until Autopsy: Amy Winehouse began playing on Channel Seven late last night.
“She had made huge progress,” the documentary’s specialist in forensic and legal medicine, Dr Jason Payne-James, said. “She was clean from drugs and she was tackling her alcohol dependence, so why did she suddenly drink herself to death?”
I had been so ignorant.
In reality, Amy Winehouse was not taking drugs at the time of her death. She was in a new, healthy relationship with film director Reg Traviss. She was even on Librium, a medication to control her desire for alcohol. And yet, all alone in her bedroom, the superstar relapsed, and reportedly went on a three-day-long drinking binge.
Her heart stopped beating by the time paramedics arrived at 3:54pm. Two empty vodka bottles were nearby her lifeless body.
But there’s a side to Amy Winehouse’s story we rarely heard: From the age of 17, the Londoner’s life had been marred by eating disorders and self harm. Long periods of starvation would be followed by binge eating and then purging; the singer would empty the contents of her stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. The toxic pattern continued for a decade.
In the years leading up to the 27-year-old’s death, she looked emaciated. According to close friend and stylist Alex Foden, her diet consisted of nothing but high-cholesterol curry – which she’d later vomit up – and Haribo gummy bears.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2013, Amy’s brother Alex explained: “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…
“I think that it left her weaker and more susceptible. Had she not had an eating disorder, she would have been physically stronger.”
Dr Payne-James agreed and examined the ghastly effect the 'Rehab' singer's bulimia had upon her body - specifically her depleted electrolyte levels, and her erratic heartbeat. Amy Winehouse's mental demons had destroyed her from the inside out, he found, and her fragile body was no longer able to cope with the stress of her alcohol addiction.
That's why Winehouse is said to have died. Her blood alcohol level, which was more than five times the legal driving limit at 0.416 per cent, combined with the compromised immune system that resulted from her eating disorder, was simply too strong for her tiny body to deal with.
It wasn't illegal drugs at all.
And if Amy Winehouse didn't struggle with bulimia, it's not absurd to believe she still might be alive today.