In among the banks of condolence messages, candles and teddy bears left by fans outside Amy Winehouse’s apartment in Camden, a trio of mementoes stood out: a can of Stella Artois, a bottle of Smirnoff vodka and some pinot grigio.
It was an insolent tribute to a woman who had long battled alcohol and substance abuse, especially as her grief-stricken parents – the parents who had discussed their daughter’s cemetery plot three years ago – made their pilgrimage to the makeshift shrine.
Fans also flocked to Hawley Arms, the singer’s favourite watering hole. The pub owners issued a distraught statement declaring, somewhat naively, that her death “should not have happened.”
While actor Russell Brand, a friend and recovered addict, railed against what many fans have romanticized – those drunken Camden jaunts – experts take a contrarian view to the unseemly tributes.
Those offerings on Ms. Winehouse’s funeral pile are “highly non-judgmental,” says Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Mourner’s Dance: What We Do When People Die. She says the spontaneous display echoes ancient funeral traditions: “You give the dead what they want, what pleases them.”
In Ms. Winehouse’s case, that included cigarettes – the singer developed emphysema in her mid-twenties. Fans proffered smokes, along with a lighter.
Unlike the piles laid out for Diana, Princess of Wales, “There’s something that feels a little defiant about this one,” Ms. Ashenburg said.
“[Fans] see it as camaraderie,” says Diana Nash, a psychology professor who researches bereavement at Marymount Manhattan College, N.Y. For all the sad ugliness of her end, “They celebrate her spirit, for being a ‘rebel.’ They want to be the rebel.”
While many suspect an overdose, a post-mortem proved inconclusive Monday, with toxicology results not expected for weeks. The tabs, meanwhile, have quoted anonymous friends speaking of a marathon whisky and drug binge.
In his tribute, Mr. Brand described the “destructive personal relationships, the blood soaked ballet slippers, the aborted shows” that came to overshadow the singer’s matchless voice.
“We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease,” he wrote. “All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation, but as a disease that will kill.”