Christine M. Flowers: Amy Winehouse's final hangover

SHE HAD a God-given talent. That's trite, and it's overused, but it fits.

Amy Winehouse had a glorious voice. Now it will be heard only in replay, captured in musical amber. Because, as everyone now knows, drug addict Winehouse is dead.

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We'll never be sure if it was intentional since she didn't leave a note.

But with her history, you can probably chalk it up to recklessness, at the very least. Winehouse must have known that continuing to dine on heroin, pills and whatever other controlled substances she could get her hands on would end up badly.

And so the world mourns the passing of a brilliant artist. A voice like that won't be heard again for a while.

Dead at 27. And everyone with a keyboard is calling it a tragedy.

Excuse me for not joining the chorus. It's not tragic when someone who was blessed by destiny decides to trash the gift because they have other things to do, like shooting poison into their arm. The waste is regrettable, and unbearable. But it just isn't "tragic."

I want to think that it was a death that didn't have to happen. And because she didn't die of cancer or from a stray bullet, because she didn't lose her life in the process of saving another, because she either let life slip away in pursuit of another cheap high or snuffed it out on purpose, we shouldn't engage in the institutional mourning required by the insipid rules of pop culture.

Winehouse shimmered with ability and promise. She might have had to work for some small improvement to an already staggering talent, but most of what made her exceptional was there from the very beginning.

Apparently, so was the self-destructive streak that led her to say "No, no, no" to rehab on far too many occasions.

According to family and friends, the singer either didn't want - or didn't see the need - to wean herself from the toxic cocktails that made life fun. Like many addicts, including a few I've known personally, she was resistant to the pleas of those who loved her. And she apparently didn't give a hoot about her legacy, Grammys be damned.

That probably sounds harsh to those more kindly disposed toward the afflicted. I know I'm not going to earn many kudos bad-mouthing a dead addict. But I'm tired of hearing people weep for those who seemingly had everything to live for and either through arrogance, laziness, carelessness - or maybe even desperation - ended their lives.

In the process, they deprived a lot of people of joy, through their music (Janis Joplin), their poetry (Sylvia Plath), the magnificence of their fashions (Alexander McQueen) or the passion of their performances (Marilyn Monroe).

And that doesn't even consider the pain caused to those who knew them best - families, lovers, friends. That pain, unsolicited and unceasing, should make us hesitate before rendering tribute to the suicides and hedonists.

It's considered disrespectful to speak ill of the dead, unless, of course, you're talking about Hitler, or anyone else who vastly improved the world by their exits. We're supposed to assume an almost bloodless attitude of sympathy and admiration for the deceased, and in the case of someone like Winehouse, talk only about how diminished we are by that great loss of talent.

But I'm not buying it. I've lost people close to me through disease, and others through their choice, and while I miss both equally, I would call only the first a "tragedy."

Tragedies can't be averted.

Someone who plays with fire and continues to get high when common sense (and professional intervention) tell you third-degree burns are around the corner, isn't tragic. It's stupid, selfish and a slap in the face to every person who clings to life like the precious commodity it is.

Dying young is, by definition, sad.

My father died at 43, my brother at 30. But there are levels of mourning, different types of regret, and when you deliberately ignore the people who have tried to help you out of the dark tunnel and embrace the dragon lurking at the other end, well, you may deserve mourning - but you don't deserve a tribute.

Not even if you sang like an angel.


Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

Email cflowers1961@yahoo.com.