- Associated Press - Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse released only two albums in her life, one of which sold more than a million copies, won five Grammys and sparked a retro-soul movement that hasn’t yet stopped.

The small output, in inverse relation to her outsized talent, made her death Saturday in London all the more tragic. Fans will only be able to imagine the unrecorded singles, the never-to-be concerts and the comeback album that didn’t come.

It’s a sadly familiar script in pop music, the history of which is checkered with greats and would-be greats snuffed out too early in life.

Almost as soon as news of Miss Winehouse’s death broke and spread across social media, fans were inducting her into the unfortunate pantheon of music talents gone too soon. Many noted that Miss Winehouse, 27, shared the same age at death as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison.

The British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, though, realized that a meaningful commonality was being mistaken for coincidence.

“It’s not age that Hendrix, Jones, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain & Amy have in common,” wrote Mr. Bragg on Twitter. “It’s drug abuse, sadly.”

Those names were touted on the Web as the 27 Club, a ghoulish glamourizing of rock-star death that makes it sound as though even in death VIPs remain behind a seductive velvet rope. It’s a term, sometimes called the Forever 27 Club, that has spawned a Wikipedia entry, an independent 2008 movie (“The 27 Club”), numerous websites and at least one book (“The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll”).

The causes of death vary. Jones, the Rolling Stones guitarist, was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool in 1969 and was ruled dead “by misadventure.” Hendrix, having mixed sleeping pills and wine, died in 1970 in a London hotel room. Joplin, also in 1970, died at Los Angeles’ Landmark Hotel, with heroin the culprit. Morrison died of heart failure in 1971 in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. Cobain killed himself in 1994.

Some have claimed Cobain was aware of the so-called 27 Club. After his death, his mother, Wendy O'Connor, was understandably fed up with the concept, saying: “I told him not to join that stupid club.”

The cause of Miss Winehouse’s death is not yet known. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

She long struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Last month, she canceled her European comeback tour after she swayed and slurred her way through barely recognizable songs in her first show in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. She flew home, and her management said she would take time off to recover.

On Sunday, a British newspaper reported that her mother said the singer seemed unwell a day before she died, while her family mourned the loss of “a wonderful daughter, sister, niece” and more tributes flowed in from fans and fellow performers.

A mound of flowers, messages and handwritten notes grew Sunday outside of the north London home, where ambulance crews found the singer dead before they arrived on Saturday.

“R.I.P. Never Forgotten,” read one message, while another said “It’s all right, love. Go now.”

The Sunday Mirror quoted Janis Winehouse as saying she thought it was “only a matter of time” before her daughter died. The 27-year-old singer had publicly struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years.

“She seemed out of it. But her passing so suddenly still hasn’t hit me,” Janis Winehouse was quoted as saying by the tabloid.

Police said the cause of her death is being treated as “unexplained,” rejecting speculation that she died from a drug overdose as “inappropriate.” The circumstances surrounding her death are not yet clear, but police said a post-mortem is expected Monday or Tuesday.

“Our family has been left bereft by the loss of Amy, a wonderful daughter, sister, niece. She leaves a gaping hole in our lives,” the family of the “Back to Black” singer said in a statement.

Actor Russell Brand, a former drug addict, wrote a lengthy tribute to Miss Winehouse, urging the media and public to change the way addiction is perceived — “not as a crime or a romantic affectation, but as a disease that will kill.”

Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction,” he wrote. “Addiction is a serious disease; it will end with jail, mental institutions or death.”

Others, like American singer Carole King, whose song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was covered by Miss Winehouse, recalled her small, but powerful body of recorded music.

“She did such a beautiful performance on it,” Ms. King told the BBC, saying that she was grateful to the late singer for the recording. “I just really hope that she’s found peace now, wherever she is.”

What’s particular about Miss Winehouse’s style of rock ‘n’ roll excess is that it was chronicled thoroughly by the tabloids and news media and was eagerly consumed by readers.

High-quality photographs captured her poor health, the scabs on her face and marks on her arms. Videos of her landed on the Internet, like one that showed her and Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty playing with newborn mice. Another showed her singing a racist ditty to the tune of a children’s song. One, published by a tabloid newspaper, appeared to show her smoking crack cocaine.

Her run-ins with the law — she was cautioned by the police in 2008 for assault and in 2010 pleaded guilty to assaulting a theater manager who asked her to leave a family Christmas show because she’d had too much to drink — found headlines. So did her romances, such as her brief marriage in 2007 to music industry hanger-on Blake Fielder-Civil.

Rarely, though, were Miss Winehouse’s troubles romantic or appealing. Though a thoroughly captivating presence — all beehive and tattoos and candor — Miss Winehouse always cut a desperate figure. Her struggles with substances and bipolar disorder (she said she declined to take medication for it) were painfully evident.

In death, her famous boast of “no, no, no” to rehab only sounds empty. The hard truths of addiction don’t fit neatly into pop tunes — or morbid 27 Clubs — but play out over years of toil.

Early death typically mythologizes pop stars, inflating their reputation. Pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman, in his book “Killing Yourself to Live,” wondered why “the greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing.”

The posthumous releases from Miss Winehouse will surely follow.