In the last few weeks, two very famous and influential women passed: Betty Ford, wife of former President Gerald Ford and founder of the Betty Ford Center, and Amy Winehouse, an influential British singer known for her unique combination of soul, jazz, and R&B. These two women achieved fame and recognition in different arenas–Betty Ford for advocating women’s rights and Amy Winehouse for an incredible voice. Their shared connection, however, was the disease of addiction. Though they both battled this deadly disease, the outcome of their battles took decidedly different paths. Betty Ford traveled the path of sobriety while Amy Winehouse continued to struggle with addiction, reportedly, until the very end of her life. Elizabeth “Betty” Ford was one of the most well known names in the field of addiction treatment and recovery. A former First Lady, Mrs. Ford overcame alcoholism and addiction to prescription medication, gaining both her sobriety and then going on to found one of the first nationally recognized treatment facility. Her work in the field of addiction recovery greatly enhanced the profile of addiction treatment nationally and helped to remove much of the stigma of addiction. Mrs. Ford’s addiction led to a family-staged intervention in 1978. This intervention forced her to confront her alcoholism and an addiction to opioid analgesics that had been prescribed in the early 1960’s for a pinched nerve. In 1982, after receiving treatment for her addictions at the Long Beach Naval Hospital, Mrs. Ford and Leonard Firestone co-founded the Betty Ford Clinic, later referred to as the Betty Ford Center. In the years that followed, Mrs. Ford remained an active force in the treatment center and the larger addiction treatment community. In 2005, after holding the top post as chairman of the board of directors since the founding, Mrs. Ford relinquished her chairmanship to her daughter Susan. Mrs. Ford passed away on July 8, 2011 of natural causes. Amy Jade Winehouse was born on September 14, 1983 in the Southgate area of north London to Mitchell and Janis Winehouse. From an early age, young Amy sang constantly–so much so that her teachers reportedly found it difficult to keep her quiet in class. At the age of 9, Amy attended the Susi Earnshaw Theater School for four years before seeking training at the Sylvia Young Theatre School until she was allegedly expelled (though Sylvia Young, herself, denies this). From there, Amy attended a succession of schools and even appeared on an episode of the “The Fast Show” in 1997. Her true rise to stardom began when her then boyfriend, musician Tyler James, submitted her demo tape to an A&R person, resulting in Winehouse signing with 19 Management in 2002. She eventually came to the attention of Darcus Beese, an A&R representative for Island / Universal Records. Winehouse’s debut album, Frank, was released in October, 2003. The album was a success in the UK, was nominated for numerous awards, and went on to achieve platinum sales. Amy gained international fame for her second and final studio album, Back to Black, which included the international hit “Rehab”. During and following the success of Back To Black, Amy Winehouse was plagued by a substance-abuse problem that resulted in her becoming a favorite of the tabloids. Throughout her meteoric rise to fame there were constant reports of drug and alcohol abuse. In a 2009 documentary, Winehouse was reported to say that she was free of drugs. However, on May 25,, 2011 Amy Winehouse checked herself into the Priory Clinic Mental Health Clinic for a one-week stay. Sadly, Amy lost her battle with addiction and her life on July 23, 2011. While writing this piece I kept thinking of the following words from the book Alcoholics Anonymous: “Rarely have we seen a person failed who has thoroughly followed our path.” I sure wish that would have been the case for Ms. Winehouse as it was for Mrs. Ford!
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