For all his posturing, Russell Brand is a far more accomplished writer than he’d probably ever let on. Once upon a time, his words were reserved for his stand-up routines and weekly soccer column for the Guardian newspaper. But the release of his autobiography, My Booky Wook, alerted us to his talent for getting his eloquent thoughts down on paper. And his penning of an exquisite letter on his website (it’s also reprinted in the Guardian) to the late British singer Amy Winehouse, who died on Saturday, is nothing short of heartbreaking.
Brand begins and ends by reminding the readers how, “When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call,” before explaining that the nature of the call will either be good news (“They’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop”) or bad (“the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone.”)
(PHOTOS: The Life and Times of Amy Winehouse)
He then writes about how when they first met many years ago, Brand didn’t really take Winehouse or her talent seriously. What they did have in common, however, was that they “shared an affliction, the disease of addiction.” (Brand has spoken and written at length about his stint in rehab).
The moment of epiphany for Brand, that stunning one-off occurrence which made him understand just what a delicate and fragile talent Winehouse was, came at the north London venue, The Roundhouse (eerily, the location of Winehouse’s final appearance in public last week). It was ostensibly Paul Weller’s show but it seems that Winehouse stole the show. It’s worth quoting at length (save for the tweaking of a curse word and editing of some of the paragraph for the sake of brevity).
The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! … She wasn’t just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a f***ing genius.
But perhaps the main point that Brand wanted to put across was that, in addition to how crucial it was that he received treatment of his own at Focus 12, was that, “We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation.”
The overwhelming reaction to Brand’s letter online has been astonishingly positive. Indeed, he may never garner better reviews, and we get the feeling he’d be absolutely fine about it.
(MORE: Amy Winehouse and the Pain of Addiction)
Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.