HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. – Perhaps there was one heartbreak too many for Mindy McCready.
The former country star apparently took her own life Sunday at her home in Heber Springs, Ark. Authorities say McCready died of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot to the head and an autopsy is planned. She was 37, and left behind two young sons.
McCready had attempted suicide at least three times since 2005, as she struggled to cope with a series of tumultuous public events that marked much of her adult life.
Speaking to The Associated Press in 2010, McCready smiled wryly while talking about the string of issues she’d dealt with over the past half-decade.
“It is a giant whirlwind of chaos all the time,” she said of her life. “I call my life a beautiful mess and organized chaos. It’s just always been like that. My entire life things have been attracted to me and vice versa that turn into chaotic nightmares, or I create the chaos myself. I think that’s really the life of a celebrity, of a big, huge, giant personality.”
This time it seems the whirlwind overwhelmed McCready.
Her death comes a month after that of David Wilson, her longtime boyfriend and the father of her youngest son. He is believed to have shot himself on the same porch of the home they shared in Heber Springs, a small vacation community about 65 miles north of Little Rock. His death also was investigated as a suicide.
It was the most difficult moment in a life full of them. McCready issued a statement last month lamenting his death. And she called him her soul mate and a caregiver to her sons in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show.
“I just keep telling myself that the more suffering that I go through, the greater character I’ll have,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Melinda Gayle McCready arrived in Nashville in 1994, still in her teens with tapes of her karaoke vocals and earned a recording contract with BNA Records. She had a few memorable moments professionally, scoring her first No. 1 hit almost immediately.
“Guys Do It All the Time,” a self-assured dig at male chauvinism, endeared her to female fans in 1996. She also scored a hit with “Ten Thousand Angels,” and her album of that title sold 2 million copies.
Like so many times before, McCready showed a little toughness in the midst of a personal storm, again endearing herself to her fans. But as usual, the brave face for the camera hid a much more complicated internal struggle that surfaced publicly time and again over the past 10 years.
This time, along with her remembrances of finding Wilson as he lay dying, she also answered questions about whether they’d argued earlier that evening about an affair and if she’d shot him.
“Oh, my God,” the “Today” transcript reads. “No. Oh, my God. No. He was my life. We were each other’s life.”
It’s unclear what circumstances led to McCready taking her own life, but it appears she was struggling again with twin issues that have persisted for years: substance abuse and the custody of her children.
She checked into court-ordered rehab and gave her children up to foster care earlier this month after her father asked a judge to intervene, saying she’d stopped taking care of herself and her sons, and that she was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs.
It’s unclear why McCready was out of rehab.
Billy McKnight, McCready’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her oldest son, said the children remain in foster care. Arkansas Department of Human Services spokeswoman Amy Webb could not confirm their whereabouts, citing agency rules.
McCready’s relationship with McKnight was one of the more difficult periods of her life. McKnight was arrested in 2005 on charges of attempted murder after authorities say he beat and choked her. And the two continued to struggle over their son with McKnight recently filing for custody in light of McCready’s latest sting in rehab.
McCready made headlines in April 2008 when she claimed a longtime relationship with baseball great Roger Clemens. Published reports at the time said she met the pitcher at a Florida karaoke bar when she was 15 and he was 28 and married. Clemens has denied the relationship.
On Monday, Clemens handed a written statement to reporters at the Houston Astros spring training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., where he is serving as a special instructor for the team.
“Yes, that is sad news. I had heard over time that she was trying to get peace and direction in her life. The few times that I had met her and her manager/agent they were extremely nice.”
McCready also was engaged to actor Dean Cain in 1997, but their relationship fell apart as well.
Her troubles weren’t just romantic. Over time she was arrested for fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs, probation violation, misdemeanor assault of her mother Gayle Inge and other problems.
In 2010, after a stint on Dr. Drew Pinsky’s “Celebrity Rehab 3” where she was treated for “love addiction,” she told The Associated Press she may have finally found love and the strength to get her life back on track.
Pinsky, who had no comment Sunday, called McCready an “angel” in the season finale and expressed hope she would continue to seek treatment in a later interview. McCready suffered a seizure in one of the show’s scarier moments. Tests showed she had suffered brain damage, something she attributed to her abuse at the hands of McKnight.
McCready is the fifth celebrity to pass away since appearing on Pinsky’s show and the third from Season 3. Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr and “Real World” participant Joey Kovar both died of overdoses.
She entered her relationship with Wilson, a producer and musician who was 34 when he died last month, a short time later. She’d just met Wilson and talked openly about their relationship in the 2010 interview. Wilson declined to speak on the record.
With a publicist, reporters, cameras, makeup artists and musicians swirling around her during a press day for her last album, “I’m Still Here,” McCready fended off questions about a sex tape and said she and Wilson started out as friends.
“And I’ve never had a relationship like that before where we started completely as friends,” she said. “It turned into friends really caring about each other and then it turned into love and I’ve never had that happen before.”
Things didn’t remain calm for long, though. Unhappy with custody arrangements, McCready took her older son from her mother, the boy’s legal guardian, in late 2011. She fled to Arkansas without permission over what she called child abuse fears. Authorities eventually found McCready hiding in a home without permission and took the boy into custody.
She and Wilson had their son in April 2012, and she regained custody of Zander in December. But Wilson’s death appears to have led to another dark period.
“I met Mindy at 23 coming off of a big record, and from knowing her as personal as I did back then, sometimes being famous can hurt you,” McKnight said in a phone interview Monday from Tampa, Fla. “I think she was too young. I think that she was having some personal issues in her life and her family anyways, and when she got famous ... she started mixing booze and pills and the negativity, it took the best of her.”