HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. — Perhaps there was one heartbreak too many for Mindy McCready.
The former country star apparently took her own life on 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 amid 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 last 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 of large lakefront houses 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.
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 last 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 was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs.
It's not clear where her sons, 6-year-old Zander and infant Zayne, were Sunday.
A deputy stationed outside McCready's home Sunday night referred questions to the Cleburne County sheriff, who was unavailable. Yellow crime-scene tape cordoned off the front yard and a dark-colored pickup truck sat in the driveway.
News of McCready's death spread quickly Sunday night on Twitter, with major country stars paying their respects to the onetime Nashville darling.
"Too much tragedy to overcome. R.I.P Mindy McCready," wrote Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks.
And Carrie Underwood added: "I grew up listening to Mindy McCready...so sad for her family tonight. Many prayers are going out to them... ."
On Monday, neighbors who never met McCready but knew well of her very public struggles expressed grief.
Jim Jones, 58, said police had already blocked off McCready's house Sunday evening when he and his wife pulled up to their weekend home down the street. People knew McCready lived in town, but many homeowners live only part-time in Heber Springs, particularly in the warmer months for the boating, fishing and golfing.
"I never met anybody. That's the thing about up here. So many of them are summer lake houses that you don't know your neighbors."
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.
Beyond that, though, she's mostly remembered for a string of dramatic moments as she spent the next 15 years chasing another huge hit. Her problems included a custody battle with her mother over one of her sons, arrests, overdoses and discord in her love life.
She 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 denied the relationship. A decade earlier she was engaged to actor Dean Cain, but the two never married.
She also had a turbulent relationship with Billy McKnight, a country singer who is the father of her oldest son. McKnight was arrested in 2005 on charges of attempted murder after authorities say he beat and choked her.
During this period she also pleaded guilty to obtaining the painkiller OxyContin fraudulently at a pharmacy and got probation. She violated the probation with a drunken driving arrest in May 2005, a few days before McKnight was arrested. And in July 2007, she was arrested in her hometown of Fort Myers, Fla., on misdemeanor charges of scratching her mother, Gayle Inge, on the face during a scuffle and resisting sheriff's deputies.
Less than a year later, McCready was arrested and charged with violating her probation by falsifying her community service records relating to the 2004 drug charge. A month later, she entered an extended care facility for undisclosed treatment, and followed that with a 60-day jail sentence. Inge took custody of Zander.
There were at least three suicide attempts between July 2005 and December 2008.
She tried to get help in an unusual way, joining the cast of "Celebrity Rehab 3" with Dr. Drew Pinsky. McCready came off as a sympathetic figure during the show's run. Pinsky called her an "angel" and in an interview in 2010 said it appeared McCready was doing "rather well."
Pinsky helped treat McCready for love addiction on the show and said he'd referred her to professionals who could continue to help her afterward.
"A love addict basically is somebody that really didn't have a good model for intimacy in their childhood, often times traumatized in one way or another, thereby intimacy becomes a risk place, becomes an intolerable place," Pinsky said. "And so what they tend to do is attach themselves to idealized, bigger than life, unavailable others, specifically go after some public figure that's married or go after some rock star who is himself a sex addict and not interested in a relationship, and then idealize that person and actively pursue them to the point of obsession."
McCready suffered a seizure in one of the show's scarier moments. Tests showed she has suffered brain damage, something she attributed to her abusive relationship with 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.
In the months after her stint, McCready said she found some peace, telling The Associated Press in early 2010 that she hoped to get her career restarted, write a book about her experiences and begin production on a reality show with her brothers. She'd just met Wilson and talked openly about their relationship, although the producer and musician 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."
At the time, Pinsky thought the relationship was on the right track: "She's an easy person to like and to care about and we hope she does well," Pinsky said. "So far so good as far as I can tell."
McCready said her main goal in 2010 was to pull her family back together: "I would like my son back with me and for my brothers and I and he to be able to go and do this (TV reality show), and I think after that I will be a pretty happy girl."
The new album debuted at No. 71 and failed to gain radio airplay. McCready's plans never materialized and she soon was in legal trouble again, this time fighting for custody.
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.
Music Writer Chris Talbott reported from Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press writer Tamara Lush contributed to this report from Tampa, Fla.