The hard, fast fall of Nashville's 'It Girl'

Published July 27, 2005

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Back before her sassy, sexy star power fizzled to black, before the drugs and the arrests and the abusive boyfriends turned her good headlines bad, former country sensation Mindy McCready dated Superman.

In 1996, the Fort Myers native was Nashville's blond, flirtatious It Girl. Her smash debut, Ten Thousand Angels, produced No. 1 hit Guys Do It All the Time. And thanks to her steamy relationship with Dean Cain, the caped star of TV's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, she was a tabloid fave.

But the glory was long gone by Friday, when the 29-year-old singer was found unconscious in the lobby of an Indian Rocks Beach hotel after reportedly ingesting a potentially lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol. Investigators are classifying the incident as an attempted suicide. (Due to confidentiality laws, exactly what McCready ingested was excised from a report filed by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.)

McCready was accompanied at the Holiday Inn Harborside Hotel by William McKnight, who told authorities that he was the singer's fiance.

McKnight - who was arrested in Nashville in May on charges of physically abusing McCready - handed sheriff's deputies what he said was a four-page suicide note written by McCready. According to the sheriff's report, McCready "wrote about having problems with her relationship" in the letter and included a "goodbye to her family members and friends."

On Tuesday, police said that McCready is recovering, although they would not say where she is hospitalized. The investigation is ongoing.

Florida isn't the only state where McCready (born Malinda Gayle McCready) is having trouble this month. She has upcoming court dates in both Arizona and Tennessee.

In Mohave County, Ariz., the singer faces five charges related to identity theft, unlawful imprisonment and fraud. Details have not been released, but the Associated Press reported that the case could involve a con artist who was swindling celebrities. Calls to Shawn Hamp, the deputy county attorney, were not returned.

In May, McCready was arrested in Tennessee on charges of driving under the influence and on a suspended license. In 2004, she was caught writing phony prescriptions for the painkiller OxyContin and was sentenced to probation. She was scheduled to be in a Tennessee court Monday for a probation violation hearing.

So how does someone who lit up country radio with a string of fun, feisty hits fall so hard, so fast?

"She became a queen and a prima donna," says local radio personality Dave McKay, one half of the Randy & Dave Show on country music station WQYK-FM in Tampa. "She was too young" and her rise to fame was "too quick," McKay adds.

"She was like the Tasmanian Devil."

After the big coming-out party of Ten Thousand Angels, McCready released three albums over six years, none of which goosed the record-buying public like the first one. McCready would still make the news occasionally - but mainly for bickering with a series of fed-up record labels They wanted to sell her as a sex symbol; she wanted to be sold as a serious artist. With so many Shania wannabes and Mindy maybes waiting in the wings, Nashville has little patience with whiny divas who aren't selling records.

These days, McCready's status on Music Row is merely spectral. An associate at one of McCready's former publicity companies said she had a stack of fan mail for McCready - but no idea where to send it.

A few of McCready former associates gave Clyde Bright's name as her immediate contact. Former business manager Bright, who stopped working with McCready "a year or so ago" but declined to specify the reasons for the split, found out about the singer's apparent suicide attempt while surfing the Internet Tuesday morning. Bright said he was saddened by the news, but not surprised.

"I haven't talked to her in awhile," said Bright, 58, a partner in CPA collective Collinsworth, Bright & Company in Nashville. "It's sad. You hate to see that happen to anyone."

Bright said he was aware of her turbulent relationship with McKnight. "I've known people in the past who've been in abusive relationships," Bright said. "You always wonder, "Why do they stay in them?"'

Bright would enjoy talking to McCready again, but he's not too optimistic about that happening.

"To be honest, Mindy knows where I am," he said. "If she wants to get in touch, she can."

Times staff writer Jacob Fries contributed to this report. Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or 727 893-8467.