At first nobody knew who she was, only that she didn’t belong. Among the happy families at Sky Zone Trampoline Park outside Buffalo on May 29, the disoriented and unkempt young woman stood apart. But by the time Amanda Bynes paid the $14 admission fee, some recognized her as a beloved star from childhood, lost in a kind of haze. “She was oblivious as I explained the rules and just kept looking at the trampolines saying, ‘Can I jump now?'” says an employee, who watched as the 27-year-old joylessly bounced up and down for an hour. “She was smiling, but it wasn’t a normal smile. It was like she was trying to act happy when she wasn’t.”
For fans, friends and family who have been looking on helplessly from afar, the incident was both deeply unsettling and tragically familiar. For over a year, the actress has appeared to be in the midst of what could be a mental breakdown, shaving her head, taking pictures of herself half-clothed and posting strange tirades on Twitter. On May 23 she was arrested and underwent a psychological evaluation after allegedly throwing a bong out the window of her New York City high-rise. The next day, she accused the police of having sexually harassed her, a claim the NYPD says it investigated and can refute. “She’s not all there. One minute she’s on planet Earth, one minute she’s on Mars,” says Giovanni Arnold, a photographer who spent time in her apartment last month and photographed the disheveled star apparently smoking marijuana. “Her behavior is all over the map,” adds a former New York pal. “There is something psychologically [wrong].”
Reached by PEOPLE via text message on June 1 and 2 – at a number three separate sources confirmed belongs to the actress – a seemingly frenetic Bynes insisted all was fine, while avoiding any direct questions about her well-being. “I got offered a record deal today!” she declared, confessing to a recent nose job while steadfastly denying drug or alcohol use. “I have never been so excited to start this new chapter of my life!”
For her family – dad Rick, 67, a former dentist; mom Lynn, 65, a former office manager; and siblings Jillian and Thomas – that next chapter appears to be frighteningly unpredictable. “Her parents are extremely concerned,” says a source close to the family, noting that in the last few years, “Amanda went from perfectly normal to superparanoid and erratic. Everyone was worried she was going off the rails and wanted her to get help.” Many believe the family should seek a conservatorship (see box), but “in order for a guardian to be appointed, they would have to show that Amanda is unable to perform basic functions in order to live,” says legal expert Philip Greenberg. “There’s a high degree of proof,” despite the fact that Bynes is facing charges of marijuana possession and tampering with evidence, a felony.
It’s a tragic turn for the actress, who at one point seemed to have a charmed life. As a child comic, “she blew me away,” says Jamie Masada, owner of Hollywood’s Laugh Factory, where Bynes gave a breakthrough performance at age 9 that landed her a spot on Nickelodeon’s All That. “She was such a talent, so gifted.” Soon she was headlining The Amanda Show and earning major paydays for films like What a Girl Wants. In 2002 she was cast in the sitcom What I Like About You opposite Jennie Garth. “She was a real delight,” says producer Marco Pennette. “It is so rare to find someone so cute and attractive and very funny at the same time.”
But as her career took off, Bynes’s personal life appeared to be fraught. In her teens the actress clashed with her parents and sought legal emancipation, later withdrawing her petition for reasons unknown. Though she never technically moved out of her parents’ home, “she spent a lot of time with us,” says Lisa Lillien, wife of Bynes’s What I Like About You producer Dan Schneider.
Later, as she began aging out of the teeny-bopper roles that made her famous – and very rich, “she hit a wall,” says a source. “She didn’t really know where she fit in.” In 2009 the then-23-year-old began donning provocative Herve Leger “bandage” dresses and hitting the Los Angeles club scene. Gradually, friends started to notice a difference in the once vibrant actress’s behavior. “She started acting very sullen,” says a former Los Angeles party pal. “She’d show up to parties and hardly speak to anyone. It started to get really weird.” Adds another former L.A. pal: “She was paranoid and had obsessive tendencies.” Since she never drank at events, publicly claiming an obsession with Diet Coke to be her biggest vice, “people started to suspect a chemical imbalance,” says the second friend.
The following year she was dealt a blow when she was reportedly fired from the Owen Wilson comedy Hall Pass after exhibiting strange behavior during filming and coming unprepared for work. (Bynes insisted that scheduling conflicts were to blame.) A few months later the actress took to Twitter to announce her retirement from her chosen profession, saying, “Being an actress isn’t as fun as it may seem.”
Bynes stayed out of the public eye until April 2012, when she was charged with DUI after allegedly sideswiping a sheriff’s car in Los Angeles. Though her clean-cut teen-queen image had been shattered, Bynes insisted all was well, telling PEOPLE at the time, “I am doing amazing.” Over the four months following her DUI charge, Bynes took to driving aimlessly around Los Angeles and was charged with two hit and runs. The actress repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, even tweeting to President Obama, “Please fire the cop who arrested me.”
Alarmed by her increasingly self-destructive behavior, Bynes’s friends and family staged an intervention two years ago. “She was paranoid, and she refused it all,” says a source who witnessed the conversation. In March, Bynes’s parents, who moved from the Austin area to Los Angeles last year, spent time with their daughter in Texas; she didn’t stay, instead returning to a mostly solitary life in her new home base of New York City.
Now, family and friends are watching anxiously as the actress appears to be slipping further away. During a May 25 outing to the Hadiiya Barbel Collection wig boutique near her Times Square apartment, Bynes appeared particularly troubled. Hiding her shaved head beneath a messy hairpiece, Bynes tried on a few different wigs and “was very anxious,” says Hannah Mittelholzer, a sales associate. “She kept going from mirror to mirror, staring at herself.” With paparazzi following her every move, her family is “horrified by what is happening,” says the family friend. “This is a girl who once said, ‘I won’t turn out like Lindsay Lohan.’ ” Now, sadly, it seems her own road is even more rocky.