Members of Equinox gym in West Hollywood barely take notice of the celebrities working out in their midst. But that wasn’t the case when Amanda Bynes, with disheveled hair and smeared makeup, entered the facility in the early evening on Sept. 13. After exercising on several cardio machines for a few minutes at a time, Bynes, 26, repeatedly “burst into a strange laugh and seemed fidgety and nervous,” says a gym member. “She even wore sunglasses at one point. She was just acting very bizarre.” In the gym’s locker room, “Amanda was speaking to herself,” adds the member. “She was in her own world.”
That world is crashing down around her. The former child star, a onetime Nickelodeon tween queen who landed her own series, The Amanda Show, in 1999, has friends and former colleagues increasingly alarmed about her behavior over the last several months. After a string of car accidents (see box), she’s facing one charge of DUI and two charges of misdemeanor hit-and-run. And despite the California DMV suspending her license on Aug. 25, the actress was photographed smoking a small pipe while driving on Sept. 11 in L.A. (according to reports, she told friends it was just tobacco). On Sept. 16 police finally impounded Bynes’s car after pulling her over for a traffic violation in Burbank. “My daughter doesn’t drink,” Bynes’s father, Rick, told People after her April DUI arrest. “She’s a good girl.” He later referred calls to Amanda’s lawyer Bob Wilson. On Sept. 17 Bynes was spotted at an L.A. clothing store where she reportedly locked herself in a dressing room for almost two hours. “People around Amanda are really concerned about her,” says a source who has spent time with her in recent months. “She tells people she doesn’t party or drink. She doesn’t realize she has a problem.”
As a child and teen, Bynes was a precociously professional actress. Raised by her dentist father, Rick, and mother, Lynn, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Bynes was encouraged by her dad, a sometime stand-up comedian, to act. With Rick managing her career, Bynes got her break at age 10 on Nickelodeon’s All That and quickly became a star for the network.
The polite young actress “was always astonishing with her maturity,” says Dennie Gordon, who directed her 2003 movie What a Girl Wants. Early on she was very close with her family, but by her late teens Bynes clashed with her parents, says a source. She sought to legally emancipate herself from them before withdrawing her petition. Bynes leaned on her Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider and his wife, Lisa Lillien. “She was spending a lot of time with us,” says Lillien. “But she never left her [family’s] house.” Says a source who knew the family: “Her parents were very, very strict with Amanda. Her dad called all the shots and was very controlling.”
In her post-teen years, Bynes revved up her movie career with roles in She’s the Man and Hairspray. “She seemed like a marked contrast to a lot of other young actresses. She was a total teetotaler,” says Randal Kleiser, who directed her in 2005’s Love Wrecked. But in 2010 something seemed to change. She announced her retirement from acting on Twitter (“Being an actress isn’t as fun as it may seem,” she wrote) and started turning up more often at L.A. clubs.
But in recent weeks Bynes has only been spotted alone. On several occasions she has driven for hours around L.A., once even running out of gas on a Studio City street. “There is serious worry for her well-being,” says the source who spent time with her. “She should have a long career ahead of her,” adds director Gordon. “I hope that she has a chance to do that.”