November 03, 2003 12:00 PM

Sitting in the back of a limo in a white pantsuit, Courtney Love seemed the picture of calm as she headed to children’s court in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. In recent weeks friends had grown alarmed by Love’s increasingly self-destructive behavior: an attempted break-in at a private home, an overdose of painkillers, then a suicide threat after county officials removed Frances Bean, her 11-year-old daughter by the late Nirvana rocker Kurt Cobain, from her care on Oct. 10. “She’s been erratic for months,” says pal Julie Panebianco. “Everyone around her is concerned.” Yet Love, 39, saw no cause for worry at the time. “I’m not on some downward spiral,” Love told People as she applied mascara before the court appearance. “This is stupid. I’m not on narcotics. I’m fine. I just want my daughter back.”

Though no one close to Love disputes that last claim, the “fine” part proved a no-go in court. After an hour-long hearing, the judge decided to leave Frances in the temporary custody of Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor. According to Love’s stepfather Frank Rodriguez, at the follow-up hearing on Oct. 21, a judge determined that Love will move out of the 7,100-sq.-ft. house that she leases in Beverly Hills and Frances will move back in with a nanny and be monitored by Rodriguez and an aunt. Love, he says, will be permitted frequent visits. He also says that the tense negotiations brought Love and O’Connor to blows. “Courtney had words with Wendy. It escalated. There were slaps.”

It remains to be seen whether the unpredictable rocker’s latest trauma will convince her to straighten out—or put her over the edge. Plainly, Love adores her daughter. While nannies attend to most of Frances’s daily activities, Love and her daughter share a bed most nights. “That can be a pain in the ass because I have to go outside to smoke,” Love says. When Love traveled to France last winter to record her first album in five years, she remained in constant touch with Frances. “Courtney would send her faxes,” says Panebianco, who worked on the album, which is scheduled for release in February. “And Frances sent her text messages all the time.”

Granted, this is not a formula Dr. Spock would love. But, says James Barber, the record producer who was Love’s boyfriend for five years until their recent breakup, “Frances has a life where she’s surrounded by people who care about her, care deeply, including Courtney.” Frances, a sixth grader with a passion for horses and soccer, “is a normal kid, considering the circumstances,” says Panebianco.

That’s considering quite a bit. On Oct. 2, after breaking several of Barber’s windows, Love was booked for being under the influence of a controlled substance, then released. Once home, she says she took at least 20 mgs. of Oxy-Contin “to be knocked out.” When Love got sick, Frances made her green tea and kept her company, along with a nanny, until an ambulance came. “That’s the only time my daughter has ever, ever, ever pitched in on one of my little crises,” Love says. “I made it fun. I said it was going to be gross and I was going to have to make myself throw up, but it was going to be okay.” According to an L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services report, Frances stated at the time that she was “scared but knew her mother would be okay after they pumped her stomach.”

On Oct. 10, after Love repeatedly refused to let DCFS officials into her home, authorities took Frances into protective custody. “They took her from school!” wails Love, who, according to a DCFS report, responded to the news by verbally lashing out at officials. “They didn’t click well from the get-go,” says Rodriguez, who witnessed the encounter. “It went downhill from there.” Soon after, Love left a phone message for a friend, saying that she wanted to jump off the Empire State Building. By nightfall Love was checked, against her will, into a private psychiatric hospital in Pasadena. She returned home within 24 hours but had to wait days to hear from Frances. “When she called,” says Love, “she was like, ‘Mommy, I can’t tell you where I am. Are my Charmed being TiVoed? Mommy, I don’t want to live in a foster home.’ ”

On Oct. 17 Love sat on her bed late one night and tearfully read from a DCFS report that charged her with abandonment. “Minor expressed, ‘My mother is a good mom,’ ” she read.” Tm not scared of her, and she takes really good care of me. I feel absolutely safe with her. She’s always been a good mom.’ ” Trying to compose herself, Love said, “I don’t do a lot of school stuff, and I don’t drive, and I get embarrassed that some of the kids’ moms won’t let their kids play with her because I’m scary.” She paused. “But Frances thinks I’m a cool mom. I love her so much.”


Todd Gold in Los Angeles

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