By Ed Payne
(CNN) — They seemed so triumphant at the time: the lyrics to country music star Mindy McCready’s hope-filled title track to her most-recent album “I’m Still Here.”
Now, those words sound like a cry for help.
“On a cold dark cloud, with nowhere to fall but down, like a single, naked, unrelenting tear … I’m still here.”
On Sunday, McCready, whose turbulent personal life overshadowed her music, was found dead on the front porch of her Arkansas home — the victim, authorities said, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
She was 37.
McCready leaves behind two boys — a 6-year-old and a 10-month-old.
Just a month earlier, police had paid another visit to the house in Heber Springs.
On that day, they found the infant’s father — record producer David Wilson — dead on the porch.
He too had apparently taken his own life. He too had used a gun.
McCready burst onto the music scene in 1996 with her debut album “Ten Thousand Angels.”
It sold more than 2 million copies. Her chart-topping hit “Guys Do It All The Time” followed that same year.
In all, she put 14 songs and six of her albums on the Billboard Country charts.
But through it all, she was spiraling downward. And the fall was painful and precipitous.
She struggled with addiction and mental illness, often publicly.
In 2004, McCready was placed on three years’ probation after she pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining the painkiller OxyContin at a pharmacy.
The next year, she was arrested for drunk driving in Nashville, and was beaten and choked by ex-boyfriend Billy McKnight, who was charged with attempted murder.
“Yes, things have been going bad,” she said in a CNN interview in 2005. “I think it’s God’s way of getting my attention saying, ‘You better wake up, girl. I have important stuff for you to do in life,’ and I’ve definitely been preoccupied or sidetracked doing the wrong things.”
Before 2005 ended, McCready had suffered two drug overdoses, was arrested on drug charges, was pregnant with McKnight’s child and, authorities say, attempted suicide.
She attempted suicide again in 2008, authorities say, and had another drug overdose in 2010 before joining the cast of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” The reality show chronicles the life of celebrities as they’re treated for alcohol and drug addiction.
Dr. Drew Pinsky said he contacted McCready last month after her boyfriend’s death.
“When I heard she was struggling, I did reach out to her and urged her to go to take care of herself, get in a facility if she felt she needed,” said Pinsky, who hosts his own program on CNN’s sister network HLN.
“Her biggest fear was the stigma of doing so and what people would think if she, God forbid, took care of herself. And this to me is the most distressing part of this story. She is a lovely woman, we have lost her, and it didn’t have to go down like this.”
On one episode of the show, McCready performed “I’m Still Here,” dedicating it to the other cast members, which included Dennis Rodman, Heidi Fleiss and Mackenzie Phillips.
“When I was writing this song, I was in jail,” the singer said tearfully. “I never knew it, but I was writing for all of you.”
In the past few years, McCready waged a public battle for custody of her elder son, Zander.
In 2011, she took the boy from her mother, who had legal custody, and fled with him to her home in Arkansas, saying she had concerns over his safety.
A judge ordered authorities to pick up the boy and days later authorities found McCready hiding with Zander in a closet at her home.
In addition to her relationship with McKnight, McCready had romances with musician David Malloy and actor Dean Cain — as well as admitting to an affair with baseball player Roger Clemens, which he didn’t confirm or deny.
In 2010, Vivid Entertainment released a porn video called “Mindy McCready, Baseball Mistress” that featured McCready having sex with a boyfriend referred to as “Peter” and talking about her exploits with Clemens.
Sunday night, country music stars offered their condolences as they learned of McCready’s death.
“My heart goes out to Mindy McCready’s family. I knew her well,” LeAnn Rimes said on Twitter. “It’s a horrible tragedy. May peace be with her sons.”
Carrie Underwood said she grew up listening to McCready. And country artist Terri Clark said she had some fun times with her “back in the day.”
“I hope our society shows compassion and realizes the severity and reality of mental illness, and addiction,” she tweeted.
Singer Wynonna Judd posted a series of tweets also calling attention to addiction and mental illness.
“It breaks my heart what addiction continues to take from this life,” she said. “Addiction is a disEASE & not a character flaw. When the pain becomes too much, it causes people to want that pain to stop. This is just so unbelieveable & so sad.”
In her words
A year ago, McCready posted excerpts of a book she said was upcoming about her life. She acknowledged a difficult upbringing, personal problems and the challenges she faced turning her life around.
“I haven’t had a hit in almost a decade,” she wrote in January 2012 on her official fan website. “I’ve spent my fortune, tarnished my public view and made myself the brunt of punch line after punch line.
“I’ve been beaten, sued, robbed, arrested, jailed, and evicted.
“But I’m still here. With a handful of people that I know and trust, a revived determination, and both middle fingers up in the air, I’m ready. I’ve been here before. I’m a fighter. I’m down, but I’ll never be out.”
But Sunday, on the porch of her home, she may have changed her mind.
CNN’s Elwyn Lopez and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.
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