On Monday afternoon, I strolled by the Biltmore apartment building on West 47th Street in Manhattan. Crowds are normal near Times Square, but this one huddled on the sidewalk has become a recent, regular gathering. “Do you think we’ll see her?” asked one excited young girl, camera phone ready should Amanda Bynes emerge from the towering Midtown building. Over in the gaggle of bored-looking paparazzi standing next to the inquisitive girl, one of the men who have been doggedly pursuing the former child star for weeks now—feverishly since her arrest last week in the Biltmore—simply shrugged.
As I waited alongside the group, my level of anticipation fell somewhere between the anxious tourist and the exasperated paparazzo. Initially enthralled by what I perceived as delightfully quirky behavior, I had been trying to get in contact with the former actress for months. That part of me was excited to maybe, finally, view The Amanda Show live. But now, as I stood next to the small swarm of stalkers, days after one of the wildest celebrity arrests-and-denials ever, I couldn’t help but feel icky about the whole thing.
By the time Bynes posted a bizarre, oddly transfixing video on her Twitter feed, titled “I’m Sucking on a Sour Patch Kid Listening to Music Getting Ready for Tonight :D,” I had already devoted many words on The Daily Beast to her utterly insane Janice–from–The Muppets–inspired makeover, her outrageous Twitter account, and countless reports of various alleged disoriented adventures around New York City.
The “Sour Patch” video, filmed on Bynes’s iPhone using her reflection in the mirror, was published when the public interest in the star’s odd behavior was rapidly surging. Complex took notice—the stranger Bynes acted, the more press she got—and penned a post responding to the video titled “Amanda Bynes Either Needs Help or Is Trolling Us All.”
“It’s become a question as riveting and confusing as the meaning of life itself: What happened to Amanda Bynes,” Tanya Ghahremani wrote for the site. “Does [she] need serious help, or is this some intricate, faux breakdown, Joaquin Phoenix-style?” Bynes responded to the insinuations—that she was not well or not being her authentic self—with a tirade. “Stop writing articles without speaking to me first,” she concluded.
You got it, I thought.
As Bynes, who had announced her retirement from acting in 2010, had no manager or publicist listed on any of the usual databases, I reached out through the only direct channel available: Twitter.
But after Amanda retweeted or responded to them while still ignoring me, I made a casual effort to up my game as her antics became more fascinating. That topless bathroom photo shoot! I mean, really! To have just five seconds to chat about that.
Remembering I had read in early April that she was once allegedly asked to leave a gymnastics class at Chelsea Piers, directly across the street from my office building, I stopped by there several times the next few weeks hoping to run into her. (Hardly a Woodward-and-Bernstein level of reporting, I know—heck, hardly Hardy Boys level—but I figured it was worth a shot.) Aside from a vague tan after a handful of afternoon strolls, nothing came from those excursions.
When reports of a shrine to Bynes and her masterful Twitter selfies was erected in the East Village, I traveled to the corner of East 9th Street and Stuyvesant, hoping the actress might also have made a pilgrimage there to meet her worshippers.
No luck. So I began making occasional stops at that very corner of West 47th Street where I found myself again this weekend, on the delusional off chance that Bynes would, for whatever reason, be loitering on the corner and eager to shoot the breeze. One weekend I made a tour of Manhattan-area Beach Bum tanning salons, the franchise at the center of her naked-in-the-lobby scandal (she was not, Beach Bum’s CEO says) and, later on, the New York Sports Clubs in the Upper East Side, after she was filmed working out in her flip-flops and sunglasses and waving her arms like she was landing a plane at one of those locations.
Bynes was my elusive unicorn. The more I wrote about her sideshow behavior, the more I felt seeing it in person was my destiny. That is, until I started to feel gross about even trying.
The moral compromising began after I giddily wrote a satire of that previously eluded-to topless bathroom photo shoot, only to discover that the same night they were shot the police were called to her house to investigate a tip that she was on drugs and possibly in danger. Sure, on each wild stage in Bynes’s decathlon of insanity were billowing red flags that something could be seriously wrong with the starlet. But the police intervention that night, combined with Bynes’s repeated insistence that anyone who said anything disparaging about her or raised reason for concern was “ugly” and was going to be sued, made making fun of the whole situation, well, a lot less fun.
Then came last week’s big Amanda vs. The World scandal. She was arrested in her apartment Thursday night and charged with reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence, and criminal possession of marijuana, after a building official called the police after allegedly seeing her smoking a joint in the lobby. Bynes reportedly let police into her apartment, where they said they found the distinct smell of weed and also a bong, which Bynes allegedly threw out her 36th-story window. Throughout it all—save for a mug shot revealing her shaved head—she wore a stringy, frizzy Malibu Barbie wig alarmingly askew on her head.
Two things, however, were more concerning than that—what should have been—rock-bottom moment.
First was the cavalcade of denials and baffling cover-ups she fired off to defend herself. That bong she allegedly threw out the window? “It was a vase,” she told the judge in court. Then she claimed the arresting officer entered her apartment illegally and that one of them sexually assaulted her, saying he “slapped [her] vagina” and that she was going to sue the NYPD. (After an investigation, the NYPD refuted her claim.)
Then followed a barrage of tweets claiming she doesn’t do drugs, she’s “never had bong” in her life, and we shouldn’t believe anything any member of her family—who reportedly have been trying to set up psychiatric testing and an involuntary conservatorship over her affairs—says in the press:
“I am suing them for money laundering/unethical manager work, I never signed a contract with them, and they had been stealing my money without me knowing, claiming they were managing me somehow when they have no right to act as if they did anything to help or enhance my career and I want $ back that I earned on my own. I’m 27 and don’t like when press talks to my parents. My parents are almost 70 years old. We are no longer on speaking terms. I would rather them be homeless than live off of my money.”
If what she says on Twitter is to be believed, the only lesson Bynes learned from this whole debacle is that she needs another nose job. “Look forward to seeing me in music videos! I’m getting in shape and getting a nose job! I’m looking forward to a long and wonderful career as a singer/rapper!” she concluded her lengthy denial of all the charges against her.
While I couldn’t help but evilly fantasize about how glorious an Amanda Bynes rap video would be, the second concerning development from the weekend—the one I witnessed a small sliver of firsthand—abruptly wakened me from that daydream. When a celebrity is arrested, appears in court, and continues to be as public a figure as Bynes is, it’s expected that a trail of paparazzi will tail her every move. But the series of videos that surfaced this weekend of the star hounded to an extent I’ve never really seen before is positively alarming.
The tornado of press that swirled around her as she journeyed from the police station to the courthouse on Thursday was a sight of its own. But the video of Bynes being blocked from entering her apartment—the same one I was standing in front of on Monday halfheartedly searching for shards of bong glass—that was released later was far more egregious, even disturbing.
One paparazzo, who had already crossed the line with the herd of photographers and press that tracked her all the way to the door of her building, yanked a scarf that Bynes had draped over her face for privacy. And he did it twice.
Yes, Bynes’s Twitter gallery of selfies is funny. Her janky wigs are legitimately weird and hilarious. And her arguably delusional refusal to glean anything productive from the spate of negative press coverage other than everyone is ugly and needs to be served is amusingly obtuse. But it’s harder and harder—and more and more guilt-inducing—to giggle at her “troubled,” “bizarre,” and “unusual” behavior when doing so funds the circus around her likely shoving her further down the rabbit hole of self-destruction, if not at least preventing her falling off that edge.
So on Tuesday, it became hard not to take notice when someone who can, at this point, navigate that rabbit hole with her eyes closed, tweeted her own warning to Bynes:
We’ve now reached the point in the Amanda Bynes narrative where Courtney Love is the voice of reason. It is time to get it together, Amanda. But it’s time for all of us to get it together, too. It may be time to call off my search for my unicorn. After all, the mythical creatures are a symbol of purity and grace. Let’s give Amanda Bynes, the exceptionally talented little girl many of us grew up watching on TV, a chance to reclaim those adjectives. Would a unicorn say this?