In four chaotic, self-destructive, fateful years, Britney Spears hit rock bottom … and kept on falling. Here, the inside story on all that went wrong—her missteps, her meltdowns and what friends say may be her last hope for rescue.
Christmas lights dangle from tree branches in front of the Raffles L’Ermitage, the Beverly Hills hotel where Britney Spears slept last night—and where the paparazzi who keep watch over her now sit waiting. Although she owns a mansion in L.A., she often crashes in hotels because, the press speculate, her cupboards at home are bare: She likes to order room service. Spears is the only celebrity in the world under photographers’ 24-hour watch, a surveillance mode usually reserved for prisoners and suicides. Some of the core group of 15 or so lensmen who call themselves “her paps” pass the stakeout hours online, chatting with women via wireless laptop connections. Some smoke pot. Felix, the team captain for X17, the paparazzi agency with the closest ties to Britney, occasionally looks down at his phone to find a text message from Sam Lutfi, Spears’s confidant and de facto manager since last summer. Felix reads aloud: “She is inside.”
“Britney is money,” says another X17 photographer, standing next to the BMW that pictures of Britney have bought him. Someone tells the story of the day they followed her halfway to Las Vegas. She got takeout from Taco Bell at a rest stop in the desert. Then she turned the car around and drove home. “Britney is crazy,” says another, bemused.
We have been waiting since about 10 A.M., and the thrill, at 8:39 P.M., as two hotel security guards appear at the entrance to the garage, is libidinal: When Britney’s 612-horsepower Mercedes SL65 AMG shoots out of the driveway, rips west on Burton Way and up Foothill Road, it’s sweet release.
Britney drives like a rabbit being chased across a field. Trailed by 15 cars, she signals right, then turns left. Glides into a left-turn lane, makes a right. On Wilshire Boulevard, slows from 50 miles per hour down to 15, then bangs an illegal U-turn into brake-screeching traffic. The driver in the lead mutters, “Bitch.”
Then he’s cut off by a Mercedes SL500 steered by Adnan Ghalib, a daredevil-fearless paparazzo who usually rides at the front of the pack.
If Britney has been in hiding all day and her paps have gotten no pictures, they hope for a red light at the top of Coldwater Canyon, the last intersection before her house. Tonight they’re lucky. Britney stops; Ghalib pulls his Benz into the oncoming traffic lane, slams into park and the gang crowds around her car for just less than a minute.
Thus surrounded, Britney, wearing the same outfit she wore last night, doesn’t look at the photographers but focuses on a point in the air a few inches in front of her nose, slowly pivoting her head on the axis of her neck, clicks and flashes dicing her movement like a strobe. She seems to be basking, and she seems to be trapped. Even her vehicle looks resigned: A smashed headlight has been out for weeks, and she’s still driving on a spare tire from a flat she had in October. (Her paps changed it for her.)
When the light turns, the paps scramble back to their cars, Britney turns right, guns it and they let her go. The white car shrinks into the darkness, wriggling up Mulholland toward the gated community where she lives.
The Britney chase feels like a video game where, every moment, you’re sure you’re going to die; yet against all odds, despite all carelessness, nothing kills you. Even the photographers who do this every day admit that they’re scared by it. One X17 videographer warns, “Someone is going to get hurt, man.”
Without prompting, he mimes holding up a camera with one hand and dialing his phone with the other—explaining that the video of an accidental death cannot legally be sold, unless the cameraman can prove he was calling 911 at the same time. Clearly, he’s given this endgame some thought. There’s no way not to ask: Would a video of Britney’s death be the ultimate prize?
“That would be horrible,” he says. “No, no. Nobody wants that.”
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Aside from Starbucks Frappuccinos, Britney’s primary nourishment nowadays is the attention of paparazzi, who slake the public’s unquenchable thirst for details of her travails. Britney has been a figure of fascination since her solo debut in 1999, back when she was everything a girl was, and wasn’t, supposed to be. The 17-year-old small-town Southern Christian Mouseketeer virgin-sexpot became a superstar—Lolita, Cinderella and Elvis Presley all in one—by tarting up a schoolgirl’s uniform and shimmying down the halls of a high school in the video for “ … Baby One More Time,” her first single. Britney’s image was a pop masterpiece, fashioned in her songs’ and videos’ provocative blend of innocence and experience. She grew into a Grammy-winning artist who, alone among female singers, debuted four consecutive albums (which, together, sold 75 million copies) at No. 1. Today, however, she’s become the undiluted essence of celebrity, and almost no one—not even Britney—seems much interested in her music. To promote her 2007 album Blackout, Britney did exactly one telephone interview, which lasted seven minutes. Disasters, not music, have become her product.
Steve Lunt, the A&R executive who steered her for most of her career, is baffled by the implosion. “It’s very upsetting to see what’s going on in her life,” he says. “She was always driven and focused. The most quietly, deceptively ambitious person you could meet. But when you lose your focus, it’s very hard to refocus.” Haltingly, Lunt adds, “You don’t know where this thing is going to go.”
For now, it’s off the rails. In the past 18 months, her transgressions, proven and alleged, have escalated beyond almost any in pop history. Next to Britney Spears, Courtney Love is Miss Manners. Since leaving her husband Kevin Federline in late 2006, she has flashed her vagina, shaved her head, physically attacked paparazzi and gone to rehab (twice). She has been charged with hit-and-run, effectively declared an unfit mother by the state of California and been fired by her lawyers (again, twice). She turned in the most disastrous performance of her career at MTV’s Video Music Awards show, got dumped by her management firm and has cleaned her hands of almost everyone who played any significant role in her first 25 years of life. She passes many days on what Ben Evansted, the paparazzo who took the most famous images of her genitals, calls “long drives to nowhere,” punctuated by stops at gas stations, tanning salons, drug stores, pet stores and fast-food restaurants. In December, OK! magazine reportedly paid $1 million for an interview with Britney’s mother, Lynne, and her sister, Jamie Lynn, in which the 16-year-old announced she was pregnant. When paps asked Britney what she thought of the news, she inadvertently revealed the degree of her estrangement from her family; with a scowl and a giggle, she said, “My sister’s not pregnant!”
If there was any remaining boundary between her public and private lives, it vanished just before Christmas, when she spent the night in a hotel with Adnan Ghalib, the alpha pap who works for a small agency called Finalpixx. Britney’s self-created Stockholm syndrome, it seemed, was consummated. Then, when it looked like things could not possibly get worse, police were called to Britney’s home when she refused to relinquish her two children after their scheduled visit on January 3. After a three-hour standoff, she was strapped to a gurney and taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The next day, she lost all visitation and custody rights to her kids.
Lindsay is a lightweight, Paris is a shoe-in for Junior League, compared to Britney. Her mess has become tragedy. Where did things go wrong? Many outsiders blame her problems on drug abuse, a theory given some weight when the judge in her custody battle wrote of her “habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol.”
But in scores of interviews with her former friends and associates, a more complex account of her agonies takes shape. A business associate who helped her prepare for September’s VMAs performance says, “There’s obviously some substance-abuse issues going on … But even if, hypothetically, she was out the night before the VMAs doing blow and then took a Xanax to come down and then got drunk right before the show—even if she did that—even that wouldn’t explain the performance. She wouldn’t have done that if there weren’t some self-sabotage going on.” (Spears did not respond to interview requests from Blender.)
Britney once had an A-list team of publicists, managers, lawyers and handlers that rivaled any superstar’s. Now she’s essentially reduced that staff to one person: Sam Lutfi, a 33-year-old Hollywood gadabout with a questionable past, a couple of low-budget film credits as a producer and no apparent qualifications for his current position. A prominent former Spears adviser says that Lutfi “has the potential to cause enormous problems, to sink her deeper in the hole and exploit her in a lasting way.”
Like all child stars, Britney Spears has been exploited, with varying degrees of calculation, since her career began—so much so that it may be the kind of relationship in which she now feels most at home. “She got chewed up by this new celebrity culture and spat out, so it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her,” says VH1 Executive Vice President Michael Hirschorn. “She really was turned into a lab rat.” While her troubles include substance abuse, pressure from public scrutiny and a failure to understand that actions have consequences, many who’ve been close to her over the years agree that her most basic problem is something else. “This goes deeper,” says Melinda Bell, a former member of her management team. “It has to do with something about love.”
Jamie Spears, a contractor, and his wife, Lynne, a schoolteacher, were churchgoing people in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana, when their daughter Britney was born. “They weren’t stage parents,” Steve Lunt says firmly. Yet from the time that 2-year-old Britney first asked to take dance lessons, her desire to perform has been the defining feature of her family’s life. Jamie had a drinking problem during Britney’s childhood (he’s now sober), and construction projects sometimes took him from his family for extended periods. That may have made it easier for Britney and Lynne to choose the gypsy life; when Britney was 10, she moved to New York with her mother to become an off-Broadway baby. She was a runner-up on Star Search the next year, and a regular on The New Mickey Mouse Club the year after that.
By 17, Britney was her family’s pillar of strength: Her record deal even saved her parents from bankruptcy. Lynne, as well as Britney’s brother, Bryan, were both on the girl’s payroll. “She was the breadwinner in her family,” says one former manager. “And when you know everyone’s living off you, you learn not to trust.” Moreover, again like most child stars, “she was never really taught how to live. Basic things: how to balance a checkbook, how things get done.”
Still, she made some very grown-up decisions, very early. Maybe the most grotesquely curious and controversial event of her early career was her rumored choice, at age 17, to undergo surgical breast enhancement. Speculation about the procedure triggered criticism and raised the question of whether she would actually make such an extreme, and extremely sexualizing, choice—or whether Britney Spears was being created as a sexual girl-golem by dirty old record execs. A publicist who knew her says the call was Britney’s and that the singer gave a startlingly simple explanation for her surgery at the time: “‘I work like a woman, everyone treats me like a woman, but I look like a girl.’”
“If that’s what she wanted, who would have told her no?” asks Eric Foster White, who produced or cowrote six songs on her first album, … Baby One More Time. It sold 20 million copies worldwide, and Jive Records released the follow-up, Oops! … I Did It Again, the next year. “You have to understand that there’s nobody in the equation who stood to benefit by giving it to her straight,” White says.
On her first concert tour, Britney cultivated little rituals of escape. She liked to read (The Celestine Prophecy was a favorite) and write in her prayer journal. Her other escape was a secret romance with Justin Timberlake, with whom she’d had a special connection since their Mickey Mouse Club days. Then it became public, and its eventual end only aggravated the snowballing confusion of her public and private lives. In 2002, she was devastated by their breakup—even though, he said, it was her infidelity with choreographer Wade Robson that ended their relationship. On a radio program, Timberlake talked about their sex life, and her image as a virgin was ruined. The breakup, according to those closest to Spears, began her personal collapse. “Ever since then,” says one friend, “she’s been mad at the world.”
Her rebound got ugly: reported cocaine use, flings with bad boys Fred Durst and Colin Farrell, and snubbing fans at premieres for her movie debut, Crossroads. (Despite the film’s critical failure, Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer wanted to meet with her; but Britney flaked on their breakfast appointment.)
That year, she also parted ways with her co-manager, teen-pop heavyweight Johnny Wright, whose creative vision had helped shape her image (her other longtime manager Larry Rudolph, a lawyer, was the deal-maker and helped with her personal life and finances). And then she crossed another fateful line, French-kissing Madonna at the 2003 VMAs. “I remember watching that,” says one of her former handlers, “and thinking, All it is now is sensationalism. Tweens and moms were appalled. The shock value wasn’t worth it.”
“Funny as shit,” says a former Jive executive, when asked what he thought of Spears’s decision, one night in Las Vegas in 2004, to marry a childhood friend from Kentwood, Jason Alexander. “She doesn’t connect the dots sometimes,” he explains. “Everyone thinks you only do those things when you’re drunk or you’re high. Britney can do things like that stone-cold sober.” The wedding was annulled 55 hours later, and Alexander gave a tabloid a sexually explicit account of their brief marriage.
Later that year, when Spears had a one-night stand with an LFO backup dancer named Kevin Federline (nicknamed Meat Pole for his manhood), “it turned into a three-day stand at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” according to a Federline family friend. “All they did was have sex and order room service.” Afterward, “he called his brother Chris, like, ‘You’re not going to believe whose back I broke,’” and, the friend says, bragged that they hadn’t used condoms.
Britney invited Kevin to join her on a promotional tour in England, and though he didn’t have a passport, one was quickly procured. On the flight home, they got engaged, and then she bought herself a $50,000 engagement ring.
Britney’s romance with Kevin also intensified her affair with the paparazzi. Two fantasies of love—with a man, and with the public—joined when she took Kevin to the beach one afternoon to show off her new boyfriend to the world. The number of photographers trailing Britney doubled after Kevin came on the scene, and the value of a premium shot of her climbed 500 percent.
She was rich and famous. He was, as she put it, “normal.” She claimed to love this about him, but the discrepancy caused trouble from the start. Britney’s solution? Equalize their status by starring together in a reality show. Against all advice, Britney insisted, and the result, UPN’s Britney & Kevin: Chaotic, ran for five episodes.
“I knew it was bad for her,” says a source who was involved in the deal. “But I thought, Fuck it. I’ll make a lot of dough.”
“Chaotic destroyed the image that we had worked so carefully to create,” says one of her advisers at the time, who opposed the project. “She thought that if she showed the world everything, everyone would love her for it. What it did, instead, was make her look like white trash—and that is not what she is. She’s better than that. It created an appetite for this wild and crazy girl and created this spiral where nothing can satisfy that appetite.”
Chaotic, a withering mash of fart jokes, bull sessions and deadening sexual compulsiveness, was mostly filmed by Britney and Kevin with handheld cameras. It is porn without skin, reeking with the unacknowledged despair of people who have become things, even to themselves.
In a hotel room, Kevin asks, “How do you feel?”
Kevin: “Why do you feel great?”
Britney: “The sex is great.”
Kevin: “What else is great? Is it just the sex?”
Cut to an interview where Britney explains how she overcomes obstacles to intimacy with Kevin: “I’m not really good with just really being intimate one-on-one, and I think it helped me to have a camera there, instead of it just being me and him.”
The couple had two children (Sean Preston, now 2, and Jayden James, 1; Federline has two previous children, with actress Shar Jackson). “She had this fantasy of being a wife and mother, so everything happened fast,” says one former handler, unsurprised that Britney and Kevin’s relationship quickly circled the drain. Kevin told friends of wild mood swings and fights, calling her “bi-polar”—eruptions sometimes triggered by the hours she spent jealously scouring the list of female “friends” on his MySpace page. Though sources close to the couple say Kevin was philandering and a bit of a freeloader, his experience with fatherhood also made him the more domestic spouse. “He was Mr. Mom,” changing diapers and rising early to cook breakfast, says a friend.
California child-welfare officials visited the couple’s home after receiving reports of negligence, supported by paparazzi photographs and video. To set the record straight, Britney sat for a tearful Dateline NBC interview with Matt Lauer. She did her own hair and makeup, wore a cheap outfit, chewed gum throughout the conversation and talked about how much she enjoys housekeeping. She was trying to show the world she was a regular girl and that her recent maternal mishaps—nearly dropping Sean outside a hotel, letting him ride in her lap instead of strapped in a car seat—had been unfairly magnified by relentless public scrutiny. But the interview, a PR disaster, only made her look more disconnected from reality.
That fall, Britney called former manager Larry Rudolph to New York for a meeting. (The two had parted ways around the time of Chaotic.) When he showed up, she announced she was divorcing Federline and wanted to rehire Rudolph and get back to work. Despite her best intentions, though, her discipline had waned, and as Thanksgiving approached, she went on a hedonistic, labia-flashing tear through Hollywood clubland with her new buddy Paris Hilton.
Last Valentine’s Day, an inner circle of family and friends gathered to persuade Britney to seek help for substance abuse, and she flew with Rudolph to a rehab facility in Antigua. The next day she checked out, returned to L.A., shaved her head, attacked a pap’s car with an umbrella and spent five days going wild before voluntarily checking into Promises rehab center in Malibu. She stayed for only 30 days of the center’s standard 45-day program and returned home in March.
She ended her rehabilitation early “because that would have required her to admit, in front of the world, that she had problems. That was the one thing she couldn’t do,” says one of Britney’s closest companions during this time, sounding eaten by frustration. “Is there anyone on the planet, except for Britney Spears, who cannot see that Britney has a problem? After that, she pushed her family, literally everyone, away.”
So, Britney was willing to let go of every intimate relationship she had, to avoid admitting to the abstract mass of “the public” that her life was a mess—even though everyone knew that her life was a mess?
“That would not be an unreasonable reading of the situation.”
A June divorce ruling in accordance with Britney and Kevin’s prenuptial agreement stipulated joint custody of the children. Federline’s lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, challenged the financial settlement, which was in accordance with the prenup: a lump sum rumored to be about $1 million. In September, Britney agreed to give Kevin an extra $20,000 per month for the rest of his life.
On the same day Britney made this concession, Kaplan filed a challenge to the custody agreement. The court quickly gathered testimony of Britney’s odd behavior, ranging from classic Stupid Celebrity Shit (driving without a valid license) to hair-raisingly Freudian stories from a former bodyguard of “nudity by Ms. Spears, drug use and safety issues involving the children, post-rehab.” Within weeks, L.A. County Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon temporarily suspended Britney’s physical custody of the children. He ordered her to undergo random drug testing, mandated parenting classes for the couple, forbade them to drink alcohol within 12 hours of assuming physical custody of the kids and gave a pathetically rudimentary list of guidelines about how to behave with their boys: “Each party is restrained from making derogatory remarks about the other party and the other party’s family or significant other, either directly or indirectly, to the minor children, and from allowing anyone else to do so.”
Here, the relationship between the California court and the kangaroo court of online gossip took a bizarre twist. The week before Commissioner Gordon suspended Britney’s custody rights, he had decreed that the children “shall be transferred in a properly insured and registered vehicle, which shall be driven only by a properly insured driver who has a current and valid driver’s license.” Two days later, TMZ.com posted a photo of Britney, who had still not gotten a license, driving her children in Malibu.
The next day, Federline’s lawyer convinced the judge to suspend custody rights.
This was not, by far, Spears’s only violation of the court orders. She had blown off drug testing and parenting classes and had been seen drinking alcohol within 12 hours before picking up the boys. (TMZ posted video of her in a club that night.) But from this point on, the infinite feedback loop between her bad behavior and its coverage online was sealed. TMZ and X17online.com videos of Britney, taken in the months following her custody suspension, show her running stop signs and rolling over a pap’s foot. She bumps another pap with her car, wincing, “sorry, sorry, sorry” in a baby voice; then, when she cannot figure out how to exit a parking garage, looks pleadingly to the paps and they assist her. They pump her gas, guide her through everyday confusion at a fast-food drive-through window and often pick up her tab. Not without reason, she seems to think there’s no need to settle her own accounts. She plays the role that they expect her to play. In a Van Nuys filling station, she picks up a $1.39 Bic lighter and walks away with it, looking into the video cameras and saying, “I stole something! Oh, I’m bad. Ohhh!”
Of all the paparazzi agencies, X17 has emerged during the past year as the one with the closest relationship with Britney. Brandy Navarre, who owns X17 with her husband, François, tells a story of the day Britney went to a tanning salon and told her security man, “‘Get X17 for me.’ She goes into a private booth and she starts giving us this message she wants to put out to her fans. She affected this Valley-girl voice, and she basically told us that it was her mother and Larry Rudolph who forced her into rehab, but that she was never on drugs or alcohol. She knew we’d put it on the Web site unedited.”
Navarre also brags that X17 scored the first interview with Sam Lutfi: “We were the first people to come out with his name and who he was.” Navarre first received tips from “funny pseudonyms,” and then, “out of the blue,” she says. “Sam started telling me things … that the TMZs and the Us Weeklys of the world die for.” Where Britney is concerned, Lutfi became X17’s Deep Throat.
When Sam Lutfi met britney last year, they were both going through transitions. She had begun distancing herself from all of her old intimates; he had been barred by a restraining order from contacting Danny Haines, a 29-year-old man from Orange County who had been his close friend for two years.
There are at least two other outstanding restraining orders against Lutfi. Documents for both cases demonstrate his violent temper. This third case, however, raises deeper and more chilling questions about Lutfi’s character, and about his relationship with Britney.
Danny Haines, who spoke exclusively with Blender, met Sam Lutfi on MySpace in the fall of 2005. Haines was at a low ebb when they met, he says. The bare outlines of his situation bear some resemblance to Britney’s: His professional life was adrift, his relationships with old friends and family were in disrepair and he had some secrets that he didn’t want anyone to know.
Lutfi was fun to be with. He claimed to be friends with celebrities from Kate Beckinsale to Roseanne Barr, and he seemed to know every nightclub bouncer in L.A. With Lutfi, Haines says, “it seemed like you could break all the rules.”
Their fun was fueled by long, confessional conversations in which Haines described his unsatisfying, distant relationships with his family. Lutfi’s account of his own background—he grew up in a tight-knit family in Woodland Hills, California, where his mother reportedly owns several gas stations—sounded ideal by comparison.
Haines says Lutfi wanted to know everything about him—every secret, every problem—and Haines complied. It seemed that nothing shocked Lutfi, even when Haines, who is straight, told him about some X-rated, homoerotic modeling he had done for a photographer he’d met online.
Haines remembers the night when Lutfi offered to straighten out his life: “He said, ‘I can help you. I can help your parents. But you need to be honest with me. If you’re lying to me about anything, I’ll know.’”
To Haines’s fractured ego, Lutfi’s social skills and emotional intelligence were magnetic. He encouraged Haines to “stand up for myself” and at the same time worked to become indispensable to him. Lutfi ingratiated himself with Haines’s family, acting as a go-between and informal counselor.
Haines says their relationship was not romantic or sexual but that Lutfi was more jealous than a lover. He could be supportive one day and vicious the next, leaving voicemails tracing extremes from “You’re a worthless motherfucker” to “I love you, man. I love you to death.” He says that although Lutfi also made some feckless gestures toward an old-fashioned con job—Haines claims Lutfi borrowed about $18,000 that he did not pay back, though Lutfi’s mother finally settled much of the debt—Lutfi reserved most of his energy for emotional blackmail and extortion. “Everybody hates you,” he wrote to Haines, suggesting that Haines should just kill himself: “Seriously, sleeping pills, LOTS of them … ” (Lutfi declined to comment for this story.)
When Haines finally cut the cord, Lutfi humiliated him. He e-mailed naked photographs of Haines to his family, friends, colleagues and employer. Then he texted and called incessantly, telling Haines he hoped his sister would be “raped to death,” according to the restraining order. In an e-mail about Haines’s mother (“that Mormon bitch”), Lufti wrote, “I hope Satan devours her flesh and bones,” and said he looked forward to the day when he would “piss on [her] burial.”
Such communications moved Haines to seek the restraining order, which also protects his mother from being contacted by Lutfi. A few months later, Haines says that Lutfi called his brother-in-law to say he’d met a celebrity whom he wanted to set Haines up with. Later, Haines saw photographs of Lutfi with Spears in the tabloids. In those pictures, Lutfi was wearing a bodybuilding shirt and baseball cap that he had taken from Haines.
Haines, whose relationship with Lutfi was the subject of a few obscure blog comments after Lutfi’s other restraining orders were reported in December, says that he subsequently received an e-mail from Lutfi’s sister’s address, which he read as a warning: “One of your friends is writing to some magazines about your history with my brother … I don’t think that’s wise for him to do.” The warning came with what sounded like a threat: “Those pictures and your history isn’t so positive either and I’m sure you wouldn’t want that to be public as well.”
Informed of the details of Haines’s relationship with Lutfi, Jamie and Lynne Spears, who declined to discuss Lutfi on the record, both expressed grave concern to Blender about his ongoing involvement in their daughter’s life and have encouraged Haines to go public with the story.
“If Sam’s not doing anything wrong with Britney, if he’s not worried about being exposed,” Haines asks, “why would his sister be saying, Don’t talk about my brother and his past?”
Britney showed at least a glimmer of sanity when, on Saturday, January 5, she reportedly ignored “Dr. Phil” McGraw, the TV therapist who surprised her at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, then spoke about the visit to Entertainment Tonight. But even he would have been an improvement on Lutfi, who, Haines says, described himself as an “unlicensed counselor” in the court hearing that led to the restraining order.
The symbiosis between stars and sleazebags is as old as show business. The story rarely has a happy ending (see Anna Nicole Smith), and talent alone saves no one (see Judy Garland). Lutfi’s personal history adds a frightening element to the unsavory task of forecasting Britney’s fate.
For countless observers, Britney’s latest unraveling brought that impulse to the surface. A Detroit radio station announced, then canceled, a “Britney Suicide-Watch” contest, inviting listeners to name the date for a $1,000 prize. Just shy of grave-dancing, Perez Hilton gloated that his Web site received an all-time high of more than 10 million hits on the day the star was hospitalized: “Thanks, Britney.”
Others voice what seem to be kinder thoughts. Just a few weeks before the January meltdown, Bonnie Fuller, chief editorial director of American Media Inc., which publishes Star magazine, told Blender that “everybody wants her to get better.” Then, asked to name her best-selling Spears cover story, Fuller answered, “BRITNEY HITS ROCK BOTTOM was a big one,” seemingly without irony.
“I think she’s really lost most of her fans’ sympathy,” Fuller continued. “She’s done the ultimate betrayal to her fans, by appearing to be a bad mother. That’s something that even the most steadfast fan has a problem with. You always want to think that your idols are essentially good. They may be misunderstood or misguided, may have fallen victim to addictions that they can’t control, but they’re basically good people.”
Britney became the tabloids’ wet dream by making herself the very image of a bad person. More than that: the worst person. There is, it seems, no limit to the number of things you can hate her for. She’s irresponsible, lazy, selfish, arrogant, stupid, tacky, rich and so depraved as to look almost subhuman. (Paris Hilton nicknamed her “the animal.”) She does not take care of herself, and still she could have sex with almost anyone she wants. She revels in her own violation and invites you to the orgy: “I can’t control myself/They want more/Well, I’ll give ’em more … ” she sings on Blackout.
After Britney’s catatonic VMAs performance of “Gimme More,” a short video called “Leave Britney Alone!” became a monster hit on YouTube. Chris Crocker, an androgynous actor from Tennessee, appeared on the verge of nervous breakdown, a lone voice crying out in her defense. It was a sequel to a video he had posted the previous week, “Back up, Britney haters!”: “I don’t just like Britney when she’s glitzy … I like Britney when she looks homeless. I like Britney when her hair extensions, her tracks are showing. I like Britney when her cootch is showing … Because I love BRIT. NEY. OK? Not the persona. The person. I love Britney for real reasons. I love Britney for Britney.”
Crocker, naturally, parlayed his YouTube fame into a deal for a reality show. There is no way of knowing how much of his screed was staged and how much was sincere. Yet the sentiment, like all fans’ feelings about celebrities, requires one fundamental correction: Chris Crocker can’t love the real Britney, because he does not know the real Britney.
Yet even the people who do know the real Britney don’t know her anymore. Her former manager Johnny Wright says, “I’m not pointing fingers, but I can’t believe that she woke up one morning and said, ‘I don’t want my family, or anyone else I knew, to be in touch with me anymore.’
“People say she needs to go to rehab. I think she just needs a friend—somebody not caught up in Hollywood, not looking for a paycheck. Somebody she trusts has to step up and break it down for her.”
When Wright worked with her, Britney had a personal assistant named Felicia Culotta. “She was her friend first, and she worked for peanuts. She had no other agenda than Britney’s well-being,” Wright says.
Recently he told her, “‘Felicia, you need to reach out to her.’”
Culotta’s answer was a measure of Britney’s isolation, and a sign of her peril. She said, “‘Johnny, they won’t let me in.’”
Source: Blender Magazine
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