The Tragedy Of The Child Starlet: The Rise And Fall Of Amanda Bynes

By Jaimee Marshall··  15 min read
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Amanda Bynes had natural star power from an early age – proving herself to be worthy of a talent agent at just 7 years old. She soon began acting in commercials.

By 10 years old, she was doing standup performances at the Los Angeles Laugh Factory during a comedy camp with the stage presence of a comedian who’s been in the business for 40 years. Bynes lit up every room she walked into, and she had a natural affinity for making everyone laugh. As she made the audience roar with laughter at her standup routine, it’s no wonder she stood out to a certain Nickelodeon producer who scouted her for the sketch comedy series All That, which was essentially Nickelodeon’s Saturday Night Live.

Bynes became a series favorite, quickly becoming a star of the show, frequently appearing in sketches. After the success of All That, Bynes earned her own show with the spinoff The Amanda Show, created by Dan Schneider, who was also a producer on All That. Despite the show only running for 3 years, it was an instant hit and earned high ratings, but she didn’t want to be seen as a child star for too long and was hoping to work on bigger and better things, like films. She was cast in Big Fat Liar alongside Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz, which was a commercial success, earning $53 million. Bynes’ first taste of commercial success showed that she could translate that stage presence she had on Nickelodeon to the big screen. Wanting to pursue more mature roles, she played Jennie Garth’s sister in What I Like About You, which explored much more adult themes despite being a 16-year-old at the time. This show ran for four years with positive reviews and earned Bynes nominations for the Teen Choice Awards. 

big fat liar amanda bynes

The Meteoric Rise of Amanda Bynes

However, it was her casting in What a Girl Wants in 2003 that was her big break, solidifying her ability to be a true movie star. She won Favorite Movie Actress at the Kid’s Choice Awards, and the movie is still a classic among every girl who grew up in the early 2000s. 

what a girl wants

Bynes followed up this success with another movie, She’s the Man, where she plays a girl who impersonates her brother to get onto the soccer team. It’s here that she helped launch Channing Tatum’s career, as she vouched for him to get cast at a time when he was completely unknown. Tatum has since credited his success to Bynes helping him kickstart his career. 

shes the man

She’s the Man earned over $57 million at the box office, and she won another Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Movie Star. It has become a cult classic over the years, and while it’s probably the most notable film of her career, Bynes spoke about suffering from a deep depression for months after filming because she “didn’t like the way she looked when she was a boy.” This comment foreshadows her fall into deeper body dysmorphia later in her career. Her biggest commercial and critical success came out of the musical comedy Hairspray in 2007, which earned her several awards. 

amanda bynes hairspray

While the world expected to see her on the acting stage for many more years to come, her last acting role was in 2010, starring alongside Emma Stone in Easy A. Despite yet another successful and praiseworthy performance, the inner turmoil within Bynes was beginning to come to the surface. She was so upset with her performance and how she looked in the film that she was convinced she needed to stop acting after seeing it. Bynes kept her word and abruptly announced her retirement from acting on Twitter at 24 years old.

god-sense of humor easy-a

Reckless Tweeting, Legal Trouble, and Body Dysmorphia

Bynes has spoken about her use of recreational drugs like marijuana, molly ecstasy, and Adderall, which she says she faked the symptoms of ADD to get prescribed so she could lose weight. Before her retirement, Bynes was supposed to make a cameo in the 2007 film Hall Pass, but after exhibiting what many observed to be erratic and uncharacteristic behavior, she dropped out of the film. She has since stated that while she was filming for Hall Pass, she was chewing on a bunch of Adderall tablets, believing that they made her higher that way, which may explain the odd behavior. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of the end for Bynes. 

In 2012, the formerly squeaky clean Nickelodeon star, who seemed like a saint compared to her Disney colleagues who were all getting into trouble, found herself to be the new target of tabloid magazines. Bynes was charged with a series of DUIs, hit and runs, and driving with a suspended license, where she was facing potential jail time. Around this time, Bynes became a frequent Twitter user, often making strange and increasingly unsettling tweets that indicated she was not in her right state of mind. After being charged with DUIs, Bynes tweeted to President Obama, saying, "Hey @BarackObama… I don't drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don't hit and run. The end." After insisting that she is completely fine and nothing is going on despite reports, she was dropped by her publicist, agent, and lawyer within just a couple of weeks. 

She faked the symptoms of ADD to get prescribed Adderall so she could lose weight.

The Twitter rants only continue to become increasingly bizarre, as Bynes begins to call basically everyone and their mother ugly. That same year, Bynes got in a squabble with a paparazzi photographer who was trying to get shots of her walking to the gym, as she covered her face and begged him to stop. After snapping a photo of her face, she walked over to him and said, "You have to delete that one of my face. I need to look beautiful and it's a bad shot, alright? Please," with pain and desperation in her voice. The photographer didn’t let up and there appeared to be a physical altercation on camera, with the photographer claiming that she dug her nails into him. From here on out, Bynes appeared to be in a daze whenever she was spotted in public, locking herself into dressing rooms and allegedly stripping in public places.

Over the next few years, it became clear that Bynes needed help. Her Twitter rants were incoherent and did not sound like the same Amanda we used to know. She appeared with a much more disheveled appearance, rocking a matted blonde wig and dermal piercings. Bynes also surgically altered her appearance by getting a few plastic surgery procedures done and constantly tweeted about how she needed to improve her appearance and threatened to sue any tabloids that published unflattering photos of her. At one point, she said on Twitter that she has an eating disorder so she struggles to stay thin. In 2013, she was evicted from her NYC apartment after other tenants complained that her apartment always reeked of marijuana and that her behavior was disturbing and that she was harassing people in the building. One woman claimed that Bynes knocked on her door and upon opening it, she screamed "You're ugly" and ran away.

When the police responded to calls about her smoking a joint in the lobby, they came up to her apartment, where she allegedly threw a glass object that was believed to be a bong from the window on the 36th floor. This could have potentially killed someone, but there was no evidence found of shattered glass. The cops charged her with reckless endangerment, marijuana possession, and felony tampering with evidence. It’s around this time that she tweeted that she wanted Drake to “murder her v*****” and made some disturbing comments about her parents and other celebrities. Some distasteful and abusive messages directed at Rihanna said "@rihanna you look so ugly trying to be white," "@rihanna no one wants to be your lover so you call everyone and their mother that I almost named my new dog Rihanna," and worst of all, "@rihanna Chris brown beat you because you're not pretty enough." While a terrible thing to say, it was clear that she was in the middle of a psychotic episode and later recanted these statements, saying she loves Rihanna and that she’s a beauty.

Bynes’ Mental Health Struggles Take a Dark Turn

In July 2013, she was seen carrying a container of gasoline and her small dog while wandering onto a neighbor’s driveway. She then poured the gasoline canister onto the stranger’s driveway, soaking her dog in the process, and seemingly accidentally started a small fire in the driveway. A witness who drove by and intervened said her pant leg was on fire and that she ran down the street pantsless to chase after her dog while he called out for help and for someone to call 911. Bynes was shortly after seen walking into a liquor store where she wandered into the back washroom without permission to rinse the gasoline off her pooch. The cab driver who drove her there claims she said that her dog had been burned. 

This incident resulted in Bynes being placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold known as a 5150 for 72 hours. To be placed on this hold, it needs to be demonstrated in an evaluation that the person is a danger to themselves or others or is gravely disabled. While Bynes was placed on the psychiatric hold, her parents filed for a temporary conservatorship citing her erratic behavior and financial irresponsibility. Her psychiatric hold was extended for two weeks to be stabilized for her court hearing. However, this was again extended for 30 days because she was deemed not well enough to attend her court hearing. This only happens if someone is deemed gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder. Her mother Lynn won a temporary conservatorship over Amanda’s person and estate.

After starting a fire in the neighbor’s driveway, Amanda was placed in a conservatorship. 

Things appeared to be looking up for Bynes when she was released from her hospitalization. She moved back in with her parents, her dog was placed in a new home, she was staying out of trouble, and she even enrolled in The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). However, people became concerned again when she was arrested for another DUI and made a series of allegations against her own father in 2014, claiming that he verbally, physically, and sexually abused her and said she would try to record things he did as evidence to get him thrown in jail and that she wants to get a restraining order against him. The very same day, she tweeted, “My dad never did any of those things. The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he's the one that ordered them to microchip me.” It was also in 2014 that she was kicked out of FIDM for allegedly showing up high to class and for cheating.

The Conservatorship Question

Bynes was again placed on a 5150 psychiatric hold for 72 hours, and her mother was awarded a conservatorship over her daughter for the second time. Bynes announced on Twitter that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and manic depression despite her mother previously insisting that she didn’t have a mental illness and was off all of her meds (post-psychiatric hold). Lynn insisted that her behavior was merely a result of marijuana use. 

Bynes has mostly stayed out of the spotlight in recent years and for good reason. Her conservatorship has been extended throughout the years before it officially came to an end in 2022 after nine years. Things seemed to be looking up for Bynes in recent years, even giving an exclusive interview to Paper Magazine where she announced her intention to return to acting, but that day never came. 

Many in the Free Britney movement began to throw their support behind Bynes after developing a bad taste in their mouth for conservatorships. However, Bynes continues to go in and out of recovery. Most recently, Bynes posted an alarming video on her Instagram story saying that she was afraid of her fiancé and that he had stopped taking his medication. She went on to say that he vandalized his mom’s home, put salmon under her bed, and that she found his secret stash of crack cocaine which he has been using for the past six months. She also posted two rap singles on her Instagram. Bynes, who was once admired for being a beautiful, witty, and endearing young actress, not only looks but sounds unrecognizable during these episodes. 

While empathy is much needed in Bynes’ case, her backstory in regard to her conservatorship is significantly different from Britney Spears, especially because she has repeatedly been deemed a danger to herself or others when she is not stabilized. While her conservatorship has ended after nine long years, there’s no telling if this will always be the case. Not much is known about her fiancé Paul Michael and whether there is any basis for the claims she made in her Instagram video, but the two initially met in rehab.

What Caused This?

In her 2018 Paper Magazine interview, Bynes claimed that she suffered from drug-induced psychosis. Talking about why she found her performance so upsetting in Easy A, she stated, "I was high on marijuana when I saw that but for some reason, it really started to affect me. I don't know if it was a drug-induced psychosis or what, but it affected my brain in a different way than it affects other people. It absolutely changed my perception of things." 

She also commented on her drug use in a 2017 interview, where she explained that she made obscene jokes on Twitter like the Drake comment because she was being sincere but was also on drugs and trying to be funny. Before Bynes’ bipolar diagnosis, people were speculating that she might have Schizophrenia. However, untreated bipolar can cause psychotic episodes in which one feels detached from reality and can experience hallucinations and delusions. 

Amanda and her mother Lynn may also be sincere about chalking up Amanda's mental health struggles to drug use. Even seemingly harmless recreational drugs like marijuana can trigger psychiatric disorders in people who have genetic predispositions for mental illness. Adderall has also been closely associated with psychotic episodes when prescribed at high doses. Bynes responded to others’ speculation of her mental state, saying, “If you deny anything and tell them what it actually is, they don't believe you. Truly, for me, [my behavior] was drug-induced, and whenever I got off of [drugs], I was always back to normal…I know that my behavior was so strange that people were just trying to grasp at straws for what was wrong.” However, it was Bynes herself who told the world that she was diagnosed with a mental illness.

Marijuana can trigger psychiatric disorders in people who have genetic predispositions for mental illness.

Dr. Steven Bakti, MD, speaks of a patient who had drug-induced psychosis as a result of taking high doses of Adderall but was misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. Because the patient continued to take this prescription, the psychosis didn’t resolve. Some of the paranoia symptoms exhibited by this patient included the belief that he was being hacked and that others were following or watching him. When Bynes’ parents filed for a temporary conservatorship, they cited claims that she was paranoid she was being watched and would tape her windows shut to prevent cameras from taking photos of her, and that she would cover smoke alarms with towels. 

Another explanation is childhood trauma. Bynes’ had the unfortunate circumstance of losing her childhood to fame from a very young age. She was also closely connected to controversial Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider who seems to have even come between her and her parents at one point when Bynes was seeking emancipation from them. Schneider has been accused of sexual misconduct with minors and while nothing has ever been proven, he has exhibited very questionable behavior with the young child stars of his shows, including a fixation with the young stars’ feet. On Mikhaila Peterson’s podcast, Jennette McCurdy said she "worked with an incredibly abusive producer. Even now, my face gets hot thinking of it," and she mentioned that she was 13 years old when she joined the show, which is how old she was when she worked under Schneider for iCarly.

McCurdy also made a Vine in which her appearance became increasingly disheveled, with makeup smeared all over her face, as she said, “Hey Dan Schneider, I know you’re watching my Vine.” She then looks into the camera and cryptically says, “Look what you’ve done to me.” Many suspected this was a cry for help, but this has never been confirmed. Backtracking to Bynes’ previous comments about sexual abuse at the hands of her dad, which she quickly recanted, some have speculated that what she may have meant is that she could have been physically or sexually abused by someone who wasn’t necessarily her father, but perhaps a father figure. 

Closing Thoughts

No matter what the reasons are for Bynes’ mental health and substance abuse issues, we wish her the best in her recovery and hope that she prioritizes her health over Hollywood fame. Perhaps she’ll return to the big screen one day, but it doesn’t seem like she’s ready for that yet, and that’s okay. Mental health struggles are a serious and sensitive topic, so please keep in mind that nothing said in this article is meant to make fun of or encourage the harassment of Amanda Bynes. It’s merely to paint the full picture of the trajectory of her career and why you may not see that much of her these days. Being a child star is a rough and lonely road, and sometimes it takes years of intense therapy to make peace with it all.

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