Dateline NBC
By Hoda Kotb Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/17/2008 5:11:35 PM ET 2008-07-17T21:11:35

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on April 6, 2008.

Britney's saga started here, far from the big city lights. Kentwood, La is a sleepy town that once upon a time nurtured the best in Britney Spears.

Kentwood was Britney's first real home. The folks here were the first to see not the seeds of disaster, but the fruit from a little girl's hard work. Back then everyone knew her as Britney Jean.

Joy Moore and Kelly Milton are friends of the Spears family, that nice nuclear family next door.

Kelly Milton: She did all the talent shows from here until I can't even wherever. Wherever there was a talent show that's where Britney was.

Folks in Kentwood will tell you Jamie and Lynn Spears lived for their three kids. Britney, the middle child, craved the spotlight at the earliest age. Joy can pinpoint the moment when Lynn Spears plugged her daughter's demo tape into the car stereo.

Joy Moore: And so we're sitting in this borrowed jalopy listening to this demo tape and Lynne just had such high hopes, you know? That her kids were going to have it better. It was just these wonderful dreams.

To turn them into reality, Britney's mother would roll the dice. Using what little money the family had, she toOK 8-year-old Britney to New York to meet with big time talent agent Nancy Carson.

Nancy Carson: I get chills thinking about it, she was so good. She was really one of the best little ones I’d ever met.

What made her so good, says Carson, was that even then, at the tender age of 8, Britney knew how to put a sexy, little spin on a tired old ditty.

Nancy Caron: It would be this quiet, shy, little girl standing there. And when the music came on, and she started to sing, she evolved into this performer who just knew how to sell that song.

Three years after Britney stepped into Nancy’s office, her mom's gamble paid off.

She was just 11 years old when she wowed the people producing a new cable TV version of the legendary Mickey Mouse Club. There's the little Mouseketeer dancing her heart out alongside a skinny kid named Justin Timberlake . Also on the show was a young Christina Aguilera.

Joe Levy, Editor in Chief, Blender magazine: They were entertainment robots. They seemed to have no personal life. Particularly Britney. She said the right things. She did the right things. She worked tirelessly. She was a perfect pop star at the start.

When the show was canceled in 1994, Britney kept working, striving for the next big break. It came three years later when she signed her first record deal with Jive Records. By 1998, her first single was out. And it was a certified hit.

“Baby One More Time” went straight to the number one spot on Billboard. Her first CD followed months later. On its cover she looked like the Miss Goody-Two-Shoes your parents wanted you to be friends with. But on the video for her hit single, she looked more like the naughty girl they wanted you to avoid.

Levy: What was a little risqué about it, she was wearing a schoolgirl uniform. She had on some knee-high socks and she had a bare midriff. Not that I’ve committed the outfit to memory. Not that I could draw it at your request.

Britney -- just 17-years-old -- had become a sexy household name, one preteen girls uttered with reverence. But she insisted she wasn't trying to push any moral envelopes.

(older interview)

Britney Spears: I don't really think it's that sexy. I'm just tying my shirt up, and I’m dancing and you tend to wear less clothes when you dance so that's why.

A young woman barely out of childhood, Britney was trying to be all things to all people, working in an adult world of backstages and tour buses. For the first time, Britney was often without her full-time mom and dad. On the road, her managers and handlers were her stand-in family. Britney had to grow up fast.

Kelly Milton: You have to remember she left here from Kentwood at age 14. Her mother was not able to go with her because she had another small child she had to raise. A telephone can't take the place of you being there and telling your daughter, "No, absolutely not."

But then, how does anyone say 'no' to a rocket that's already launched? Britney was red hot, as her next CD and batch of videos would prove. There was no stopping her.

And for Britney, rushing headlong into the music stratosphere, the ride toward fame and fortune was about to get very bumpy indeed.

The big question Britney had to answer in 2000 was: 'Is she a one-hit wonder?'

Sure she wowed them with her breakthrough video and CD, which kept spawning hit after hit, like "Crazy."

But could she make lightning strike twice? Britney had an answer to all the doubters.

Her second CD, "Oops, I Did It Again," proved she could, in fact, do it again -- and again. The appearance during the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, where she ripped off her suit to reveal a nude-colored, sequined costume, secured her place in the music industry firmament.

By age 19 she was a bonafide pop star and a multimillionaire, hawking her own fashion doll and later a video game and books.

Lea Goldman: The tours are selling out and the endorsers start knocking on her door.

Britney's stunning success on the tour circuit, combined with her knockout looks and moves, made her a corporate marketer's dream.

Lea Goldman, former Senior Editor, Forbes Magazine: Pepsi, Clairol, Sketchers, Samsung, Kirin Beer in Japan, which is a big market. So really the names you want to have if you're a top-notch star, she's bagged.

That deal with Pepsi? One of the biggest in the soft-drink company's history, reportedly netting her as much as $10 million a year.

There was so much money and fame for Britney. Some of her friends back home in Kentwood would wonder if it was all a bit too much, too soon for the town's favorite daughter. Yet it seemed there was no stopping her. She even had the handsome, popular boy to go with all the good fortune, Justin Timberlake, then a member of the hugely successful boy band *NSync.

He was a pop star in his own right. The two were now the music industry's "sexy young couple."

Even more than her mother, Justin was the person Britney could trust, the one who knew what it took to make it to the top and survive.

Vanessa Grigoriadis, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone magazine: Any of her old girlfriends have said that she was so deeply in love with him. And that he really became the person who was like the one person that she didn't feel was trying to get anything from her.

Britney could also count on Justin to be secure about her growing fame. In promoting her 2002 debut movie “Crossroads,” she told NBC's TODAY show about her kissing scene with another boy.

Britney Spears: I'm thinking of Justin, I’m thinking of Justin!

Katie Couric: Did Justin feel OK about that?

Britney Spears: Yeah, he was fine. He just knows that's a part of what we do.

Her fans might have wanted to hear the steamy details, but their moms, who were buying the records, definitely did not. The press picked up on it, especially when Britney tried to calm parental fears with this public declaration…

Britney Spears: Yes, I’m a virgin...

Apparently, though, Britney should have been speaking in the past tense.

Vanessa: They both basically said that they were sleeping together during that time … I mean, it's kind of amazing that more people didn't see through that at the time.

But if Britney thought she could control her relationship and the way everyone else saw it, she was about to get a hard knocks lesson. Just after the release of Britney's first movie, “Crossroads,” the couple dropped a bombshell: they were calling it quits. Rumors were swirling.

Vanessa: There have been certainly accounts that she did, you know, cheat on him, and that is why he broke up with her. And that's something that's weighed heavily on her, because it was a decision that she made out of weakness.

Later that year, it appeared Justin was putting truth to the talk with the song “Cry Me a River,” reportedly about Britney's infidelity and their breakup.

It wasn't the only loss she'd suffer that year. Months after her split from Justin, Britney's other world in Kentwood, La., was coming apart. Her parents were getting divorced. It would later surface that Britney's father had been battling a drinking problem for years. Perhaps this might have been the time for Britney to take a break, to slow down. But she couldn't.

She was now the engine of a well-oiled world-touring machine. Britney, with her flying suits and slithering dancers, was only just warming up for her wildest act yet.

Despite the breakups and heartbreaks of 2002, Britney was as dedicated as ever to her career. She'd been busy travelling the world, promoting her third CD, “Britney.” In this area of her life, at least, she could take charge.

Dan Kenney: Britney Spears honestly was just about the single hardest working person I have ever been exposed to in my life.

Dan Kenney was the music director for Britney's band. That's him on the piano. He'd watched her grow and change ever since the early days of her first hit tour for Baby One More Time.” By her fourth tour she had become the poster girl for a highly sexualized age.

Dan Kenney: Do I think her advisors might have suggested that sex sells? Yes. I do. But did she take that and run with it? Yes.

In fact, Kenney says during that “Dream Within a Dream” tour in 2002, he got the distinct impression that Britney wanted to take even more control over her image and career.

Dan Kenney: She was being influenced by, you know, the managers, the lawyers, the finance people -- also, like, even hairstylists and dancers. She was waiting to kind of break free and to make her own decisions.

That included writing her own music. Dan says Britney had never shown much inclination as a songwriter, until one day when she needed help with a little tune.

Dan Kenney: “You know, Dan, I have this melody.” And she'd sing me this melody. And I have a little keyboard and whatnot. We wrote this bluesy kind of tune called “Mystic Man.”

Then she shocked him by saying she wanted to perform their new piece that night, on stage, right before her song "Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman.”

Dan Kenney: I said, "We just wrote this thing.” And she's like “Yeah. We'll be fine. OK. We'll do it." So she was becoming more gutsy. I think she wanted to become known not just as a producer but as a creator.

Those creative moments aside, Britney's concerts were all about her latest stock and trade, cool moves and steamy numbers. Like this one on a flying platform -- complete with slithering dancers and wet costumes. It was a showstopper for Britney and a sign to her music director that maybe, just maybe, Britney had taken the sexy thing a bit too far.

Dan Kenney: I saw this mother and two little kids on either side of her and she's covering their eyes like this. She's got a horrified look on her face. She's like (gasp)! I came off stage and my crew guy, he gives me a towel and puts his arm around me. And he says, “You do know you're playing keyboards for the anti-Christ, don't you?" And I said to myself “Oh, my God!"

That transformation from bubblegum to bombshell became complete when the queen of shock -- Madonna -- seemed to anoint Britney the new pop princess with a scandalous kiss during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Britney later tried to make it all sound innocent enough.

Britney Spears: I mean, come on, Madonna. If you kiss any girl in the world it has to be her.

Yet even as she glowed from all the attention, it may have been that Britney was starting to have second thoughts about her packaged image. For the first time, Britney, the tightly choreographed pop star, was about to veer off-script. In the heat of the moment, in the dark of night, she shocked everyone with a stealth move.

It was early 2004. She and a hometown friend named Jason Alexander had decided to go for a late night run -- down a Vegas wedding aisle. To some observers it was a sign that Britney's idea of "being in control" meant being a little out of it.

Michael Musto: I think this weekend marriage was Britney's way of breaking out and saying, "I’m going to do what I want to do, even if it's wrong."

But her old music director Dan Kenney saw it differently.

Dan Kenney: As far as marrying that guy, it just represented to me that she wanted some semblance of normalcy. That's what people do. We get married.

Whatever the reason, Britney's mother and managers swooped into Sin City, forcing the two to annul the marriage. After just 55 hours as Mrs. Jason Alexander, Britney was a single woman again, and not too happy about it.

Joe Levy, Editor in Chief, Blender magazine: These were people who had helped her end, forced her to end her first marriage. Whatever enmity she had was lasting. She was pissed off.

As if to get even, she made this appearance a few months later on an L.A. beach with a new man at her side: Kevin Federline.

Brandy Navarre: They went out onto the beach surrounded by paparazzi and just kind of hung out as if we all weren't there, which is funny. And the magazines were just eating it up. The public loved it.

Brandy Navarre is head of X17, which specializes in candid celebrity photos and videos -- better known as the paparazzi.

Brandy Navarre: I think as soon as she started dating Kevin Federline, we said, "Whoa, something big's going to happen here."

What happened was that Britney the pop icon had discovered a new way to entertain the crowds. Now her personal life -- and the celebrity press -- could keep her star power burning bright. But who was her latest act, Kevin Federline, anyway? It turns out he was a backup dancer.

The word was he'd just left his pregnant girlfriend and their daughter to be with Britney. He had traded up in life.

And the woman rich enough, beautiful enough. famous enough, to nab any king on earth seemed to find her prince charming here in homeboy jeans and cornrows. It was as if Britney were daring the world, including her mother and her managers, to question her career – and her taste in men.

Michael Musto: Kevin became an instant pop culture punch line. Nobody was buying this. Nobody respected him. They thought he was a cheesy white rapper with bad hair. He was kind of the biggest joke since Cher's bagel boy.

But if people were tittering, Britney wasn't listening. If everyone thought the new couple was just a joke, let them snicker. Britney was happy to play along and to laugh right back.

Ever since she became a star, Britney has been used to fielding all sorts of questions: about her talent, her clothes, and her virginity. But by 2005, it was Britney who was posing the question to the rest of the world:

(from her TV series)
Britney: Can you handle my truth ... Can you? I don't know...

She and her new boyfriend had a reality TV series.

"Britney & Kevin: Chaotic" gave viewers an up-close -- many would say too close -- look inside their lovey-dovey world. It also showcased an edgier, more provocative Britney.

(from TV series)
Britney: The kisses are really good ... the sex is really good!

Michael Musto: There's such a thing as TMI. Too much information. And that may have been what “Chaotic” was peddling.

She even let viewers watch as she went from Miss Spears to Mrs. Federline after roughly five months of courtship.

But while Britney's second trip to the altar was big news in the press, it didn't please many fans. They saw her new husband as nothing more than a gold-digger. Britney, on the other hand, saw Kevin as the first person in a long time who didn't want to control her.

Vanessa: And he didn't care if she didn't wear shoes into the gas station bathroom. Or, you know, just walked around looking like crap and went to Starbucks.

Besides, Britney had other things on her mind. Soon after the marriage, she told everyone she was pregnant. It was unmistakable in her music video for "Someday (I Will Understand).”

And when she gave birth to Sean Preston, the new mom proudly posed with baby and husband for People magazine. Within months of the birth, there more good news that she revealed on the Late Show with David Letterman.

She was pregnant again. And she was signaling to the media an eagerness to turn the spotlight over to her husband Kevin. He was producing his first rap CD. The trouble was the public would have none of it.

Joe Levy: You can't say how the Kevin Federline album was received. Nobody bothered to receive it. The world sent it back. I mean, nobody cared.

What they did care about was Britney -- and her marriage. It seemed tabloids couldn't wait to report on her frustration with K-Fed, his partying and laziness. Britney denied it all. And then, in the blink of the camera's eye, the attention turned from marriage to motherhood. A fateful decision behind the wheel put Britney in the hot seat.

On Feb, 6, 2006, Britney was photographed driving with Sean Preston on her lap. She later explained she had been trying to get her son quickly out of the way of the paparazzi who'd been hounding her. Few were buying the excuse. Her maternal instincts had already become a national punch line.

(from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno")
Jay Leno: But in her defense, the baby had to sit on her lap because her husband Kevin was asleep in the child seat.

For the tabloids, it was now all-Britney-all-the-time. Routine accidents in childrearing became exhibit "A" in the case against mother Britney. When her son fell from his highchair, the incident made headline news. When Britney slipped in the street holding her baby, the cameras went crazy.

Even the birth of her second son didn't win her much empathy. But two months later something else did. It was the kind of news tabloids had been predicting, even hoping for: she was divorcing her husband Kevin Federline. In turn, he announced he would fight for custody of their two children.

Michael Musto: I never trusted him. I just thought he was a user from day one. I mean, talk about losing 200 pounds that you didn't need.

For a moment Britney ceased to be a tabloid target.

Joe Levy: The story seemed to be turning around. The momentum was, hey, Britney Spears is changing her life and going back to work.

She was going back to work -- and out to party, too. Few ardent fans might have blamed her for celebrating her break with Kevin. And yet, without the steadying hand of matrimony, Britney was like a wild child unleashed. Overnight, it seemed, she had found a new friend. And it wasn’t not just any old gal pal, either.

Joe Levy: Paris Hilton. She hooked up with Paris Hilton. Boy, the story changed. It was no longer that Britney is working. It was Britney is partying. And without underwear.

The images said it all: there was the former Mouseketeer almost naked in public . There she was appearing drunk, and there she was just after throwing up. Now the press had to wonder: was the partying just a publicity stunt, or had her drinking become a personal demon?

Joe Levy: How can things possibly get worse? Well, she could pass out in the middle of a nightclub. She could throw-up in public. Could it get much worse? Oh, yes, actually it could.

It got so bad Britney's own mother was reportedly worried for her daughter's safety. Britney's ex went a step further, allegedly issuing an ultimatum in 2007: clean up, stay sober or risk never seeing your children.

Finally, the woman who had stopped taking orders from others seemed to get the message -- sort of. Britney checked into an exclusive Caribbean rehab center in mid-February, but the next day she checked out and flew home.

She headed right to a hair salon. As paparazzi peered through the window into the salon, they could hardly believe what they were seeing: Britney taking a razor to her hair. Suddenly, the boozy Britney story didn't seem that funny.

Michael Musto: I think when she shaved her head that's when people started going, "This might not be cute anymore."

Britney once again checked into rehab and -- once again -- stayed only a single night. Afterwards, she headed to Kevin Federline's to see her kids. But when no one answered the door, her fury boiled over -- and into the side of a car.

Furious with her ex-husband, furious with her mother, Britney was now alone with her anger -- and the photographers. She was being tailed by them 24/7. What outrageous exploit would she serve up next? Clearly, America’s pop princess had taken a hard fall. But she was about to rise again, this time as the wild-eyed star in a very gritty brand of reality TV.

Even after shaving her head and rampaging with an umbrella, Britney managed to give her fans a glimmer of hope in late 2007. The word was out that she was releasing a new CD. Better yet, she was returning to the old venue that had marked so many milestones in her career: the MTV Music Awards, where she'd always wowed the crowds. Surely she could do it again?

She did it all right -- only not in the way anyone could have imagined. There was Britney before millions, barely moving and lip synching in time to the music. It was as if she were wishing she could be anywhere else but here, the stage, where she had always been so confident. It was a disaster.

Michael Musto: I was watching the VMAs as they unfolded. And of course, my phone, my text and my emails were going off the hook. “Can you believe this?” She looks not only under-rehearsed, she looks half-dead.

Despite that performance, Britney's new CD, “Blackout,” has been something of a hit. In this video for her song “Piece of Me,” she lashes out at the press for persecuting her. And yet it seemed a case of too little, too late.

Levy: Nobody pays any attention to what's on the record because, well, the life has taken over. There's no room for the music.

Indeed, according to Forbes, at the height of her fame her music earned her $39 million a year in record sales, tours and endorsements. Last year, without tours or appearances to hawk her new CD, her take-home was just $8 million.

But as bleak as her professional life looked, her personal one was about to become downright depressing. In October, after citing Britney's "habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol," a family court awarded custody of her two children to her ex husband. Britney, the court ruled, was an unfit mother.

Levy: The woman's had her children taken away. She is the butt of every late night comic. She is a pariah to most of America. She's nobody's role model now.

A woman known all over the world now seemed to be all alone within it.

Her children, husband, manager, and publicist: gone.

Her parents: a strained relationship at best.

It was little coincidence that as her inner circle shrank, the circus ring around her swelled. Hordes of cameras were constantly pressing in.

Levy: So who does she turn to for approval and attention? The guys holding cameras who are saying “Britney, Britney, over here, Britney, Britney, Britney, over here.” You know, there's a little excitement in a day that might otherwise be filed with oh, the reality of not getting to see your kids.

Instead of fighting them, Britney was giving in to the men she used to try to run away from.

Brandy Navarre: And our photographers, many of them, really do genuinely care about this girl.

Brandy Navarre of the X17 photo agency says cameramen helped Britney change her tires and they offered her fatherly advice.

They became her family.

Brandy Navarre: She's sought companionship and friendship in the photographers because she has no other friends. And some of our photographers have probably been the truest friends she's ever had.

Britney: I love you guys!

Paparazzi: We love you, Britney!

In fact, she seemed to feel so comfortable with them that she picked one to be her boyfriend.

Adnan Ghalib (pronounced guh-leeb) was born in Britain and moved to the United States about a decade ago to make it big as the alpha paparazzo in Britney's pack. It may come as no surprise that his competitor, Brandy Navarre, thinks Britney made a poor choice in her latest boyfriend.

Brandy Navarre: He was setting up photos so that he could have them exclusive through his agency. But it kind of backfired. Because a lot of the media were pretty aware of what was going on. And that it was kind of ugly to take advantage of her and do that.

More than that, Britney had broken some unwritten code in Hollywood: the one that says you don't make friends with people who are chasing you for pictures.

Michael Musto: She's partly courting the media and what could be better proof than that than she's going out with a photographer. Those are the enemy! She's literally sleeping with the enemy by bringing one into her house.

And sometime last year she added one more face to her diminished entourage.

Osama "Sam" Lutfi (pronounced lut-fee), has been described alternately as a friend, a bodyguard, her manager, it was never clear what Sam Lutfi was to Britney. Only that he was constantly at her side.

Michael Joseph Gross, Blender writer: He arrived as her new manager/publicist/ best friend. And started giving tips to one paparazzi agency in particular. Since then, they've always known where she's going, where she's going to be.

Writer Michael Joseph Gross of Blender magazine rode with the paparazzi trailing Britney. He says Sam Lutfi was largely responsible for all of Britney's run-ins with the cameras over the past few months.

Gross says Lutfi somehow worked his way into meeting Britney, then convincing her she needed him.

But Gross says Britney put herself in the hands of a dangerous man.

By midsummer, according to a lot of people who are close to her, Sam had so taken control of things that nobody got in or out of the house. No message got in or out except through Sam.

In fact, at the time he was with Britney, Sam Lutfi had three restraining orders against him from other people who, like Britney, had let him into their lives. In the petition for one of those orders, a man described Lutfi as a "dangerous person" who was " harassing" him through text messages and emails.

On Jan. 3 of this year, Britney refused to hand her children back to their father after a long weekend with them. A police standoff ensued, ending with Britney being forced onto a gurney, into an ambulance, and off to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Michael Musto: This wasn't even just a trip to, like, a Promises kind of rehab center where it's all kind of a little bit glam. And you get out after two days and clink clink that was fun. This was serious business. This is a psycho ward.

But no sooner was she in for help then she was out, running around town, often in a pink wig, often with a British accent.

At one point she went on an 60-hour paparazzi binge with the cameras behind her, sometimes yelling at Sam Lutfi.

After one fight, she wound up on the curb, sobbing. One of the most popular entertainers ever, now reduced to a puddle of tears with a puppy on her lap.

Back in Kenwood, La., old friends looked at their computers and TVs in disbelief. Joy Moore says Britney's mother Lynne -- estranged from her daughter -- had called Joy one day, beside herself.

Joy Moore: She said, "I’m going in my tennis shoes and my sweatpants and if I have to scale the wall and run past bodyguards and dogs, that's what I’m going to do. I'm getting to her." And that was her. That's how she felt. "I’m desperate. I just have to get there."

Eventually she did get there, and with more than a pair of sneakers to help her.

In late January of this year, less than a month after Britney's first trip to the hospital, her parents had convinced the courts their daughter needed an emergency intervention. With helicopters roaring overhead, a line of police cars snaking up the drive to her home, Britney was ushered back to the hospital for another psychiatric evaluation, leaving the rest of the world wondering: could anything or anyone save this woman?

When the meltdowns in the street were over, the helicopters had flown away, and the sirens had gone silent, Britney awoke to her own post-apocalyptic world and found that the cameras were still there, chasing her every move.

At first glance, it looked like Britney's new world was the same as the old one. But the changes where there. While the paparazzi continued to follow her, the police were sometimes there too, quick to keep them in line -- even handcuff them.

There's also a real bodyguard barking back the onslaught.

And something else changed for Britney. There was no more Sam at her side. In February, Britney's mother, Lynne, obtained a restraining order against Lutfi. In her affidavit she painted Lutfi as a menacing presence controlling her daughter and the medications she's under. Lynn Spears also claimed that Lutfi "is the one who receives Britney's checks," and that he had made Britney's "house phones unworkable."

A spokesperson for Sam Lutfi told Dateline that those "allegations and the declaration are untrue and have not been proven." Even if they are true, Joe Levy believes the blame here lies with the pop star herself.

Joe Levy: If you come to Britney with sound advice, and the promise of health and happiness, she will send you packing. She is on her own path. There are no lights on in the car. The highway is icy. And it is pitch black. Things do not look good.

Actually, things may not be that bleak -- at least not anymore. Britney has a new man in her corner, sort of. It's her dad, Jamie Spears.

As conservator over his daughter and her estate he -- not she -- now holds the keys to her car, her finances, her life. Never mind what her recent video for “Piece of Me,” says, if you want a piece of Britney now, you have to go through her dad to get it.

It's as if this mother and megastar had suddenly gone back in time, back to her days as a preteen Mouseketeer, when her parents could still tell her what to do.

Some Britney observers are skeptical. After all, they say, Britney's parents were the ones who set her on this path of hyper-celebrity in the first place. Others note the Spears have their hands full at the moment with their other daughter, Jamie Lynn. She just announced to the press that she had become pregnant at the sweet young age of 16. Still others wonder if anyone, let alone Britney's parents, can help her at this point.

Brandy: They haven't been around almost at all the past year. So it might also be difficult for them to come into this situation after an entire year of Britney having problems and say, "Let's clean up the mess."

And yet her parents can already point to a few major successes. With their help, Britney has been allowed to visit with her two young sons. She's even gone back to work somewhat. Last month, she made a much publicized comedic turn on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother."

Britney's appearance won that series its highest ratings ever, a sign that her star power still shines brightly. If Britney's parents can keep their daughter out of trouble and on the mend, Britney may have a shot at a glorious second coming.

A former representative of the star told Dateline a comeback was all but guaranteed for her if she gets well. Dan Kenney, who used to be her music director, agrees.

Dan Kenney: But she has to do it in a fashion that is -- she needs to surround herself, like on the first three tours, it was like a family. We loved going on the road. As you know, arduous and as much travel and tiring as it is, she had such good people around her.

But even if she doesn't return to the stage or her career, Britney will still be in the spotlight whether she likes it or not.

Brandy Navarre: Britney will always be one of the biggest figures in the media for the rest of history. I mean, this is [something] we haven't seen this before. It's unprecedented. So if when she's 70-years-old. she walks out onto her driveway to go get the morning paper, that shot will probably still sell. Because if Marilyn Monroe were doing the same thing today, we'd probably take a shot at it, and it will probably be interesting.

All of which presupposes, of course, that Britney will not end up like Marilyn Monroe -- that her family will succeed in putting her on some sort of straight and narrow.

And to that end, Dan Kenney has some friendly and very heartfelt advice for his former colleague.

Dan Kenny: I think the best thing that Britney Spears can do is buy, like, a ranch in, like, Utah, Colorado or something, and just get the hell out of Los Angeles.

At least one thing does seem certain. We will always make time for the story of Britney no matter where she takes us, no matter how it ends. We will always be ready for one more close-up.

Britney Spears's latest video, which premiered just last month, features her single "Break The Ice." But you won't actually see her performing because her animated alter ego -- a kind of "sexy, singing super-heroine" -- did all the heavy lifting.

(This show includes celebrity footage courtesy of

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