Mindy McCready, David Wilson

Shawn Carnes

Though millions of people bought her music and millions more read about the troubles she had later in her life, it was only those close to her who truly knew what Mindy McCready was like as a friend, mother, daughter, country artist and, ultimately, tortured soul.

"She was this talented women, beautiful voice, gifted songwriter, and just a wonderful human being—anyone that spent time with her couldn't help but fall in love with her," Danno Hanks, a private investigator who was asked by McCready to help her with a music video just days before she apparently took her own life, exclusively told E! News.

"When she was in Nashville, she was a star," Hanks continued. "It was like you were going to Beverly Hills and you were with some major star. Right to the front of the line, top-notch service...People in Nashville loved her, they love her still. They didn't listen to all that stuff you hear in the tabloids."

And, over the past decade, there was plenty to hear about, from an arrest for using fake prescriptions in 2004 to her more recent inability to maintain custody of her children.

"It was all these people that didn't know her, over the Internet, that watched too much daytime reality television that hounded her," Hanks said. "These are people who don't know her...but the people that do know her, they loved her. And I thought she was a great human being, she was just down to earth and natural."

"And the fact was," he added, "that this was an incredible talent who was just plain folks, and that's how I felt about her."

"She definitely had one of those voices," said one of McCready's closest friends, Shawn Carnes. "You know when you hear Mindy McCready sing, it's her. Her voice is a unique and unmistakable voice. And she has this presence when she walked into the room—you knew she had something special and had it. She was a star."

Carnes agreed that McCready was a down-to-earth, loving presence around those who knew her best.

"I love her. She would do anything for me. She was a good friend," he told E! News. "She was the best, sweetest, coolest, most generous and loyal person...I am going to miss her. We had some fun times."

Both Carnes and Hanks remembered McCready as a great cook, one who would never let you leave her house hungry.

"It was an interesting scene in Nashville when she lived there; all these musician friends would show up and they would have jam sessions in the living room and she'd be in the kitchen cooking," Hanks said. "Even as bad as she was treated by so many people, she was just always nice to everybody she knew." Added Carnes: "I can't tell you how many pans of lasagna she cooked. She loved to entertain people with her food."

Carnes also opened up on his Facebook page about what life was really like for McCready in the weeks leading up to her death, following the apparent suicide of her boyfriend and father of her youngest child, David Wilson, and how he feels that the system ultimately failed her in the end.

"I was with Mindy the last few weeks of her life because I did NOT want her to be alone as she was going through the lowest time of her life," Carnes wrote. "Between her family and myself, we really did try to do all that we could. We accomplished the goal of getting her into treatment and It looked very promising. I came back to Nashville and had hope Mindy would get the help we could not give her. Then they released her after not even 2 days. THIS sickens me people...It was crucial to get her into treatment. I'm just so upset they let her out. Mindy could charm the socks off about anybody. Those Arkansas doctors and judges needed a wake up call I guess. Too bad it was at the expense of Mindys life. I am sick over this."

"She loved her kids and worked hard for them to give them a good life," Carnes also told us. "Her boys were the focal point of her life."

"Last Friday, she was fine," he recalled. "She told me, 'I love you to death.' But there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. She told me how much she loved me and I didn't think she was going to kill herself by the way she was acting. She gave no signs."

McCready appears to have shot herself to death at the home she shared with Wilson, where he was found dead on Jan. 13.

In Carnes' opinion, McCready "didn't want to live anymore" after Wilson's death. "She didn't want help. She didn't care anymore...David was her life and, after losing him, she couldn't focus on the kids. She was just lonely."

But asked what would tell McCready's boys, Zander and Zayne, about their mom, Carnes told E! he would tell them "how much their mom did love them and how hard [she and David] worked to give them a good life."

"As a mom, she just loved her children," said Hanks. "She just loved her children and she never let an opportunity go by where she didn't tell them she loved them."

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