From the moment he stepped onto the scene in the late ’90s as the 9-year-old debutante of the Backstreet Boys, Aaron Carter’s velvety voice, golden locks and bubbling energy made him a star.
But the pop wonder’s life was marred by addiction and mental health issues.
Carter’s meteoric rise to fame as a pre-pubescent pop star, his tumultuous teenage and twenties, and his attempts to revive his career are explored in “Aaron Carter: The Little Prince of Pop,” now streaming on Hulu.
Carter died on Nov. 5, 2022, and the cause of death was determined in April as drowning, according to an autopsy. Contributing factors to Carter’s death included the effects of difluoroethane and alprazolam, according to the report.
Carter leaves behind a fiancee and a young child.
Aaron Carter rose to fame as a child, following the path to superstardom blazed by his older brother Nick Carter, a member of the multi-platinum selling group The Backstreet Boys.
“There’s a lot of siblings that are in the business that want to be like their older siblings, but he was really, really good,” Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean said.
Carter’s self-titled debut album, released in 1997 before he turned 10, sold a million copies and launched his solo career. He followed with “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)” in 2000, a triple-platinum, smash hit featuring the biggest hits of his career, including the title track “I Want Candy” and “That’s How I beat Shaq.”
Subsequent editions, however, did not achieve similar success. After releasing the album Another Earthquake in 2002, Carter went 16 years without releasing new music, during which time he became more known for appearances on reality shows, family conflicts, erratic online behavior and rumors of drug use .
In 2004 and 2005, Carter appeared on “20/20” with his older brother, Backstreet Boys star Nick Carter, to discuss family strife and the financial fallout they said had followed Aaron’s fame since childhood. In interviews, the brothers voiced their grievances against their mother, Jane Carter, who also acted as the two boys’ managers during their early careers. Aaron specifically accused his mother of mismanaging his money when he was a minor.
Jane Carter, who was interviewed on “20/20” in 2005, denied Aaron’s allegations at the time and said the entire family was a spender. Jane Carter declined to comment when contacted by ABC News Studios for this documentary.
Carter turned to the reality show circuit as she got older, most prominently appearing on 2006’s “House of Carters” with her four siblings and on the 2009 season of “Dancing with the Stars,” but those shows didn’t catapult him back to the level of success he experienced as a child pop star.
“Maybe he thought, well, I’ve had this success. It’s going to stay that way,” McLean said. “It doesn’t just stay. You have to keep working on it. You have to keep reinventing yourself. You have to keep growing.”
Carter returned to the studio in 2015 with a new focus on producing and writing songs.
“He was meticulous about making sure every song was exactly what he wanted it to be,” Taylor Helgeson, Aaron’s best friend, manager and writing partner, said of Carter’s work ethic while working on the album. “Love” released in 2018.
Despite successfully reinventing himself as a musician, Carter continued to struggle with drug use and mental health.
McLean discussed his efforts to help Carter get clean by checking him into a rehab facility in Malibu in 2017.
“I spoke to him the other night. A few days later I spoke to him. I think it was maybe two weeks, I hadn’t heard from him, so I called my friends at the treatment center and they said he got checked out,” McLean said.
In his later years, Carter fell in love with Melanie Martin, but the relationship was marred by repeated breakups and allegations of domestic violence.
His success as a musician has consistently been overshadowed by his personal issues, which Carter has spoken about, illustrated by his appearances on the daytime medical talk show The Doctors in 2017 and 2019.
During his two appearances, Carter discussed the pain he felt from being shamed online, his addiction to pulsing cans of compressed air, and his search for love.
When Carter and Martin’s son, Princeton Lyric Carter, was born in November 2021, “something really changed in him,” Helgeson said.
“It seemed like a new door, a new path opened up for him,” said Kayla Methven, who interviewed him on her talk show “K’LA After Dark” in the summer of 2022. “He said he was happy to be back on set landing. He was living his life again after years of trying to get the right position.”
On the show, Carter discussed his struggles as a “prisoner of everyone’s perceptions,” grieving his late father, Robert Carter, who died in 2017, and his multiple stints in rehab.
“I think the moment when he said that I’ve been to rehab four times and that he’s really trying to be his best person is what really stood out for me,” Methevan said, “because I really believe in this.’
Carter and Helgeson went on tour in the summer of 2022, playing small venues and amphitheatres, and Helgeson said a small group of concertgoers attended every show on that tour just to boo him.
“He was visibly hurt. Here’s what I learned from him: fame is a life of criticism, a life that’s never enough. I think he hated it,” Helgeson said.
In recent years, he became estranged from his siblings and publicly accused his brother Nick Carter of abuse, which Nick denied. Nick and Angel, Aaron’s twin, said they took out restraining orders against Aaron.
“They made this difficult choice to leave for him,” Helgeson said, “to show him that you can’t have it both ways, you can’t have a full, loving family life and be addicted.”
By September 2022, Aaron Carter was in outpatient rehab and he and his fiancee Melanie Martin lost custody of their son Prince after multiple domestic incidents involving calls to the police. Custody of Prince was temporarily awarded to Martin’s mother.
“I think the real failure was losing custody and not knowing what was going to happen,” Martin said.
Despite his struggles, Carter continued in his attempts to restart his career and support his family. In October 2022, he starred in a mental health television pilot called The Group. He played a fictional version of himself, and Carter’s character addresses the “stigma” he feels is against him and his attempts to free himself from his demons and regain control of his life.
“Blame it on childhood, blame it on circumstances, blame it on my brother,” Carter said in the fictional monologue. “Just know that I turned things around and I have a lot to say.”
The scene was shot a month before his death.
Nick Carter learned that Aaron had died while on tour with The Backstreet Boys in London.
“Nick was hysterical. He was angry. He was sad. Probably every emotion you can imagine,” McLean said, “because even though they never made up, that’s still your little brother.”
A month after his death, Martin regained custody of their son, Prince. The two live in a home filled with memorabilia from Carter’s career: posters, merchandise, action figures.
“I want Aaron to be remembered as the funny, smart, caring and forgiving man that he was to so many people,” Martin said.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, confidential and free help is available at: FindTreatment.gov, SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357 or for immediate crisis help call or text text the national crisis hotline to 988.