I’m saddened by the passing of Aaron Carter. He was just 34. No cause of death has been announced. But 34 is way too young. And in his youth, he was such a wonderfully exuberant, charismatic performer. His energy was so wonderful. I remember one time when Aaron was starring in Seussical on Broadway. My terrific editor at The New York Post, Faye Penn, asked me if I’d review him. I told Faye that one of my nieces, Alex Deffaa, was a big fan; Alex was about the same age as Aaron and most of his fans; she’d already seen more shows than most grownups; and I thought it would be fun if Alex reviewed Aaron on this occasion, instead of me. She’d be better able to assess how he was connecting with his target audience. Faye agreed!
My niece and I had great seats, right on the aisle at the Richard Rodgers Theater, and Aaron came down the aisle and acknowledged her, smiling right at her in a way that made her beam. She wrote an enthusiastic but appropriately nuanced review. (I was very proud of her. That review had a place of honor on the refrigerator door for years.)
Aaron really was terrific in the role–he had lots of presence and just shined on stage–and the teenage girls packing the house screamed and squealed in a way I’d never heard in a Broadway theater, before or since. (It reminded me of David Cassidy concerts a generation before.) Aaron Carter was enjoying teen-idol craziness. (Look at any of his early videos on YouTube; he was a natural charmer.)
He had his first album out by age nine, the same year he began opening for the Backstreet Boys. (His older brother, Nick Carter, was of course one of the Backstreet Boys.) And he enjoyed a good run, with hit records, concerts, videos, TV guest shots. He even got to star in a now-forgotten movie, Popstar, in which my friend David Cassidy had a supporting role, playing his manager.
I remember thinking at the time that it could really be helpful to Aaron Carter if he were able to have meaningful man-to-man talks with David Cassidy. Or Teen-Idol-to-Former-Teen-Idol talks with David Cassidy. Because David had had talked to me many times, at great length, about the psychological damage he’d suffered from suddenly acquiring—and just as suddenly losing—lots of fame and money when he was too young to handle it. He felt it played a part in the emotional problems and substance-abuse problems he endured in later years. And I suspected Aaron Carter was in for a similar sort of ride.
And after a spell at the top–the way these things so often seem to happen—suddenly it was all over for Aaron Carter. He lost the fortune he’d made. One of his sisters died of a drug overdose. He was in and out of rehab for drug addiction. And begging fans online for money.
I did not know Aaron. But I wrote to him, saying that if he ever wanted to write an autobiography, I knew he had a story to tell; and I’d be available to work with him as a ghost-writer, just as I’d done with David Cassidy. But he had so much to deal with in his life, that wasn’t possible.
He appeared for a while in the long-running Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks. It was announced that he was going to star in the show Naked Boys Singing, but then that fell through. And his online posts grew erratic and troubling. He sounded increasingly paranoid, writing that he feared for his life, that people were out to kill him. He looked gaunt and haggard in some pix, and the light had gone out in his eyes. Having fame at an early age–and then suddenly losing fame at an early age–is a lot to deal with. And he wrote plaintively of his struggles with addiction.
I want to remember him coming down the aisle, when he was in Seussical–young and on top of the world–and flashing that great smile at my niece Alex.