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Facing the music: when child stars go bad

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Aaron Carter Performing at the Gramercy Theatre - Photo by Peter Dzubay

It’s been a troubling time for 90s kids of late, who have been forced to watch former 90s stars suffer public falls from grace. Of course, it’s been even more troubling for those former stars, like Nick and Aaron Cater, who have actually been going through it—it including rape allegations, murder threats and restraining orders.

The Carter brothers and their family have long been a source of controversy, as has their fractured relationship; they’ve been fighting since their Sesame Street days, on which they appeared, having a fight. They didn’t even make it through the premiere episode of their month-long reality show, House of Carters, without a fistfight.

Away from their platinum record-selling careers, they have gone through addiction, arrests and serious health issues, as well as spats that played out across social media.

More recently, Nick Carter was accused of rape. Aaron sided with the victims, then added an accusation that his brother also raped a 91-year-old woman. Aaron also accused his older sister, Leslie (who died of a drug overdose at 25), of raping him for years as a child and his mum (and manager) of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from him. Aaron’s also spoken about his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder diagnoses, which contributed to the restraining order Nick filed against him. The fallout between the two brothers is on-going.

The closest we came to seeing any such drama during their peak fame, though, would be during the Aaron Carter, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan love triangle. But the Carter family members aren’t alone in fallout from fame, as anyone alive in 2007 to see Britney Spears’ breakdown knows. It’s like the song goes, ‘what became of the brokenhearted’, except instead of the brokenhearted, it’s former child stars turned teen pop sensations and actors.

Nick Carter wasn’t the only member of the Backstreet Boys to struggle with issues, sometime between starting the band as young teenagers and becoming one of the biggest boy bands in pop history. AJ Mclean also had drug problems that culminated in rehab stints and he once drank vomit in a bowling alley that may or may not have been his own (the vomit, not the bowling alley).

One of the biggest scandals of their career, though, comes thanks to their former manager and boy band Svengali Lou Pearlman: the man who created the band and then, years later, died in prison after running a Ponzi scheme. He also stole from his boy bands, as N*Sync famously found out.

Beyond the fraud, the more disturbing allegations surrounding Pearlman were of molestation. Rich Cronin, of 90s band LFO, has said that Pearlman’s sole motivation in the pop industry was to surround himself with young boys, while O-Town’s Ashley Parker Angel described massages and ‘ab inspections’.

Sources speak of a boy from each band being sacrificed to Pearlman

N*Sync’s Lance Bass also spoke of being ‘inappropriately touched’ by a man he knew was a paedophile and has also said that he heard rumours of Pearlman molesting young boys, before putting them into bands. One of the boys Pearlman’s rumoured to have molested is Nick Carter, intimated to Vanity Fair by his mother, Jane. In the same article, sources speak of a boy from each band being sacrificed to Pearlman. Nick was allegedly that Backstreet Boy.

Rumours of sexual abuse lie behind the careers of other former child or teen stars of the 90s.

Amanda Byrnes went from a promising child star and Nickelodeon darling to being placed under a conservatorship by her parents after drug problems and bizarre behaviour that saw her asking Drake to ‘murder her vagina’ and ended with her setting a dog on fire. She also publicly accused her dad of sexually abusing her. Her family denied it, citing Byrnes’ mental state. She recanted a day later and a month after that, spoke of having bipolar disorder. But more worryingly, perhaps, are the rumours of sexual abuse that have long surrounded Byrnes and former Nickelodeon show creator Dan Schneider—Byrnes also tweeted to accuse him of molesting her as a child.

And let’s not forget Macaulay Culkin, definitive child star of the 90s, whose journey from Home Alone to being declared dead on the internet included drug abuse, marriage at 17 and divorce at 20. Questions have always surrounded the nature of his friendship with Michael Jackson, especially in the wake of Leaving Neverland. Culkin has strenuously denied anything inappropriate took place with the singer, but he has spoken about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. He was emancipated from his parents at 14.

A few years later came Lindsay Lohan, someone even Oprah struggled with during a failed reality show comeback, after her stellar career was railroaded by addiction and legal problems. Like other former child stars, Lohan’s talent has always come with the postscript of her dysfunctional family life. See her single Confessions of a Broken Heart (Father to Daughter) for more details.

Of course, few stories of pop culture infamy compare to Britney Spears’, whose own conservatorship began in 2008 and came to a head recently with the #FreeBritney movement, after fans worried she was being held against her will. This was all sparked by her own major breakdown (the aforementioned 2007) after a career that started when she was 11. Like others, she’s since spoken about her own mental health issues. Now, she balances touring with documenting workout videos and dress ups on Instagram.

90s Hollywood seems to have seen a particular fallout for its young stars—one of its own, Mara Wilson of Matilda fame, has even weighed in with her own explanation. But similar stories have abounded since the early days of Hollywood. More recently, Justin Bieber blamed the effects for his own addiction issues on his early fame.

What’s the cause? Blame abusive families, the pressure of putting adult responsibilities on children or the predators able to prey on them in return for careers, but one thing is clear: fame too young can be dangerous. Ask the Carters.