Was there ever a time when Nick Carter and little brother Aaron Carter were just brothers? When there wasn't palpable weirdness between them and whatever personal battles they've fought in private hadn't carried over into the public arena?
Yes, but you have to go back about 15 years.
"When I turned 18, I got $2 million in trust-fund money, and I got $4 million in taxes my parents didn't pay when I was 11 and 12 years old. I worked really hard for that money. My whole life. Up until I was 18. Doing thousands and thousands of shows, working and providing for my family," Aaron, who's almost 8 years younger thank Nick, told GQ last year, an interview he gave amid some well-publicized financial troubles that prompted him to appear on the Spike series Life or Debt.
"When my brother was 18 years old, he was out of the house. Didn't take care of the family," Aaron continued. "I started when I was 7 years old and I was a provider for my family, too. If I could set people straight I wouldn't want anyone to feel sorry for me. Like, get your facts straight. Like actually, get your facts straight."
Aside from legal documents that have detailed Aaron's money issues (Aaron filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2015), it's nearly impossible to get the facts about their relationship straight if you go solely by what they've had to say about each other. If you believe one, then the other's story doesn't jell.
When Aaron was busy telling GQ what he thought of his brother's attitude toward family, Nick was telling Hollywood Life that he was planning on having Aaron open for him on tour and that he was "talking about working on an album with him."
That may have been true as far as the part about talking about it. There he was, talking about it.
The long-gestating disconnect reared its head again just this weekend after Aaron and his girlfriend, Madison Parker, were arrested in Georgia, both for alleged possession of marijuana and drug-related items and Aaron also for alleged DUI.
News of the bust broke Saturday and Nick tweeted Sunday, "To my brother: I love u no matter what & if u feel the need to reach for help, I am here and willing to help you get better. Family isn't always easy, be [sic] we're all here for you."
Aaron didn't sound too moved by his brother's efforts, tweeting out a statement that included the following: "If my own blood (Nick) truly cared about my well-being, why wouldn't he call me directly and have a conversation instead of making this about him through a very public forum? That's not cool at all to use me for his PR and kick me while I am down. I love my family despite it through thick and thin."
A source told E! News yesterday that Nick didn't call Aaron directly because his brother changed his number recently and his family didn't have the new info. Nicks' wife, Lauren, had also tweeted, "Hey @aaroncarter have @itsmadisonp text me your new number since you changed it again."
A rep for Aaron told E! News Monday that the "Fool's Gold" singer maintains that his sister-in-law does have his number, but moving forward "this is a family matter and he wants to keep that part of it private.
"Right now he's just trying to get by day to day. He doesn't want to disrespect authorities but he's going to be honest about what happened. Everything will come to light very soon."
Aaron, 29, is currently on tour. He says he believes he was targeted for being a celebrity, and in his statement yesterday he said he was arrested "with aggression" and denied his right to an attorney. (Authorities have denied acting with aggression and said the incident report described Aaron as being "cooperative.")
Meanwhile, it's a shame that Nick and Aaron seem to once again be on the outs, considering all that binds them together—not least of which being their shared experiences as young stars who had issues dealing with wealth and fame—and everything that has happened to their family over the last two decades.
Not that it's been all bad: Nick, the youngest member of the Backstreet Boys, was in the hottest boy band of the '90s, their fan base rivaling only 'N Sync's for rabid intensity. Aaron released his first solo album in 1998 and became a frequent presence on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. The towheaded brothers made for an adorable team, recording and performing and appearing on Sesame Street together.
Though Aaron remembers it differently, both Carter brothers are said to have helped pulled their family of seven out of near-poverty and into a more luxurious lifestyle in Florida, where the Backstreet Boys formed in 1993 under the tutelage of impresario Lou Pearlman. Aaron's big break came when he opened for the BSB in 1997.
The family—parents Bob and Jane Carter, Nick, Aaron and their three sisters Leslie, Bobbie Jean and Angel (who is Aaron's twin)—revolved around the boys' burgeoning careers, which led to some reported animosity among the sisters, and between the brothers and their mother, who initially served as their manager.
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"The other kids used to call Nick the 'cash cow,'" Bob told ABC News' 20/20 in 2005." And when Nick grew up...Aaron was the cash cow. 'Oh, mom only likes the cash cow.' This is what the girls would say."
"I sacrificed my whole entire life for that child and for the other child for the sake of that family. I made sacrifices every day. I was willing to do it for them. For the family," Jane also told 20/20—after Nick and Aaron had cut ties with her.
She and Bob divorced in 2003 and it was Bob who showed Aaron documents that apparently showed Jane hadn't given him all the money he was due. The Carters had sued Pearlman in 2003 for unpaid royalties from Aaron's self-titled debut album. (Pearlman died in prison last year while serving 25 years for money laundering, conspiracy and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding after it was uncovered in 2006 that he had been running a Ponzi scheme.)
Jane told 20/20 that both Aaron and Bob had signed paperwork stating she hadn't mismanaged her youngest son's money, and also claimed that her boys (the kids and Bob) had lavish spending habits. At the time she was writing a book called The Price of Fame.
In 2004 Jane had thrown a remote control at her ex-husband's head when she returned to the family home one night and found him in bed with his then-future wife Ginger Elrod. Aaron called 911 and Jane was arrested on suspicion of battery. The charges were eventually dropped.
"I wasn't a bit surprised. I just knew it was a matter of time before they were going to be foolish enough to get caught doing what they were doing," Jane said.
"I was introduced to a lot of different things at a very early age," Aaron later told E! News, in 2009. "Marijuana, that was mostly the problem."
He recalled, "There was a picture that leaked from one of my best friends of me smoking weed and it was on the front cover of The National Enquirer and it damn near ruined my career. I ended up going to the Betty Ford Center, you know, to go and just like take a break and try to just like, you know, figure out how to get myself healthy and together."
By 2005, Jane was reportedly estranged from all of her kids except for Leslie Carter, whose singing career she was still managing. The Carter siblings, meanwhile, did eight episodes of the E! show House of Carters in 2006, and Aaron appeared on Celebrity Rehab.
"We've had some very tough times," Bob Carter told People in 2008. "There's a lot of pitfalls to growing up in the public eye."
Nick, whose star has re-risen with the resurgence of the Backstreet Boys in recent years, opened up about his own battles with drug and alcohol abuse after he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle potentially brought on by the abuse wrought on his body.
"I don't want to be that person people read about and think, 'That's sad that he couldn't stop it and killed himself,'" he told People in 2009, relaying how he got clean and lost more than 50 pounds.
Sadly, Leslie too struggled with substance abuse, and she died of an accidental overdose in 2012. Nick did not attend her funeral.
"I wanted to be at my sister's funeral, but my family has always had a complicated dynamic," he told TMZ at the time. "There are so many emotions for me surrounding the loss of my sister. I am trying to stay healthy, positive, and focused."
Nick told Dr. Phil McGraw in 2013 that he felt his family blamed him in part for Leslie's death—and that he himself felt partly to blame as her older brother, thinking he should have done more to help her.
"I started to get blamed by the rest of the family. They were blaming me for the death," he said on Dr. Phil. "I felt it was unfair, especially with all the things I have done and continue to do for them." His father, Nick said, "kind of led by fear," and "I became the father in a lot of ways, due to the fact that I was making more money than my father. I love my family. But there comes a point when you really have to ask yourself if you are helping or hurting them."
Nick said that, when Aaron went to rehab in 2011, he took him. "It was heartbreaking but, at the same time, there was more hope."
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Recently Aaron has made more headlines with Twitter feuds and interviews about his roller coaster journey than he has with his music, but he hasn't stopped recording or performing. Earlier this year he released the EP LøVë, leading with the single "Fool's Gold."
But last year he acknowledged that, despite his month spent in rehab, he wasn't substance-free—nor did he see a problem with that.
"I drink wine. I smoke weed. I have anxiety problems, I take medication for anxiety. I mean, it's just what it is," he told Entertainment Tonight in April 2016. "The misconceptions are that I'm a meth head, or I'm a crackhead, or I'm a drug addict, or I'm this or that...I'm not going to abuse things. It's just how I'm gonna do my life."
At the time he was looking forward to his musical comeback, starting with his then-new single "Fool's Gold." "Everything [that has happened] makes me want to prove something. Every obstacle that I'm put through, I'm turning into a positive," he said.
As Nick did in 2013, Aaron insisted he loved his family, despite their complicated history. Aaron said in his aforementioned GQ interview, in which he talked about his decision to file for bankruptcy, "I don't want people thinking my parents broke child-labor laws. So I was like, I can handle this. I love my mom and dad, and they are responsible for giving me my career. And I still have one today. So I'll file for bankruptcy, and I'll pay 25 cents on the dollar for every cent I pay back."
Meanwhile, Nick's issues with his parents made him extra determined not repeat the same mistakes once he became a father last year.
"He's just a bundle of joy and it melts my heart and gives me purpose and reason to keep on staying healthy, staying motivated and all of those things. He's a really good, solid thing for me to have in my life," Nick gushed to ET in March about son Odin.
Nick said he was in touch with his siblings, including Aaron, but he was "still a little estranged from his parents."
"It really is something that I deal with on a daily basis," he shares. "I'm working on it internally and otherwise just really focusing on my family now and all the things that I can give and do better and get right with mine. Things that I didn't necessarily have with my own."
The Carter kids were dealt another blow, however, in May when Bob Carter died suddenly at the age of 65.
"My heart is broken, We are so hurt we lost you poppa way too soon. You were never human to me, you were always my real life super hero," Aaron wrote in an Instagram tribute.
Nick, who said in the 2015 Backstreet Boys documentary Show 'Em What You're Made Of that he hadn't seen his parents in "maybe seven or eight years," tweeted, "I am heartbroken to share the news that our father, Robert, passed away last night...While we learn more about the cause of death, and begin the grieving process, we ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time."
TMZ reported that the family would honor Bob's wishes, which were to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico by the Florida Keys along with Leslie's ashes (reportedly in her husband's possession at the time) in a private ceremony.
But while Nick said as recently as March that he and Aaron were in touch, Aaron's current legal issues have once again put the brothers' turbulent relationship in the spotlight. While it would be sad to not have each other in times of tragedy, it seems as though the undercurrent of issues has kept them apart on happier occasions as well, such as the birth of Nick's child and Angel Carter's wedding in February 2014. Aaron walked his twin down the aisle; Nick was not in attendance.
Aaron wasn't at Nick's wedding a couple months later, either. His rep explained that, before knowing the date, the younger Carter had contracted to sing at the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C., and just wouldn't be able to perform and jet back across the country in time.