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Aaron Carter Is Dead — Are All Child Stars Destined To Meet A Tragic End?

  • 5 min read

Legislation in this area is totally inadequate in protecting young performers when they’re children

The news that the singer and rapper, Aaron Carter, had died was received with sadness but little surprise.

The 34-year-old was reportedly found dead in his bathtub at his home in California.

Though the cause of his untimely death has not yet been established, it’s likely to be related to the struggles the performer endured during his lifetime, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and drug addiction.

Aaron released his first album when he was ten years old

The younger brother of Backstreet Boy, Nick, Aaron Carter released his self-titled debut album in 1997 at the age of just ten.

Although he went on to release five further studio albums, those of us who came of age in the ’90s will probably remember him as the blonde-headed, squeaky-voiced charmer who romped around an alpine chalet in his video for Crazy Little Party Girl.

An already full galaxy

Carter is one in a long line of child stars whose early years may have been bright, but their lives are ultimately short and difficult.

River Phoenix is probably the most famous example of brilliant child performers dying young — the hugely talented star of Stand By Me died of a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23. But there are countless other examples.

Brad Renfro, who appeared in more than 20 films during his 25 years of life, including The Client and Sleepers, also died as a result of heroin intoxication.

Brittany Murphy, famous for her role in Clueless, died under disputed circumstances at 32.

Those child stars who don’t meet their ends early often have difficult lives

The singer and actress, Demi Lovato, who appeared in the children’s series Barney & Friends at the age of 10, was rushed to hospital in 2018 after overdosing on oxycodone and fentanyl.

Although she survived, complications of the overdose included strokes, a heart attack, and brain damage.

Prior to this, she had suffered from bulimia, and self-harm and had been the victim of rape.

Can we protect child performers?

With so many young performers seeming to go off the rails, what can be done to prevent it?

Well, not all that much.

The regulation of working conditions for child performers varies widely across countries.

Where legal frameworks are more highly developed (such as in the US), they tend only to cover aspects such as working hours, the processing of earnings, and educational priorities.

Furthermore, regulations apply only to children while they are directly undertaking work. There are no obligations applicable outside of work, where young people are most likely to encounter the darker sides of fame.

Child stars are fully dependent on other people to advocate for them

An adult entering the entertainment industry has the skills to better navigate the spoils of fame (the money, the drugs, the adulation), as well as the perils (abuse, exploitation).

Child stars, however, are fully dependent on other people to advocate for them — usually their parents.

But what happens when parents fail to do this?

There are numerous cases of parents being negligent when it comes to supervising their star offspring, with some even exploiting them by taking control of their money — Aaron Carter is also a case in point here.

In an interview with More magazine in 2015, Drew Barrymore, who first found fame at the age of 7 in ET, explained: ‘I didn’t really have parents.’

Drew Barrymore was emancipated from her parents when she was 14 years old

At 14, Barrymore entered rehab after a suicide attempt and soon after was emancipated from her parents.

That she is now seemingly content, settled, and running a magazine of her own is a testament to her own wits and abilities rather than the care she received from the adults around her in her youth.

Protecting child performers as they transition to adulthood

As the ‘cuteness’ fades, many child stars struggle to turn their early promise into sustainable careers.

Indiana Jones star Ke Huy Quan spoke recently about how, in his 20s, he had been unable to get an audition due to a lack of interest in Asian actors in Hollywood.

Some stars withdraw from showbiz altogether — Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, the hugely successful twin stars of Full House quit acting and now have successful careers in fashion.

Those who do parlay early success into adult stardom are rare

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jodie Foster, and Taylor Swift are among our brightest stars and all had early success.

But for too many, the side effects of fame — addiction, mental illness — last longer than the work itself.

And there seems to be little that can be done to assist child stars as they become adults.

Young performers’ transition isn’t a priority

As Katherine Sand, former General Secretary of the International Federation of Actors, notes in a working paper for the International Labour Office:

‘It is unlikely, given the current deficiencies of even basic legal protections… that legislators will leap to consider young performers’ transition a priority.’

Support of friends and family comes with risks

What remains then are goodwill, the support of friends and family, and blunt legal instruments, such as the provisions of mental health acts.

But this latter mechanism comes with risks of its own.

As we have seen in the case of Britney Spears, a 40-year-old-woman who spent almost 14 years under a conservatorship, such measures can severely infringe a person’s freedoms.

Final Takeaways

Singer and rapper Aaron Carter was one in a long line of child stars who have met tragic ends.

Young stars don’t have the skills needed to navigate fame and depend on adults to keep them safe.

Legislation in this area is totally inadequate in protecting young performers when they’re children, as well as when they become adults.

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