Aaron Carter's ex-fiancée says his 'downfall' was losing custody of son Prince: doc

"Aaron Carter: The Little Prince of Pop" is a new ABC News Studios documentary about the singer's life and death.

(Photo: Getty Images)
A new documentary, Aaron Carter: The Little Prince of Pop, looks at the life and tragic death of the singer with commentary from those who knew his struggles. (Photo: Getty Images)

Aaron Carter claimed he had "turned it around" one month before his death.

That's just one of the revelations in Aaron Carter: The Little Prince of Pop, a new ABC News Studios documentary out now on Hulu, which tells the singer's tragic story from child stardom at age 9 to his death at 34. Those surrounding Carter — who drowned in his bathtub after taking prescription pills and huffing compressed air on Nov. 5 — including his ex-fiancée Melanie Martin, manager Taylor Helgeson and friend AJ McLean, who's in the Backstreet Boys with Aaron's brother Nick Carter, provide insight into his turbulent final months. You also hear Carter's own eerie words — from just a month before he was found dead — in which he talked about being on a better path.

Years of addiction and mental health struggles had taken a toll on the "I Want Candy" and "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" singer by last summer, according to the doc. He and Martin, who had a turbulent relationship, recently welcomed their son, Prince, a true high point for Carter after his struggles with his family, including his estrangement from Nick, but he felt he needed to get back on the road touring to support his new family. Helgeson said Carter pretended things were OK, but seemed "very lost" and "in a lot of personal pain." Helgeson also talked about how the former teen idol, who had been trying to revive his career for years, was heckled nightly onstage.

Offstage, things weren't good either. Over the summer, Carter — who revealed in 2019 he'd been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and acute anxiety — and Martin lost custody of Prince to her mother, per a court mandate amid drug and domestic abuse concerns. Martin pinpointed that as Carter's breaking point.

"At the end of '22 his mental health was not all there," Martin said. "Aaron and I did lose custody of Prince. I think that the real downfall was him losing custody and not knowing what was going to happen. Basically, Aaron had a manic episode. We had a heated fight and it was lingering on for a few days." She said Carter faced so much uncertainty as he tried to rebuild his career, their relationship and "was thinking about family all the time. It was a lot for one person to handle, let alone someone who says they have mental health issues."

Carter's ex-fiancée and their son, Prince, are in the doc. She regained custody of the child last year.

Carter, who struggled with huffing and opioid addiction, announced last September that he was voluntarily entering an outpatient program, his fifth time in rehab, in order to regain custody of Prince. He was adamant that he hadn't relapsed. A week later, however, while doing an Instagram Live, it sounded like he was huffing. He denied it publicly, and to his loved ones, but finally came clean to his manager, it is revealed.

"The huffing thing — that was a pretty good indicator that it was hitting the fan," Helgeson said. "He denied it... I kept pressing the issue and eventually he owned that" it had happened. "He was stuck in a really deep, very long addiction that he battled his whole life. By the time he realized he needed to beat that monster, I think the monster was a little too big."

Carter's team and addiction counselor spoke for the film, talking about a plan being put in place for him to get in-patient treatment in a Utah facility. However, he was resistant, because he wanted to resolve Prince's custody issue first. Things spiraled from there, with Carter canceling shows and missing session dates and obligations he typically never would be a no-show for. Former child star Christy Carlson Romano, who's also featured in the doc, talked about how he was a no-show for her podcast in October.

But also in October, in his final weeks, Carter was shooting a pilot for a sitcom called Group, a show about group therapy and mental health advocacy. Those who worked with him on the set, including the director and co-star, were interviewed for the doc and said he crushed it and he seemed in his element. The most haunting part from that is footage of Carter speaking about his troubles on the set.

"I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders," Carter began. "I've seen a lot. I've been through a lot. But mostly I'm judged without ever having a chance to share my side of the story and, trust me, there's always two sides of every story." He went on to say there's "a stigma against me — like I'm this bad guy. If people just listened — if they really, really listened — they'd know it doesn't just stem from me. Blame it on childhood. Blame it on circumstances. Blame it on my brother. But just know that I've turned it around and I've got a lot to say."

The doc — the title of which is a nod to the nickname Carter was given by Michael Jackson —also features McLean, who helped get Carter into rehab, Dr. Travis Stork, who got Carter to come clean about his addiction on The Doctors in 2019 and Carter's former publicist Phil Lobel, among others. Together, they all paint a sad picture of the talented child star turned lost adult, who didn't have a solid support team and struggled deeply with what people thought of him.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

Aaron Carter: The Little Prince of Pop is now streaming.