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How Aaron Carter's Friends Put Together the Posthumous Single 'Grateful': 'He'd Be So Proud' (Exclusive)

Bryan Cassidy and Morgan Matthews teamed up to honor their late friend Aaron Carter with a new single

Frazer Harrison/Getty Aaron Carter
Frazer Harrison/Getty Aaron Carter

Just months before his death in 2022, Aaron Carter was at his home studio in California singing about appreciating the important things in life.

“Sunshine through my window, but it’s been a minute since I felt like this/Been a long week but I’m good though, every single breath is is feeling like a gift,” Carter sang on the buoyant “Grateful,” a song cowritten by his close friend Bryan Cassidy.

Carter, 34, died not long after, drowning in his bathtub at home in November 2022 after a mix of drugs left him incapacitated. But his words live on, and Cassidy, along with Carter’s former manager and producer Morgan Matthews, are finally ready to share them with the world.

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“This [song] reminds me of the Aaron that I know,” Cassidy tells PEOPLE. “He just sounds so good on it. This is a positive way to remember Aaron.”

Adds Matthews: “He’d be so proud.”

“Grateful” is out now, and features additional vocals recorded by Cassidy after Carter’s death. He and Matthews say that the song’s release is an upbeat way to remember the star, who struggled in his later years with substance abuse and mental health.

Related: Aaron Carter's Twin Sister Angel Opens Up About His Addiction: 'My Brother Deserves to Be Here' (Exclusive)

<p>Aaron Carter</p> Aaron Carter and friend Bryan Cassidy

Aaron Carter

Aaron Carter and friend Bryan Cassidy

“It was hard for me to hear the song and record it. I couldn’t record it. I would lose it, I would start crying every time,” he says. “I still kind of am [recovering]. Sometimes I’ll go in my messages and read what he sent me. And you go through that and you realize a good one died young. It just sucks.”

For Cassidy, there’s more than a decade of messages to revisit when he misses his pal. The two first met through a mutual friend around 2012, and forged a fast friendship and collaborative relationship, working on dozens of songs together over the years.

Their bond was rooted in good humor, as Cassidy says the “I Want Candy” singer was “like a little kid — a child at heart.” Fond memories include the time Cassidy slammed him with an ice cream cake while he was sleeping, which Carter found “hilarious.” Then there was the time that the two were driving late at night on an empty road, and Carter hopped in the back seat, leaving the driver’s seat empty.

“I hit the brake and I turned around and this guy’s uncontrollably laughing,” Cassidy recalls. “He was like, ‘You should have seen your face.’ I was like, ‘Bro, we almost died right there.’ He was like, ‘No, I knew you could do it. But you should have seen your face.’”

<p>Aaron Carter</p> Morgan Matthews (left) with Aaron Carter (right) and others.

Aaron Carter

Morgan Matthews (left) with Aaron Carter (right) and others.

Though the antics were fun, Cassidy says Carter’s seemingly stunted emotional growth made it difficult for him to take criticism, and his friends say he surrounded himself with enablers who failed to give Carter the tough love needed to avoid temptation.

“[Bryan] is probably his only friend. He didn’t really have any friends,” says Matthews, who managed Carter and helped book his tours after meeting him through Cassidy. “He just had yes men.”

For Cassidy, watching Carter’s downward spiral play out in real time over Instagram Live —the singer would often go live in increasingly disturbing videos that featured him surrounded by guns and inhaling compressed gas from canisters of air — was “incredibly tough.”

“We were trying to get him an intervention,” he says. “I remember I had to stop watching his lives for the last couple months because this really wasn’t Aaron. It made me cry because I was like… it’s not the Aaron I remember.”

Still, there were moments that Carter’s star qualities shined through, especially when he was onstage.

“When he went on the stage, boom. It was like he was the entertainer,” says Matthews. “I’d be driving him to the concert and he’d be tired and stuff and then I’d say, ‘Are you ready to go onstage?’ It didn’t look like he was but then all those people were out there screaming. He would go out there on the stage and he would turn into a different guy. He’d turn into Aaron Carter. I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at this guy!’”

Michael Bezjian/Getty for The Artists Project Aaron Carter
Michael Bezjian/Getty for The Artists Project Aaron Carter

The singer also found joy in his son Prince, whom he welcomed in November 2021 with on-again, off-again girlfriend Melanie Martin.

“At the very, very end, the last couple of days, he really was trying to tighten up [for Prince],” says Cassidy. “I was talking to him every day before. He was very proud of Prince.”

Related: Aaron Carter Dead: Looking Back at the Former Child Star's Ups and Downs

“He loved that child,” adds Matthews.

For now, though, his friends are leaning on the music — just as they think Carter would have wanted.

“How we remember Aaron forever is through his music. I think that if Aaron recorded it, Aaron would want it to be out. Aaron wanted his music to be heard,” says Cassidy. “It’s just bittersweet, because I wish he could see this right now. He was special, that’s for sure.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.


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Read the original article on People.