Ashton Kutcher’s fame almost changed everything between him and his brother, Michael. It wasn’t until the twins faced the elephants in the room – separation and jealousy – that they came back together as they had been when they were younger.
It started when Ashton moved from Iowa to New York to pursue a career as a model and actor.
“That’s a part of being a twin,” Michael Kutcher said on The Checkup With Dr. David Agus, a new six-part docuseries that looks at the health struggles of famous people.
“Until he went out to New York, when we were in our 20s, I always felt like we were one. I wrote him a letter and I was like, ‘I feel like a piece of me just went away.’ So I really struggled for a lot of my early adulthood, trying to figure out who Michael was.”
Michael Kutcher was born with cerebral palsy and is now a spokesman for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. But when the twins were younger, he wasn’t as comfortable with his disability as he is today.
“There was a moment in all of this when I moved to New York and was starting to get some traction with my career,” Ashton said, “and Mike came out to stay with me and he looked at me and he said, ‘Every time you feel sorry for me, you make me less. This is the only life I’ve ever known, so stop feeling sorry for the only thing I have'.”
That helped Ashton shift back into the relationship the brothers had when they were younger. But things were a bit more complicated for Michael, who admitted he was jealous of Ashton.
“There was a moment where I viewed him as receiving more attention than I was and that kind of drove me down to a place where I was jealous,” Michael said.
“Here we are, just one and two for so many years, and he goes off to do immense things, become a household name, and it really affected me in terms of my own self-worth.”
But when the men talked, Michael realised that his brother was still his brother, not the famous name he had begun to hear.
“We both kind of came head to head with our differences and it was through a conversation where we were like, why aren’t we as close as we used to be?,” Ashton said.
“Because it’s easy when you’ve sort of pent up this jealousy or anger or frustration or pity or all of these variable things – they all become walls between people.”
Ashton admitted being a jerk at the time, even as he was trying to help his brother out financially by offering to pay his college loans.
He says he still is a jerk, as a matter of fact, just not as much. But he said he figured that if he was making “all this money,” it just meant “we” – the twins – were doing well.
It never occurred to him that what he saw as generosity could be perceived as a handout by the person it was aimed toward.
Happily, the brothers worked it out.
“The world may view him differently, but I know him,” Michael said. “He’s still my brother and he hasn’t changed and he never will change. Once I took all of the fame and everything out of it, I was able to just come back to him.”
Ashton explained the effect fame had on him early in his career. It wasn’t good.
“When I first started to experience success on a very large level, it goes to your head,” he said. “I was an a—. It’s so easy to believe the good things that people are saying about you and start to onboard that as who you are as a person. And frankly, (I) was just an a— for a while.”
But now the brothers support each other, with a history of medical problems behind them.
Separate from his CP, Michael contracted viral myocarditis, which enlarged his heart and meant he needed a transplant as soon as possible.
Ashton, 13 at the time, stood on a hospital balcony thinking about Michael’s needs and imagined jumping off – all so his brother could get his heart, which he was sure would be a match.
Michael wound up matching with a donor heart from a woman they never met. A while later, he needed open-heart surgery to remove a clot from the new heart, an operation Ashton “knew” would work out fine, even if Michael was scared that it wouldn’t.
Then a few years ago, Ashton was hit with a rare autoimmune condition that robbed him of his vision, hearing and equilibrium.
He couldn’t walk properly, and it took him about a year to build himself back up again. He revealed the extent of his illness this summer on an episode of Running Wild With Bear Grylls: The Challenge.
But on The Checkup, Ashton said he “unequivocally” has a different outlook because of his family’s struggles.
“I have an appreciation for life. I have an empathy for people that are in the midst of a struggle that is entirely different,” Ashton said. “And I have sense of when someone else is feeling joy, you can feel their joy.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service