People Staff
July 23, 2001 12:00 PM

With his tattoos and multiple piercings, A.J. McLean has always been the baddest-looking of the squeaky-clean Backstreet Boys. But the band’s announcement on July 9 still took fans by surprise. Appearing on MTV’s Total Request Live, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Nick Carter fought back tears as they explained that the remainder of their tour in the U.S. and Canada would be postponed until Aug. 7 while McLean, 23, undergoes rehab for 30 days at an undisclosed location. “He’s going to receive treatment for depression, anxiety and his excessive consumption of alcohol,” said Richardson. Added Littrell: “He came to us [and said], ‘Guys, I have a problem, and I need to get help.’ ”

McLean’s difficulties apparently became more and more noticeable over the past year. “[The group] told me he’s been missing meetings and staying out late,” says MTV News correspondent John Norris, who conducted the interview. “He would keep partying and not make the call the next day.” What precipitated his tailspin is anyone’s guess, but friends agree that the recent death at age 81 of McLean’s grandmother Ursula Fernandez, who helped raise him, affected him deeply. “He was heartbroken,” says McLean’s close friend Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig, a stylist for the band.

That may explain the lyrics to a song McLean was shown composing in a home video on TRL. “What do people really want?” he sang in the clip. “They wanna be happy.”

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