CELEBRITIES Olsen twins' fans stick close through Mary-Kate's ordeal
Her problems make her more relatable, a fan said.
By ANTHONY BREZNICAN
LOS ANGELES -- There are two Mary-Kates in crisis.
One is the fragile 18-year-old who was released last week from treatment for an eating disorder. The other is Mary-Kate the product, half of the multimedia Olsen twins' empire that has been shaken by her personal troubles.
As Ashley Olsen shoulders the burden of doing international publicity for their twins-in-the-city comedy "New York Minute" all by herself, Mary-Kate is trying to return to a healthy weight and restore her spirits by hanging out with friends and family in Los Angeles, their publicist said.
But what does this mean for their billion-dollar business?
It may ultimately help Mary-Kate's image by humanizing it.
Instead of rejecting their fallen teen idol, many of Mary-Kate's young fans have embraced her vulnerability, forging an even deeper bond with the star they know from direct-to-video movies, her clothing line and merchandise including toothpaste and dolls.
Apart from jokesters who mock her ailment, many of Mary-Kate and Ashley's young fan base have defended her from cruel barbs, organizing mass "Get Well" card signings and counseling each other over the sadness and worry they feel for the actress.
"Since I heard about [the eating disorder] my enjoyment of their movies did change a little. I'm always thinking, 'How did she get herself like that when she was perfectly normal and fine before?'" Monica, a 15-year-old fan from Canada, told The Associated Press. (Her mother declined to allow her last name to be used.)
Now, Monica said, Mary-Kate's problems make her more relatable. "It feels like celebrities never get sick and are always perfect, but this makes us realize Mary-Kate and Ashley are like us too."
The twins are grateful for their fans' understanding, said Michael Pagnotta, their longtime publicist.
"What [Mary-Kate and Ashley] have always said is they're normal kids and lead normal lives," Pagnotta said. "This is something she's been dealing with. I don't want to say that it's normal, but it is certainly real. ... What we've seen is people are not just sympathetic. They feel closer to her "
Some fans have even come forward to talk about their own experiences with anorexia and bulimia. Pagnotta said opening up discussion has been "a wonderful unintended consequence" of Mary-Kate's rehabilitation.
For many young admirers, they have liked the Olsen girls for as far back as they can remember -- and they aren't about to cast off their affection for the twins because of one problem.
"People magazine and Star magazine, delighting in celebrity tragedy ... that's an adult entertainment mode," said Chris Byrne, an independent toy-industry consultant and proprietor of TheToyGuy.com. "It doesn't affect kids. ... They're not looking that deeply."
But if other and more embarrassing problems follow this one as the Olsens prepare for their first year of college at New York University -- some of their many sponsors and business partners may begin to get nervous.
The flip-side is, if Mary-Kate gets her well-being under control, she may become even more popular.
"I think it's kind of a wait-and-see. There's a sizable investment in that," Byrne said. "The savvy [partners] will leverage this to say, 'Let's get a new definition of what's normal and what's healthy.' ... That can only build the brand. What brand wouldn't want to be associated with healthy?"
For now, Mary-Kate and Ashley haven't lost a single partner, Pagnotta said.