When Ashton Kutcher took to the stage to accept an award in Des Moines, Iowa, the crowd may never have expected him to end up fighting back the tears. After all, the actor started his speech by poking fun at himself and his own indiscretions, wondering out loud how he could’ve earned such an honor given his prior bad behavior.
But when Ashton began to talk about his twin brother, Michael, his mood seemed to change. And details of the relationship between the two have slowly emerged over the years to prove just how special of a bond they share. Yes, throughout Michael’s slew of health issues – he even underwent a heart transplant – Ashton has remained by his side. The future star even stuck up for his sibling in the face of school bullies.
So, although Ashton started his acceptance speech by making light of his honor, he soon got down to the reality of the situation. You see, Michael has a disability that has not only shaped the course of his life, but Ashton’s, too. And for that reason and others, the actor couldn’t hold back his emotion when talking about his twin.
In fact, even before Ashton reached Hollywood stardom, he had found motivation in his twin brother. Yet while the two men obviously share a birth date – both came into the world on February 7, 1978 – their lives quickly diverged prior to Ashton ever having a sniff at the big time.
You see, Michael was born with cerebral palsy – a permanent condition that presents itself during a person’s early years. Doctors may give a diagnosis of cerebral palsy once a baby fails to meet movement milestones – rolling over, crawling or walking, for example – at the same time that other children do.
Cerebral palsy can also cause children to have stiff or weak muscles and poor coordination as well as problems seeing, swallowing, hearing or even speaking. In approximately one-third of all cases, patients will additionally suffer from seizures, or they will have trouble with reasoning or thinking.
Fortunately, though, children with cerebral palsy won’t see their condition worsen over time after symptoms have presented themselves. That said, Ashton’s brother, Michael, didn’t just have cerebral palsy. Ultimately, the Kutcher family would also find out that he was experiencing cardiomyopathy, which in turn caused his heart to balloon to four times its normal size.
And as a result of this further condition, Michael eventually underwent a heart transplant. The procedure had come after a painful period in the Kutcher family’s lives – one that Ashton would recall in a 2006 interview with USA Weekend. There, the star explained that he “[hadn’t wanted] to come home and find more bad news” about Michael. Instead, the actor revealed, “I kept myself so busy that I didn’t allow myself to feel.”
Yet even though Ashton may not have wanted to feel sad or scared during Michael’s health battles, he apparently showed unending support for his twin. In 1998 Michael told People, “Ashton never left my side. He showed me the love one brother has for another.” And the actor continued to do so when Michael returned to real life and experienced bullying.
In 2008 Michael spoke about what he had looked like when younger, telling Details, “I was the kid with the big Coke-bottle glasses [and] the hearing aid.” Owing to his appearance, then, there had been “a lot of teasing, a lot of the normal, mean stuff.” But Ashton wouldn’t hear any of that; instead, he protected his brother against the kids who would taunt him.
Ashton’s noble treatment of his brother didn’t translate into other areas of his life, though. During his senior year of high school, for example, the future star and his cousin broke into his high school to try and steal cash. Then, as the pair fled the scene, police caught up with them and arrested Ashton. And that night – along with a subsequent sentence of probation and community service – led Ashton to lose college scholarships as well as a high school girlfriend.
Nevertheless, Ashton still attended the University of Iowa, where he enrolled in August 1996. And while there, he wanted to study biochemical engineering – a career path that had initially been inspired by his brother. You see, Ashton had wanted to one day find a cure for the heart disease that had almost killed his twin.
Nevertheless, a twist of fate would have Ashton taking a completely different avenue in life. While the student was out at a bar in Iowa City, a modeling scout approached him and suggested he enter a state modeling competition. Ashton did just that, too, and after coming first he was honored with a trip to New York City to attend the International Modeling and Talent Association Convention.
From there, Ashton decided to leave the University of Iowa behind to pursue a career in acting. And two years after he had started school, he would land his star-making role on the hit comedy series That ’70s Show, which ran from 1998 until 2006 and co-starred his future wife Mila Kunis.
Following that big break, Ashton went on to star in the cult classic Dude, Where’s My Car? and the romantic comedy Just Married before playing a time traveler in The Butterfly Effect. At around the same time, he also began producing and starring in his own MTV show called Punk’d, through which he would prank unsuspecting celebrities.
Ashton’s career went from strength to strength, too, when in 2011 he stepped in to replace Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men – earning a whopping $20 million for a single year of the hit sitcom. A move back to the big screen then came in 2013, when he portrayed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in biopic Jobs. And three years later, he nabbed a role in Netflix’s ongoing series The Ranch, where he plays a son to Sam Elliott’s character Beau Bennett.
Yet although Ashton’s Hollywood career kept him from pursuing biochemical engineering – and thus a cure for Michael’s heart condition – he has arguably done plenty of good with his platform. In 2017 that philanthropy was brought into the spotlight to boot, when the Ron Pearson Center in West Des Moines handed the actor the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award.
And as previously mentioned, Ashton appeared in person to accept his award before revealing what it meant to him to earn such an accolade. In a YouTube clip uploaded by the account Simply Speech, he starts his address by claiming that he isn’t sure he is worthy of such an honor given his past slip-ups – some of which he goes on to mention.
After the crowd quiets down, Ashton begins, “I’m probably the first guy to get this award who had a deferred judgement for a felony burglary for trying to break into my high school.” He adds, “I’m probably also the first guy to get this award for character to ever get pulled over by a state trooper while tripping on mushrooms.”
Ashton also addresses the coverage that he has received in celebrity tabloids – mainly after his divorce from his first wife, actress Demi Moore. The star says, “I’m also probably the first person to get this award for character who had, like, his name splashed across every gossip magazine as an adulterer, like, five years ago.”
And Ashton seemingly doesn’t just bring up such memories to poke fun at himself, but also perhaps to emphasize his next point: he doesn’t find his behavior award-worthy. The actor says of his character-building deeds, “They’re just the things you’re supposed to do… I actually think that when you do nice things for people – I sort of come from a world where you don’t talk about it and you don’t receive praise for it.”
To that end, Ashton believes that he can’t take credit for his strong character and sense of self. Instead, he says, his loved ones helped mold him into the man he became. And the actor goes on to thank his parents, saying, “[They] loved me and cared about me and support me. [They] taught me about hard work and effort and taught me about community.”
Ashton then goes on to thank his wife, whom he wed in 2015. The pair had started dating in 2012 – six years after the curtains closed on That ’70s Show. And by the time Ashton made his speech in 2017, he and Mila had two children: a daughter named Wyatt and a son called Dimitri.
Somewhat inevitably, then, Ashton partly dedicates his character-centric award to Mila, adding, “[This is] for my wife, who kicks my ass on character every day.” And giving an insight into his relationship, the actor then explains a moment when his wife had done just that. On the morning of his big speech, Ashton had apparently woken up early to take care of their young children.
The star went on, “I thought I was awesome because I got up early and helped with the kids before [my wife] woke up. And I let her sleep a little bit, and then she’s like, ‘Well, now you’re gonna act tired? I do it every day.’ But it was a character moment, right? Because she’s right!”
And, naturally, Ashton has to pay tribute to his children, too – not least because they had seemingly provided another invaluable lesson on character. The actor claims, “When… my wife and I had these kids and we got to share that amazing, amazing, amazing honor, my first response was [that] I wanted to call my parents and say, ‘I’m sorry, because I never knew how much you loved me.’”
But one person who always knew how much Ashton cared was Michael. After all, the future actor had shown his love in defending his brother from bullies as well as in his striving to become a biomedical engineer. During his speech for his character award, though, Ashton is moved to tears when he expresses just how much his brother had actually done for him in return.
Ashton begins, “See, I’m the fortunate one. I’m the lucky one. I was born a twin…” At that point, the actor can’t hide his emotions and pauses as he holds back the floodgates. Then, finally, he continues, “From the moment I came into this world, I had to share it with someone.”
In the clip, Ashton explains further, revealing, “I shared every birthday [and] every Christmas. I shared my bedroom, I shared my clothes, I shared everything I had in this world. And I didn’t know that there was another way because I always had my brother with me.”
Being Michael’s twin also taught Ashton that not everyone comes into the world in the exact same way – even if they share a womb. He continues, “My brother was born with cerebral palsy, and it taught me that loving people isn’t a choice and that people aren’t actually all created equal.”
Ashton explains, “The [U.S.] Constitution lies to us; we’re not all created equal. We’re all created incredibly unequal to one another – in our capabilities and what we can do and how we think and what we see. But we all have the equal capacity to love one another, and my brother taught me that.”
Michael handed Ashton one last vital lesson later in life, too. During his acceptance speech, the actor said of his twin, “I spent years and years feeling bad about it – our inequalities. [Michael] also taught me that he had gifts that I didn’t have. Extraordinary gifts that I didn’t have, and that every time I felt sorry for him in life, I made him less. He taught me that, and he gave that to me.”
And in 2019 Michael responded publicly to Ashton’s speech, reiterating much of what his twin had said about their bond and the lessons that they’d learned from each other. What’s more, according to The Sun, Michael agreed with his brother’s statement that not everyone is created equally.
Michael said, “[Ashton’s] right. We aren’t created equally – whether it be [down to] a disability or a health issue or whether it be anything… ethnicity, sex. We’re just not created equally. If we were, what’s cool about that?” Still, the star’s sibling said that he shied from labeling himself as having a disability, choosing to use the word “giftability” instead.
And Michael’s positive outlook on disability seems to have factored into what he said next. He concluded, “We’re not born equal, but that’s okay. It’s okay. You may think I got the wrong end of the stick, having the transplant and the disability and everything, but in my eyes, I got the right end.”
Michael said, too, that his cerebral palsy diagnosis and heart transplant had inspired him to chase a career through which he could help others. As of January 2019, then, he was working with the Be The Gift campaign, which aims to inspire the public to register as organ donors – a process that Michael himself knows well.
In fact, in the same interview with The Sun, Michael revealed that someone special had tried donating a heart to him when he had needed it. Yes, Ashton – who at that time was just 13 years old – had volunteered himself for the task at hand. And while trying to sum up such a generous – albeit impossible – gesture, Michael simply replied, “It’s just… I can’t find the words.”
The Hollywood star’s brother then expressed what his relationship with his famous twin really meant to him, saying, “It’s a connection that you can’t explain. In all seriousness, we’re just very connected… It’s an honor or deep appreciation and a deep love for someone who would sacrifice that for you. I really can’t put words to it.”
Clearly, then, the bond between the Kutcher twins remains strong. That said, even those without close siblings have the potential to become better people – or so Ashton claimed after he was presented with his character award in Iowa.
Yes, on that day in 2017, the actor argued that all of us already have the tools to become great. In the YouTube video, he says, “Life doesn’t happen to you; it happens for you – every single time. And as long as you have love and kindness and optimism and a pursuit of something greater in your heart, you’re the lucky one.” In his case, though, a lot of his good fortune seems to have come as a result of his connection with his beloved twin brother.