Bobby Brown has lived most of his adult life in the spotlight. He sought out publicity as a member of the ‘80s boy band New Edition and in his subsequent solo career. He got it by default when he married superstar Whitney Houston. He unwittingly attracted tabloid headlines for his hard-partying life and marital strife for more than a decade. And he attempted to control his image with a reality series based on his home life, but the show became shorthand for jokes about dysfunctional family relationships.
But the R&B singer became less of a media fixture in recent years, appearing to entirely have left his love/hate relationship with the media behind after his daughter with Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was found unconscious in a bathtub at her suburban Georgia town home in January. In hospice care since June, she died Sunday.
Brown, 46, released a statement Monday: “Krissi was and is an angel. I am completely numb at this time,” the R&B singer said. “My family must find a way to live with her in spirit and honor her memory. Our loss is unimaginable. We thank everyone for the prayers for Krissi and our family as we mourn my baby girl.”
After his daughter’s hospitalization, Brown attempted to continue performing, but it was clear he wasn’t ready.
During a concert this month, the R&B singer appeared to jumble his lyrics and forget dance routines. “I’m in a different zone right now. You’re all going to have to excuse me,” he told the Atlanta audience, who cheered and encouraged him.
The singer was trying his best to get through a gig that was likely on the books long before his daughter’s health took a critical turn. Bobbi Kristina’s tragedy bore an eerie parallel to the death of her mother (and Brown’s ex-wife), pop titan Houston, who died in a Beverly Hills hotel room before the Grammy Awards in 2012.
Since the death of Houston, Brown slid further into the background as the family of the beloved pop icon navigated their grief, often publicly. And even more, it took her death to diminish his long-appointed role as villain.
For the entirety of their union, Brown and Houston were scrutinized — with the brunt of the vitriol from critics, fans and the media aimed toward Brown.
From the moment the pair began courting each other after meeting at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, the media, and Houston’s own family, loudly wondered why.
She was a superstar pop sensation viewed as music royalty cavorting with an edgy R&B singer.
Born in Boston, Brown grew up in the projects of Roxbury before catching his break in New Edition. The massively successful R&B group helped lay the groundwork for modern boy bands such as New Kids on the Block, ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys with syrupy R&B-steeped pop hits and legions of fans. By age 14, Brown was already a star.
With fame and fortune, however, came drinking and drugs, and by the time he broke out with 1988’s “Don’t Be Cruel” — its new jack swing sound and mature lyrics a departure from the bubble gum fare of his earlier work — he was an R&B bad boy.
The image was tough to shake, and he aided it with years of coarse behavior. He would be arrested for numerous offenses over the years, including driving under the influence, drug possession and battery for allegedly striking Houston.
And perhaps because of his history, many assumed he’d introduced Houston to hard drugs.
The headlines were endless during their marriage, with rumors of the pair abusing cocaine, crack and heroin — and given the perception of the pair when they met, it’s not hard to see why much of the public assumed Brown was the dark cloud over Houston’s sparkling pop image.
That perception may have played a role in Brown’s solo career, which never quite regained the same momentum under the glaring wattage of Houston’s superstardom and his continuous legal troubles.
Houston and Brown seemed unaware of their dysfunction in Bravo’s short-lived reality series “Being Bobby Brown,” a show rife with more lows than highs. The two divorced in 2007 and waged a nasty custody battle over Bobbi Kristina Brown.
They were the butt of frequent parody — none as aggressive as the skits on Fox’s “MadTV” — and years later when Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna and their saga of off-and-on-again romance played out in public, the young singers were called “the new Bobby and Whitney.”
But in her 2013 memoir, “Remembering Whitney,” Houston’s mother, Cissy, admitted that Brown wasn’t the one who introduced the singer to hard drugs. She even sat down with Oprah Winfrey and said the same, but it was hard to imagine Houston being the one to introduce Brown to substances beyond marijuana.
After Houston’s death, Brown mostly focused on his solo career and touring with New Edition (he tearfully paid tribute to his ex-wife during a concert with the group hours after her death), but he’s largely remained cast as the bleary-eyed troublemaker responsible for tarnishing the legacy of pop’s premier vocalist.
Weeks before Bobbi Kristina’s death, Brown’s wife, Alicia Etheredge, gave birth to daughter Bodhi. The balancing act of welcoming a new child while losing another is a painful reality that Brown seems determined to manage out of the spotlight. The question is, will tabloid culture allow him that privacy?