Fifteen years ago, none of us would have foreseen a day in which Bobby Brown would be remarried, the father to a young child and (allegedly) sober for years and that Whitney Houston would die alone in the Beverly Hills Hotel with Xanax by her side and Ray J’s phone number in her recent call log. Many had hoped that the end of the seemingly toxic punchline marriage would signal the rebirth of the latter’s career and her health. That was not to be the case.
Before Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives lowered the threshold for what is considered to be acceptable on-screen behavior, there was Bravo’s Being Bobby Brown. The hit series, which ran but one fateful season, took a look into the life of the aging R&B star, his children and, most infamously, his drug-addled wife. It was a train wreck and impossible to look away from. On one hand, you had the loving father who doted on other kids from the family as much as he did his own, the tender relationship between mother and daughter and the undeniably powerful bond that kept Bobby and Whitney together for 15 years. But then you had the once-powerful couple looking high as a kite, swimming in booze and talking as if they had no concept of cameras and fame (a particular low came via Brown recalling the time he helped his wife pull a stubborn piece of you-know-what from her rectum). For many viewers, the show served as a confirmation: that Boston Negro had ruined our pretty, pretty princess.
Brown and Houston met at the 1989 Soul Train Awards, where she was booed by an audience that didn’t yet find her pop sound “Black” enough to warrant inclusion in such an event. The two very shortly thereafter became inseparable and were married in a 1992 ceremony that made jaws drop across the land. Whitney Houston, as we knew her before Brown, was classy and stunning and sober. Whitney Houston after the couple’s marriage was loud, defiant and, later, troubled. Thus, her husband must have been to blame.
It’s curious how few folks considered Houston’s choice of husband to be a reflection of who she was all along. No, I’m not saying that she was always into drugs and always bent on self-destruction—I don’t pretend to have any true intimate knowledge of the late songbird’s life. But fans have never had any concrete proof that Brown rolled up at that woman’s castle on a chariot filled with dope and Marlboros and turned her out. Yet that is the narrative that so many have clung to for the better part of two decades.
The couple’s “Something In Common” was often used as a joke—the something MUST be crack, HA!—but it actually seemed to be a message to those who didn’t understand how two people who looked so different from the outside could be in love. This is where the public’s inability to understand branding comes in. Both these kids where from the hood, both experienced fame at a very early age…yet one was molded by a svengali who dressed her in gowns and touted her as a Black Miss America who could sing her face off, while the other’s wild antics ended up pulling him from a popular boy band and made him a solo star. Bobby touted his isms, Whitney hid hers. But I’d wager they were there all along.
As dream hampton mentions in her loving lament for the late diva, industry folks always knew that Houston was “more Newark Black church girl than the debutante” Clive Davis sold us. She and Brown made sense in ways we may not have instantly recognized, but to reduce their story to that of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks getting a good girl hooked on drugs and booze does both parties a great disservice. And it does absolutely nothing to bring Whitney back.
This is a devastating time for Bobby Brown, as he has lost one of the great loves of his life and the mother of his daughter (Brown’s father also passed away last December and his mother, in early 2011). For a recovering addict, this is a dangerous space, one that could very easily lure someone back into the throes of substance abuse. As we do not know now and likely never will if Brown truly introduced his ex-wife to habits that devastated her career and eventually claimed her life, we owe it to him, to her and to Bobbi Kristina NOT to saddle him with the responsibility for the great tragedy that has occurred.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle editor for EBONY.com. And she tweets a little.