Bobbi Kristina Brown never got to choose her fame; it just happened to her. The daughter of two superstars, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, notoriety was her birthright. Being on display was her lifestyle. That was never more clear than when she was on her deathbed.
But it was that way the start—before the start, even. While in utero, she was spotlit in her mother’s “I’m Every Woman” video from 1993. The energetic video concludes with Whitney looking into the camera, heaving a sigh, rubbing her protruding womb, and then jokingly threatening collapse. Motherhood, she seemed to be saying, was already hard work.
A few months after she was born, Bobbi Kristina featured prominently in the broadcast of a Barbara Walters interview with Whitney Houston. There’s a really sweet moment early on when Bobby and Whitney are both on their couch, facing Walters. Bobby’s answering Walters’s question and Whitney tunes out to fixate on Bobbi Kristina, babbling back at her and smiling. Motherhood, she seemed to be saying, was way more important than celebrity bullshit like answering interview questions.
[There was a video here]
While accepting the honor for Favorite Soul/R&B Album at the 1994 American Music Awards (one of eight trophies she’d take home that night), Whitney carried the 11-month-0ld Bobbi Kristina to the podium with her, explaining, “I couldn’t leave her, she started crying.” Unfazed by the thousands of people she faced, Bobbi Kristina attempted to grab the microphone her mother was speaking into. Whitney lightly admonished her.
[There was a video here]
Bobbi Kristina sang on the title cut of Whitney Houston’s 1998 album My Love Is Your Love and often joined her mother onstage during performances of that song on tour. Along with her maternal grandmother Cissy Houston, Bobbi Kristina helped present Whitney with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2001 BET Awards. Bobbi Kristina stood by watching her exhilarated mother light up the stage; Cissy looked mortified.
As a preteen, Bobbi Kristina featured prominently on the 2005 reality show Being Bobby Brown. The series opened with Bobby being released from his 30-day stint in the Atlanta jail where he landed after being accused by Whitney of battery. The couple gleefully reunited in a hotel and shut themselves up in their suite’s bedroom. “No! Please no! Let me in! That’s not fair,” Bobbi Kristina whined on the other side of the door. Later in the series, Whitney attended Bobby’s hearing in support of him.
“She’s had to endure many, many things, even when her parents were together,” Pat Houston (Whitney’s sister-in-law and confidant) told Oprah Winfrey during an interview soon after Whitney’s death in 2012. Given the frequently inebriated display her parents offered to the general public, you can’t help but wonder what else Bobbi Kristina witnessed in her life that the rest of the world wasn’t privy to.
Watching Bobbi Kristina’s frequent public interactions with her parents, two things were clear: 1) Bobbi Kristina’s parents loved her very much, and 2) She was going to need more than love to make it out of that toxic situation alive.
It’s pessimistic to evaluate someone else’s life by saying, “She never had a chance.” That neglects the sheer power of human will, the innate ability people have to transcend the environments into which they were born. Still, surveying the life of Bobbi Kristina Brown leading up to the point in January when she was found face down in a bathtub—eerily reminiscent of the death of her mother almost three years before—how can we think anything other than just that? Bobbi Kristina Brown never had a chance.
It would seem that Bobbi Kristina was born into a life of privilege. She was pop cultural royalty and her public profile was defined almost entirely by her relationship to her parents. She had much in common with her mother—a New Jersey upbringing, a legacy of entertainers that preceded her (Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston was well-known in the gospel world, and her cousin was Dionne Warwick). What Bobbi Kristina didn’t have in common with Whitney was wondrous talent.
It never seemed like Bobbi Kristina was particularly protected—not from the public nor from the destructive tendencies of her addict parents. Maybe because of the latter, the former just couldn’t be tended to, but it’s a goddamn shame. Given all the case studies, what more evidence do we need that celebrity destroys the lives of so many young people that it touches? Keep your children safe—keep them offstage.
During Wendy Williams’s infamous 2003 radio interview with Whitney, Wendy asked what Whitney told Bobbi Kristina about her father’s recent incarceration. “What are we talking talking to, a fucking retard?” Whitney snapped back. “She’s a child who has intelligence. My child is smart...I talk to her like she’s an intelligent human being, OK? And I give her just as much as she can handle for a 9 year old ‘cause I’m her mother, OK? And that’s how we deal with it. Never mind what I told her, for she know the deal...I do what I do to protect my daughter, Wendy, just like you would to do protect your son, OK? All right.” She never got into specifics, though.
What Bobby Kristina did inherit, though, was a certain naturalness in the spotlight, as well as her parents’ complicated disdain for it. Discussing a then-upcoming Billboard Awards tribute to Whitney on Lifetime’s 2012 reality show The Houstons: On Our Own, Bobbi Kristina said: “With all these tributes and everyone ‘Oh, I loved your mom,’ ‘I miss her,’ and this and that. You guys are the same guys who criticized her when she was alive, so to me all this is bullshit.”
So did making a public spectacle out of exorcising demons. In 2011, photos of a 17-year-old Bobbi Kristina snorting cocaine (her parents’ poison) found their way onto the internet. Bobbi Kristina claimed she was set up. In June of last year, she posted on Instagram a photo of herself taking a bong hit that circulated in 2012. Its caption read in part:
Don’t worry this picture isn’t recent just hear me out. Do you know what I feel? I feel strange I can’t feel any pain anymore. I don’t take any drugs as of recently.
Bobbi Kristina made a few feeble attempts to establish herself as her own entity along the way. A video from 2011 of her sweetly singing an a capella version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” went viral in 2011:
[There was a video here]
In 2012, she landed a recurring role on the TBS series Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse. She was most prominently featured on an episode about domestic strife called “Mommy Dearest.” On the show, she seemed groggy. Her eyes were avoidant.
[There was a video here]
And then there was Bobbi Kristina’s strange, perhaps unofficial marriage to Nick Gordon, whom she had been raised alongside for years. Though not of blood relation, Bobbi Kristina referred to him as her “big brudder” on Twitter. He referred to her as “lil sis” on the social media platform. “I always looked at them as being the brother and sister type,” Pat Houston told Oprah. Their engagement was announced less than a year after Whitney’s death, as Bobbi Kristina clung to the family she had left.
As in life, Whitney defined Bobbi Kristina’s public profile in death. She eventually agreed to accept that “bullshit” Billboard Award on behalf of her dead mother, and during her short speech, Bobbi Kristina said, “I’m just blessed to have been in such an incredible woman’s life. There will never be another one. Ever.”
If Whitney Houston never existed, her story might be too outrageous to believe on paper. The peaks and valleys she experienced before our eyes seemed too vast for one human life to contain. Bobbi Kristina was born into an extraordinary reality that has played out in a far more conventional manner. We watched her experience the cycle of addiction. We watched her have it all (including the entirety of her mother’s $22 million estate) and discover that’s not enough. We watched her live with, and almost certainly die of, a broken heart. We watched a media circus pop up as she clung to life—one that included reports of the suspicion of foul play and Nick Gordon being banned from visiting her comatose body in the hospital. Was she near death? Would she live miraculously? TMZ created a “saga” landing page called “Bobbi Kristina: The Fight for Her Life.” It described a fight in which a comatose body had a passive role, a fight fought by the family that survived her. If Bobbi Kristina’s life seemed messy, well, it was nothing compared to her death.
“If you would’ve asked me this months ago, I would have said I wouldn’t be able to get through it,” Bobbi Kristina explained. “I would have said no. I would’ve went right with her. I wouldn’t have gotten through it. At all.”
Bobbi Kristina Brown never got through it. At all. She was 22.
[Top image via Spash]