Tragic Details About Bobby Brown

Bobby Brown is a portrait of the American Dream. Born into poverty in a Boston housing project, Brown used his talent to become a member of New Edition as a teenager, helping them to become one of the highest-selling boy bands of all time. He then launched a highly successful solo career, watching his second solo effort "Don't Be Cruel" spawn five top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits and selling more than 7 million copies.

Brown was quick to shed his boy band image and fully embraced being the media's new bad boy. "Back then, I was definitely hardheaded," he said in the New York Post in 2017. "After I went solo, I was rich. A millionaire at 18 years old. You couldn't tell me nothing. I didn't want anyone's advice, and, obviously, I got into some bad situations."

But although the Grammy winner achieved remarkable success and admittedly put himself into bad situations, his personal life has been marred with seemingly one unexpected tragedy after another. Let's take a look at the tragic details about Bobby Brown.

The shady managers of New Edition

During the early 1980s, there wasn't a bigger boy band than New Edition. With radio hits such as "Candy Girl," "Cool It Now," and "Mr. Telephone Man," it seemed the group was destined for superstardom for years to come. However, much like with many young people in the music industry, they were surrounded by greedy managers who didn't have their best interests at heart. 

During the three-part miniseries The New Edition Story that aired on BET in 2017, it was revealed that after the group's first worldwide tour, a tour bus took them all back to the Orchard Park housing projects with each member getting a check for...$1.87 (via Billboard). Ricky Bell confirmed this story while live-tweeting the series. "And yes the tour bus dropped us off right back in the projects," he wrote.

Bobby Brown spoke about the financial hardships the group faced when he sat down with ABC's Robin Roberts in 2016. He claimed that after the success of their breakout hit, "Candy Girl," the members of New Edition were paid $500 and given VCRs. Two years later in 1985, Brown officially left the group to embark on a solo career. "I was voted out of the group," he explained to Roberts. "I would do the opposite, you know, of what they told New Edition to do. I was my own man at a young age. And I just wanted what I wanted."

Bobby Brown's friend killed in a drive-by shooting

On Sept. 28, 1995, Bobby Brown's friend Steven Sealy was gunned down outside Biarritz Lounge in Boston. The AP reported that Sealy was shot in the head and chest while seated in Brown's car. Brown was standing outside with his bodyguard when the gunman opened fire on his Bentley. "The car was riddled with bullets,″ Fire Lt. Richard Quinlan said. Sealy, who was engaged to Brown's sister, died in the shooting. 

According to the AP (via The Spokesman-Review), the nightclub was a block from Brown's former home in the Orchard Park projects and that a gold medallion was taken off Sealy's person during the shooting. "A man of that caliber in that rinky-dink club. ... It don't make sense to me," EMT Jimmy Young said, per the AP. "People are jealous. They envy him. He shouldn't come around showing off."

The Boston Herald reports that Marlon Passley was falsely convicted of the crime and spent four years in federal prison until another man, John Tibbs, confessed to the crime while already serving a 27-year sentence for killing a 17-year old a month prior to Sealy's death. "Our fundamental goal was to see John Tibbs stand up and held account for his crimes," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said. "It's been such an open wound in so many lives."

Bobby Brown's childhood friend was stabbed to death

While growing up in the neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston, Bobby Brown experienced tragic loss early when his best friend, James "Jumbo" Flint, was stabbed to death at a party. The unexpected death of his friend became a turning point in the young Brown's life.

"I think (the stabbing showed me) what could happen to me if I didn't straighten out my life," Bobby told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. "Before that, I was nonchalant about (the future). They had all kinds of programs to give kids summer jobs, but we were into parties." He went on to dedicate his second solo album "Don't Be Cruel" to his slain best friend.

The musician's brother Tommy Brown reiterated how Flint's death shocked Bobby into focusing on his future. "When his friend passed, you could see Bobby taking his career, his schooling, his whole life more seriously," he said. "As kids, everyone had their dreams, but his loss made him more determined. He started getting serious about music the way other kids in Roxbury might get serious about playing pro basketball. They all wanted to make something of their lives."

Whitney Houston allegedly paid a big ransom to free Bobby Brown

In his autobiography (via Express), author and former Preacher Crew member David Collins claimed during his time with the notorious New York street gang, Bobby Brown was held captive and tortured by the gang's leader, Clarence "Preacher" Heatley, and Whitney Houston paid the $400,000 ransom. "It was April 1993. Whitney's movie The Bodyguard and the movie's album were big hits," Collins told the National Enquirer in 2009.

Collins claimed in the book that Heatley bought Brown's $25,000 outstanding drug debt from another dealer then "came up with a plan to make himself a lot more than $25,000" by kidnapping the famous R&B singer and holding him for ransom. Heatley allegedly sent a few of his men to a "Manhattan nightclub, where they allegedly plied Brown with high-grade cocaine, later luring him to a Bronx apartment with the promise of more." Once Brown arrived he was allegedly knocked unconscious, stripped, hog-tied, and tortured.

Brown was allowed to call Houston, and Collins alleged Healey took the phone and "they came to an agreement. She was personally going to bring $400,000 to get her man back. The next day, she did just that. She was wearing a wig. She paid the money. Bobby was free to go." Collins claimed Heatley kept half and split the rest with his men. This incident was never reported to the police and neither Brown nor Houston spoke about it publicly.

Bobby Brown claims Whitney Houston introduced him to hard drugs

In Derrick Handspike's Bobby Brown: The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But, Bobby Brown said, "I never used cocaine until after I met Whitney [Houston]. Before then, I had experimented with other drugs, but marijuana was my drug of choice." At another point in the book, he shared, "At one point in my life, I used drugs uncontrollably. I was using everything I could get my hands on, from cocaine to heroin, weed and cooked cocaine."

He also claimed that Houston married him for "the wrong reasons" since she was the middle of a tabloid scandal that suggested a bisexual relationship with her assistant Robin Crawford. "In Whitney's situation, the only solution was to get married and have kids," he said. That would kill all speculation, whether it was true or not. In the short, I think I got caught up in the politics and ended up marrying one of the biggest stars in the world."

During an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts in 2015, Brown claimed the first time he saw Houston do hard drugs was the day of their wedding — when she offered him some. "She did drugs, but drugs didn't do her. She knew how to handle herself," he said. "It only made me, you know, love and want to protect her more at the time."

In the same year, both of Bobby Brown's parents died

Losing a parent is hard on anyone. Bobby Brown lost both his mother and father in the same year. On Jan. 20, 2011, Brown's mother, Carole Brown, died unexpectedly. According to TMZ, Whitney Houston asked to perform at her funeral despite the fact that she and Brown had been divorced for over four years at that point.

In December of that year, TMZ reported Brown's father, Herbert Brown, died from cancer. He was 82. Affectionately called "Pop" by those in the family, the elder Brown had been quite ill for a long time, according to Essence. Brown tweeted out the condition of his father prior to his death and asked for prayers from his fans. "Requesting prayers for Pop Brown... @ hospital with him now..." Brown wrote (via Essence). He later tweeted, "Thanks again for all the prayers... Keep them coming...." We can't imagine the grief that comes with burying both of your parents in the same year.

Bobby Brown lost his ex-wife Whitney Houston

On Feb. 11, 2012, the world was shocked when legendary singer Whitney Houston was pronounced dead after being found unconscious in her bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Although she and Brown had since divorced and had a volatile relationship, Brown mourned the death of Houston in an emotional statement. "I am deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife, Whitney Houston," Brown said (via Billboard). "At this time, we ask for privacy, especially for my daughter, Bobbi- Kristina. I appreciate all of the condolences that have been directed towards my family and I at this most difficult time."

He continued to publicly mourn his ex-wife during a Mississippi concert hours after her death was announced. "First of all, I want to tell you that I love you all," he said on stage, according to Today. "Second, I would like to say, I love you, Whitney. The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage." Us Weekly reports that Brown was overcome with grief and broke down and sobbed while attempting to sing his hit ballad "Tenderoni" and asked the crowd to sing along.

During a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Brown said Whitney didn't die from drugs, but from "just being broken-hearted." He added, "she was really working hard on herself to try to be a sober person and, um [pauses] she was a great woman."

Bobbi Kristina Brown died at the age of 22

On Jan. 31, 2015, Bobbi Kristina Brown was found face down and unconscious in the bathtub of her Alpharetta, Georgia home. She was then placed in a medically induced coma where she remained unresponsive. Nearly four months later, her maternal grandmother, Cissy Houston, issued a grave update on Bobbi's condition, stating that she suffered from "global and irreversible brain damage" (via CNN). She added, "Meeting with the doctors and understanding that she can live in this condition for a lifetime truly saddens me. We can only trust in God for a miracle at this time."

Unfortunately, there was no miracle to be found and Bobbi died a few months later. "Bobbi Kristina Brown passed away Sunday, July, 26 2015, surrounded by her family," a statement from the family said (via Elle). "She is finally at peace in the arms of God. We want to again thank everyone for their tremendous amount of love and support during these last few months." Bobby Brown called his and Whitney Houston's daughter "an angel" and issued a statement of overwhelming grief (via ABC News). "I am completely numb at this time," he 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 Krissy and our family as we mourn my baby girl."

The autopsy report listed the cause of death as lobar pneumonia from being immersed in water "complicating mixed drug intoxication" (via ABC News).

Son Bobby Brown Jr. died five years later

A little over five years later, Bobby Brown was met with another tragedy. On Nov. 18, 2020, Bobby Brown, Jr. was found dead in his Los Angeles home at the age of 28. "Please keep my family in your prayers at this time," the singer said in a statement (via People). "Losing my son at this point in our lives has devastated my family. There are no words to explain the pain."

The L.A. County Medical Examiner's Office listed Bobby Jr.'s death as an accidental drug overdose, and the autopsy found a combination of alcohol, cocaine and fentanyl, according to the report obtained by TMZ. The report also included a witness statement who claimed to have seen Bobby Jr. drinking tequila and using cocaine and Percocet. In a statement to People, his father called for those who provided fentanyl to his son to be held accountable. "My family continues to mourn my son's death," Bobby Sr. said. "Street fentanyl has taken the life of so many people unnecessarily and Bobby Jr. is another victim. This epidemic is out of control and those supplying this lethal drug should be held responsible for the death and destruction that it causes."

According to TMZ, the LAPD has launched a criminal investigation into Bobby Brown, Jr.'s death. "Bobby was not into drugs. Bobby was easily influenced. This is a situation where he associated himself with the wrong people," his mother, Kim Ward said.

New Edition and Bobby Brown's master tapes were lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire

On June 1, 2008, a fire broke out in the backlot of Universal Studios that took hundreds of firefighters nearly 24 hours to extinguish. Once the fire was contained, The New York Times reported that the fire destroyed the studio's King Kong attraction, and several iconic sets including the courthouse square that was used in such films as Back to the Future. The fire also reached the Universal video vault that "contained images of films and television shows dating back to the 1920s" including the film Knocked Up and the beloved Law & Order series.

However, the true extent of the damage was unknown until 2019, when The New York Times reported that Universal Music Group (UMG) "was a rent-paying tenant" on the Universal lot and the fire consumed between 118,000 to 175,000 audio master tapes of hundreds of legendary artists such as Etta James, B.B. King, Nirvana, and Tupac Shakur. Included in those master tapes that were destroyed were those of New Edition and Bobby Brown's solo work.

With all the tragedy in Brown's life, seeing his music and legacy destroyed in a fire had to feel like an unnecessary sting.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA's 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).