A charismatic but polarizing singer, Bobby Brown scored as a member of the R&B boy band New Edition with hits including "Candy Girl," "Cool It Now" and "Mr. Telephone Man" as well as an appearance in the film "Krush Groove" (1985). Frustrated by his limited role and the band's pop-oriented direction, Brown was kicked out and began a solo career that flashed supernova with 1988's Don't Be Cruel, which helped shape the new jack swing movement with hits like "Every Little Step" and "My Prerogative." After a cameo in "Ghostbusters II" (1989) and performing its smash theme "On Our Own," Brown's musical momentum began to slow. Most famous for his unlikely and troubled marriage to "good girl" superstar Whitney Houston, Brown was immediately regarded as a destructive, abusive influence on her and seemed eager to live up to his bad rep, submerged in increasingly flagrant legal and drug woes. Although the two welcomed a child, Bobbi Kristina, in 1993, and filmed an image-destroying reality show "Being Bobby Brown" (Bravo, 2005), they divorced in 2007. Although he continued to perform at the margins of mainstream music, Brown's biggest return to the spotlight came when Houston died on Feb. 11, 2012. His musical success overshadowed by his tumultuous personal life, Bobby Brown never seemed quite able to outrun his demons.
Born Feb. 5, 1969 in Boston, MA, Robert Barisford "Bobby" Brown evidenced enormous talent from a young age, as well as a self-destructive, attention-seeking streak. At the age of 11, he entered a talent show with friends Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant and captured the attention of local talent scouts, who added Ronnie DeVoe to the lineup and dubbed them "New Edition," to delineate their place as a "new edition" of the Jackson 5. Performing in local venues, New Edition placed second in a talent show run by impresario Maurice Starr, who signed the band. Although their debut album, 1983's Candy Girl, spun off several hits, including "Is This the End," "Popcorn Love," Jealous Love" and the title track, which became a No. 1 hit on the R&B charts as well as on the U.K. singles charts.
Younger audiences loved the precocious New Edition, but the band members were kept on a short lease by pop Svengali Starr, who took exorbitant "production" costs out of their paychecks. Chafing at their exploitative treatment, the band successfully sued to get out of their contract, and subsequently signed with MCA. Starr's reaction was to form a white version of New Edition who went on to massive worldwide success as New Kids on the Block. Backed by the power of a major label, 1984's New Edition LP became a smash, spinning off the No. 1 R&B hits "Cool It Now" and "Mr. Telephone Man" as well as the moderate hits "Lost in Love," "Kinda Girls We Like" and "My Secret (Didja Get It Yet?)." Despite their impressive momentum and an appearance as themselves in the era-capturing musical "Krush Groove" (1985), that year's All for Love revealed a tension that would split the band - namely, Brown's dissatisfaction.
Angry that the band's sound was growing increasingly pop and that his vocals were not as prominently featured, Brown began acting out, revealing the duality that would both charm and revile audiences and critics alike; on the one hand, he was a brash talent, unafraid to make a big gesture for the spotlight, but on the other, he was ungrateful, erratic and arrogant. During New Edition's tour to support the album, Brown cut in on Tresvant's lead vocals and performed overly sexual ad-libs, sending shockwaves through the band's management and fanbase. His behavior culminated in the group kicking him out at the end of 1985, but his manager snagged him a golden parachute - a solo record deal. Buoyed by his magnetic charisma, Brown's first album, 1986's King of Stage became a modest hit, spinning off the R&B No. 1 "Girlfriend."
It would not be until his second album, 1988's Don't Be Cruel, that Brown broke through as a solo superstar, helping shape a new genre of music called new jack swing. Powered by the songwriting/producing team of L.A. Reid and Babyface as well as Brown's confident, bad boy swagger, the album went platinum eight times over, launching the No. 1 hit "My Prerogative," as well as the hits "Every Little Step," "Rock Wit' Cha," "Roni" and the title track. Riding the wave of his mega-celebrity, Brown made a cameo in "Ghostbusters II" (1989) and contributed its theme song, "On Our Own," to its soundtrack, notching another hit. With his heightened profile, however, came increased consequences for his typically rowdy behavior; he was arrested in Georgia for simulating a sex act on stage. He was fined $600 and continued his performance. In 1990, MCA cashed in on his popularity with the remix album Dance! Ya Know It! which enjoyed success around the world.
In the summer of 1992, Brown released his third solo effort, Bobby. Though a lesser success than its predecessor, the album went platinum and spawned the hits "Humpin' Around," "Good Enough" and "Get Away." He made his biggest headlines that year, however, for surprising the world by marrying a woman whose squeaky clean reputation was the polar opposite of his: Whitney Houston. The contrast between America's Sweetheart and R&B's Bad Boy inspired oceans of tabloid ink and gossipy speculation, and although her career went on to reach new pinnacles of success with "The Bodyguard" (1992) film and soundtrack, his was immediately eclipsed and began to crumble. The following year, Brown was arrested for another charge of lewdness on stage again in Georgia, and he felt the media turn up the heat on every scandalous event, trumpeting what was perceived as his negative influence on Houston.
Brown's legal troubles began in earnest in February 1994 when he was arrested at an Atlanta jazz club for failure to appear in court for traffic violations. After a bench warrant was issued, police were tipped off to his presence and converged on the club. Then in April, he found himself in trouble with the IRS for failure to pay back taxes reportedly totaling $3 million. Meanwhile, the lawyer fees continued to mount in April 1995 when Brown was arrested for assault at a Disney World night club. He and two members of his entourage beat a club patron to a pulp, resulting in several sutures to repair the man's face and reattach his ear. After being placed into the back of the squad car, an agitated Brown banged his head against the window and urinated on the seats. Charges were later dropped after settling with the victim out of court.
Things went from bad to worse when security at a West Hollywood hotel room was summoned to Brown's room after a noise complaint. For some reason, he kicked the guard in the back and was arrested soon after. Meanwhile, Houston began expressing her displeasure with her husband's behavior in public. The last straw came in September after a drunken Brown blew up after not being invited to a meeting for the hit "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), a romantic drama starring Houston, Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine. With tail between legs, Brown took Houston's cream-colored Rolls Royce and returned to Boston. While parked outside a nightclub in his old neighborhood, Brown witnessed his sister's fiancé, Steven Sealy, get shot multiple times by two gunmen. Though unscathed, Brown was shaken-up by the incident. Later that year, Brown and Houston reconciled their differences and returned to being a married couple.
In 1996, Brown was cast by actor Martin Lawrence in "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate," playing the friend of a womanizer (Lawrence) who learns not to toy with a formidable woman's affections. He then reunited with his former New Edition mates for an album and subsequent tour. Though the new release, Home Again, sold millions and topped the charts, the tour was plagued with false starts and clashing egos. The rejuvenation to his career was temporary, however, as Brown's personal troubles continued unabated. In December 1996, he was arrested for drunk driving in Miami after a single-car accident that resulted in a crashed Porsche, four broken ribs and a mauled street sign. Earlier that year, he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic for problems with alcohol. While in rehab, he got into trouble with the tabloid press after allegedly calling his wife a lesbian. Brown called the report a fabrication.
Despite a limited contribution to New Edition's reunion album and later walking off the tour in a fresh spate of bad blood, Brown tried to reignite his solo career by wrestling control of his fourth album, 1997's Forever, but it flopped. Accusations of spousal abuse dogged Brown that year when he reportedly struck Houston in a hotel lobby. Adding fuel to the fire, the couple was later seen leaving a yacht in Capri with Houston's face sporting a fresh gash, but both vehemently denied rumors of abuse. Then in June 1998, a woman accused Brown of sexual assault, but the Beverly Hills district attorney dropped the charges for lack of evidence. In 1998, he was convicted in Florida for his 1996 drunk-driving incident. A weeping Brown was sentenced to five days in jail, a year's probation, suspended license, a $500 fine, 30 days in a rehabilitation center and 100 hours of community service.
A year and a half later, Brown was arrested for violating the terms of his probation and faced 90 days in prison. By May 2000, he was in front of a Fort Lauderdale judge for once again for violating probation for the third time. The pile-on continued when a former girlfriend and mother of his children filed a complaint in New Jersey, claiming Brown owed over $25,000 in back child support. Meanwhile, rumors of drub abuse rocked Houston, whose fragile frame and fading voice fueled the rumors. Brown tried to revamp his career with a pair of film roles, appearing in the urban comedy "Two Can Play That Game" (2001) and the heist drama "The Score" (2002), starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. Later that year, Brown was charged in Atlanta for marijuana possession and trafficking. Though he could have been set free, police held on to Brown after discovering a warrant for dodging a court date relating to his 1996 drunk driving incident.
In early 2003, a judge issued a warrant for Brown's arrest for leaving the state of Georgia while awaiting a court date. Later that year, he was sentenced to 14 days in jail and 60 days of house arrest after being nabbed by police the prior week while dining with his family, again for violating the terms of his probation relating to the drunk-driving incident. He rounded out the year by turning himself in after giving his wife a bruised cheek and cut lip. After Houston accompanied him to the police station, Brown was released on his own recognizance. After serving a 60-day sentence for violating probation, Brown vowed to never return to jail. Two days later, he was sentenced to 90 days for back child support totaling $63,000.
Adding to his woes, Brown was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but seemed unaffected, even defiant, in the wake of the media circus that increasingly shadowed every step he and Houston took. He agreed to be filmed for the reality show "Being Bobby Brown" (Bravo, 2005), which was only greenlit when Houston agreed to take part. Shredding his already tattered reputation further, the series earned high ratings but completely destroyed what was left of Houston's good name as it showcased the combative couple in several desperately unflattering situations. Real life intruded on "reality" soon enough, when just a month before the first episode aired, a judge issued a warrant for Brown's arrest after his failure to appear for a child support hearing. Continuing down the path of self-destruction and the diminishing returns of trashy reality fare, Brown struggled to eke out a living after he and Houston separated for good in 2006, divorcing on April 24, 2007.
He continued to make small forays into music that were generally ignored by the mainstream public, including reuniting with fellow New Edition alums Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill to form Heads of State, as well as guesting on albums by Macy Gray and Damian Marley. He was performing with members of New Edition on Feb. 11, 2012, when news broke that Whitney Houston had died. Fairly or otherwise, Brown immediately came under fire again for allegedly "corrupting" Houston by introducing her to drugs, and serving as her professional and personal downfall. Although he had five children in total, his highest profile offspring was his daughter with Houston, Bobbi Kristina. In the wake of his ex-wife's shocking death and his traumatized daughter's consequent hospitalization in the wake of it, headlines swirled that Houston's family was maneuvering to keep Brown far away from the funeral as well as from Bobbi Kristina.
By Jonathan Riggs
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began singing with Roxbury schoolmates Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell, which later developed into "New Edition"
Left New Edition to become a solo artist
Released debut solo album, King of Stage
Released second album, Don't Be Cruel, which sold 7 million copies, producing the smash single "My Prerogative"
Provide the theme song for "Ghostbusters II," the smash hit "On Our Own"; also had a cameo in the film
Released an album of remixes Dance! ... Ya Know It!, which went platinum
Third solo album Bobby was released to moderate success
Briefly reunited with New Edition whose comeback album, Home Again entered the charts at number one
Cast in "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate," a comedy written, directed and starring Martin Lawrence
Released fourth solo album, Forever, a commercial disappointment which failed to break the Top 50
Released his Greatest Hits album
Had a small role in the comedy "Two Can Play That Game," starring Vivica A. Fox and Anthony Anderson
Heard on Ja Rule's The Last Temptation, on the track "Thug Lovin'"
Performed on VH1's "Divas Duets"
Starred in the reality television show "Being Bobby Brown," (Bravo) which featured Brown, Whitney Houston, and their extended family over the course of six months