It was a marriage made in Billboard chart heaven. The princess of pop tying the knot with the prince of new jack swing. Performers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown were the darlings of the recording industry when they married in 1992. By the time of their divorce in 2007, their marriage had become a mainstay of the gossip columns, due in large part to rumors of infidelity, heavy drug use, allegations of physical abuse, and diminishing professional careers.
The pair met as their careers were skyrocketing
At the time of their first meeting – at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989 – Houston was riding a wave of success that appeared unstoppable, and Brown's 1988 album, Don’t Be Cruel, which produced five top 10 hits including “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step," won him the "Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album of the Year - Male" award that year.
“He was hot, he was on fire,” Houston told Rolling Stone of their initial meeting in the audience of the Soul Train Awards. “I and some friends of mine were sitting behind him. I was hugging them, we were laughing, and I kept hitting Bobby in the back of the head… I leaned over and said, ‘Bobby, I’m so sorry.’ And he turned around and looked at me like, ‘Yeah, well just don’t let it happen again.’ And I was like, ‘Oooooh, this guy doesn’t like me.’ Well, I always get curious when somebody doesn’t like me.”
Houston originally turned down Brown's proposal
They were soon dating, with Houston turning down Brown’s first marriage proposal, according to Rolling Stone, claiming “it was not in my plans.” But love blossomed, according to Houston. The couple wed on July 18, 1992, though publicly and privately many questioned the union. He was the reigning bad boy of music who had previously been shot, was involved with gangs during his adolescence and was already father to three children from two women; she was America’s current sweetheart with a squeaky-clean image built on songs about love and longing.
“You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same place,” Houston told Rolling Stone. “Bobby comes from Boston, out of the projects. I come from Newark, out of the projects. Bobby has two very strong parents; I have two very strong parents.” Though it appeared to be a mismatch, Houston had long been attracted to so-called bad boys, having previously dated Eddie Murphy.
In a February 1992 Vanity Fair profile of the couple, writer Lynn Hirschberg described them as the “inverse of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Like Ginger, Bobby gives a sexual charge to the pure image of Whitney (Fred), while she graces him with a veneer of class.”
Four months after the wedding, Houston achieved greater success with the release of the film The Bodyguard, in which she played a terrorized singer protected by a security guard played by Kevin Costner. The film was a worldwide hit, with the soundtrack containing a slew of hits from Houston, including “Queen of the Night,” “I Have Nothing,” “Run to You,” and “I Will Always Love You.” Houston won three Grammys for the album.
In March the following year, their daughter and only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was born.
Brown said their marriage was 'doomed from the very beginning'
Though the first year of matrimony brought success and a growing family, the couple was already plagued by gossip reports about their relationship, in particular, a rumor that Houston was having an affair with her longtime confidante and employee Robyn Crawford. Friends since high school, Crawford was the maid of honor at Houston’s wedding to Brown and remained a constant throughout much of the singer’s life.
Houston denied the rumors, but they persisted. In the 2018 documentary Whitney, Brown and Houston family members alluded to the two having a romantic relationship.
According to Brown’s 2008 autobiography Bobby Brown: The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But…, his marriage to Houston was “doomed from the very beginning. I think we got married for all the wrong reasons. Now I realize Whitney had a different agenda than I did. I believe her agenda was to clean up her image, while mine was to be loved and have children. The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant. In Whitney’s situation, the only solution was to get married and have kids. That would kill all speculation, whether it was true or not.”
In his memoir, Brown also admitted to his own infidelities. “Women are always throwing themselves at you,” he writes. “I’m only human, so I would make the mistake and bite the hook sometimes. I let the testosterone take over.”
Houston reportedly did drugs on their wedding day
Only years into their marriage and now firmly in the tabloid spotlight, the couple’s apparent growing drug use added fuel to an already blazing gossip fire. Often accused as being the one who introduced Houston to drugs, Brown denies the allegation in his 2017 memoir, Every Little Step, claiming he first saw Houston doing drugs on their wedding day.
Struggling with her demons, Houston had become increasingly unreliable, canceling five shows during her 1999 tour including a sold-out arena event in her hometown of Newark 15 minutes before showtime. Increasingly thin, she arrived late for photoshoots and was reportedly fired from a planned Oscar ceremony appearance in 2000 due to poor rehearsal performance. It was apparent her voice was suffering.
In a 2002 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Houston admitted to using marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and pills, but denied smoking crack, saying, “crack is whack,” a catchphrase quickly adopted by comedians and late-night talk-show hosts in relation to the now erratic singer.
Houston went to rehab twice during their marriage and Brown was arrested on drug charges
During the marriage, Brown was arrested on drug and alcohol charges and Houston entered rehab on two occasions. “We were lacing marijuana with base,” Houston revealed to Oprah Winfrey in 2009, adding her drug use became “heavy” after The Bodyguard was released in 1992 and that by 1996 she was using drugs daily.
“You put your marijuana, you lace it, you roll it up and you smoke it,” Houston told Winfrey. “I had so much money and so much access to what I wanted.” During the interview, Houston also addressed rumors of physical abuse in the marriage. Though she claimed Brown was emotionally abusive, she denied physical abuse, saying “he slapped me once but he got hit in the head three times by me.”
In 2003 Brown was arrested for allegedly striking Houston. She supported her husband during court appearances and he was not convicted, denying ever hitting her.
Both had professional setbacks during their marriage
Professionally, Houston suffered a major setback in 2000 when mentor Davis was ousted from Arista. Personally, she was devastated when her father passed away in 2003 after battling heart disease and diabetes. But it was her disheveled and seemingly uncontrolled appearances in the 2005 reality show Being Bobby Brown that worried those closest to her the most. “We all watched that, and we were like, ‘Oh no!’” songwriter Diane Warren told Rolling Stone.
The reality show centered around the day-to-day life of Brown and Houston as they raised their daughter and his other children. Houston’s regular cursing and yelling showed audiences a different side to the pop princess, that she could be just as raunchy as her husband, and spawned further Houston catchphrases like “Kiss my ass!” and “Hell, to the no!” A planned second season was never produced when Houston opted out of returning.
Having taken a break from music to focus on his marriage and daughter, Brown’s fourth solo album, Forever, was released in 1997 but tanked. It was the only album Brown produced during the marriage.
Houston 'just knew' their marriage was doomed
A decade later, after first separating in 2006, Houston and Brown divorced, with Houston obtaining custody of daughter Bobbi Kristina.
When asked by Winfrey in 2009 about how she knew the marriage was ultimately not going to work, Houston responded, “I just knew, I was like, ‘You don’t smell right, you don’t look right, something is going on.’ And then all this other stuff started coming out.’” Houston said stories of Brown’s continued womanizing provoked her to uncover the truth. “I checked, I checked. I didn’t look for it. But I checked.” Houston said she then began removing herself from their home little by little. “And I even asked him to leave. And he said, ‘No, you leave.’”
Houston died five years after her divorce from Brown
Houston maintained she had always been in the marriage for the long haul, that her vows were sacred. “I never cheated, I never did none of that stuff,” she told Winfrey. “I just did the drugs.”
Houston died at the age of 48 on February 11, 2012, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel where she was found dead in a bathtub. A report issued by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office stated the official cause of death was an accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine in her system contributing factors.
In much-publicized circumstances similar to her mother’s passing, Bobbi Kristina was discovered unconscious in a bathtub at her Georgia home in 2015. Still breathing, doctors placed her in a medically-induced coma. Bobbie Kristina died in hospice care six months later on July 26 at age 22. According to the medical examiner, cannabis and alcohol were found in her system, along with prescription medication for anxiety/and or depression, and the underlying cause of death listed as “immersion associated with drug intoxication.”
Brown married Alicia Etheridge in 2012 and the couple has three children together. Brown regularly performs with a reunited New Edition and is reportedly working on a new solo album. Brown told Rolling Stone in 2018 that he had been clean from narcotics for 15 years.