The media circus surrounding Bobbi Kristina Brown, the 21-year-old daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, is tragically familiar — a cycle of rumor-laden headlines fueling more unconfirmed innuendo followed by more rumor-laden headlines.
Is Bobbi Kristina essentially brain dead, or is her condition improving? Did her family pledge to take her off life support on Wednesday, the anniversary of her famous mother’s death, or was that false reporting?
Brown has been hospitalized since she was found unresponsive, face down, in a bathtub at her Atlanta-area home on Jan. 31. She remains in a medically induced coma as chaos swirls all around her.
The two sides of Bobbi Kristina’s family have taken dramatically different approaches during the crisis. And the apparent absence of a united front has only exacerbated the hunger for crumbs of information, no matter where they’re originating.
The result has been that Bobbi Kristina Brown — unbeknownst to her — is now subject to the kind of scrutiny and media frenzy that her mother despised.
How many of the wildly swirling rumors are true, few people know. But every day, there are new headlines.
That the situation eerily echoes the circumstances of her mother’s death three years ago has only fueled the frenzy.
“Bobbi Kristina: Life Support Withdrawn Wednesday … Anniversary of Whitney’s Death” said tabloid Web site TMZ on Tuesday.
The New York Post’s cover that day screamed “Date With Death.”
— New York Post (@nypost) February 10, 2015
A lawyer for Bobby Brown knocked down the rumors hours later, calling TMZ’s report false and denouncing anonymous “sources” used by the tabloid and others to justify their headlines.
So TMZ pushed out the denial — but left its original story mostly intact — driving even more traffic to the Web site and feeding the voracious appetite for news, any news, about Bobbi Kristina’s condition.
The vicious cycle — rumor, followed by denial, followed by more rumor — is driven in part by Bobbi Kristina’s somewhat unwieldy web of extended family, her parents’ business associates and friends who keep dropping enough dribbles of information (often anonymously) to keep the daily stream of stories going.
It has created an environment around Bobbi Kristina’s hospitalization that her mother tried to shield her from.
“I just want a real life. Lord, I just want to be a real person!” Whitney Houston exclaimed in one of the more uncomfortable moments of her family’s reality show, “Being Bobby Brown,” in which a visit to an amusement park turned into a circus, with gawkers snapping pictures and surreptitiously recording videos.
“I don’t understand,” R&B singer Bobby Brown said, incredulously, in the same episode. “See me, I got into the business for people. My wife, man, she got into the business to sing.”
The two divorced in 2007 after 15 years of marriage.
The Houston and Brown families appear to have handled the tragedy of Bobbi Kristina’s hospitalization very differently, in a way that parallels her parents’ comments on that show.
The Houston family — led by Pat Houston, Whitney’s sister-in-law and former manager and the executor of her estate — has remained largely silent, except for a brief statement last week asking for prayer and privacy.
The Brown family, however, has been everywhere.
Jerod Brown, a cousin of Bobbi Kristina’s, has been tirelessly active on social media. He has conducted interviews on local stations, appeared on Nancy Grace’s show, and coined hashtags on behalf of his cousin.
In another interview, Brown’s former manager and friend, music executive Debra Antney, revealed that at one point, the 21-year-old’s eyes had opened in the hospital.
Antney lamented that throughout Bobbi Kristina’s life, she has never been able to escape the headlines that have either focused on her or her parents’ troubled marriage or substance abuse.
“That baby has not stood a chance since she was conceived, just about,” Antney said. “She was talked about, ridiculed. And all the people that had all those thing to say about her … that’s a baby, a 21-year-old baby.”
It is, she added, “a constant reminder over and over again of you talking about her mom, you talking about her dad.”
Friend of Bobby Brown. How she claims she helped keep Bobbi Kristina on life support. 4pm pic.twitter.com/F8DaG0MjfM
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) February 11, 2015
Turbulence and public acrimony is in many ways what the world has come to expect from the Brown and Houston families. Their high-profile relationship was troubled throughout, and it was obvious Houston’s family and associates disapproved of the match.
“We were definitely going two different directions,” Brown explained on the “Today” show, months after his ex-wife’s death. He added that “there was a lot of pressure from other people telling her — always in her ear telling her that I wasn’t good for her.”
Brown attended his former wife’s funeral in 2012 but complained that security guards at the service wouldn’t allow him to sit with Bobbi Kristina at the front of the church if he brought his children from a previous marriage.
“It was disrespectful,” he said recently. “It was no fault of the family, it was security. So I just kissed the casket and me and my kids, we left.”
Before Whitney Houston’s death on Feb. 11, 2012, the world saw relatively little of Bobbi Kristina, the daughter of “the infamous badass and the beautiful princess,” as she once described her parents.
As a child, in the twilight of their tumultuous marriage, Bobbi Kristina appeared on her father’s reality show, coming across just as playful and shy as any 11-year-old would be.
But the chaos enveloped her then, too, it seemed. She carried on, seemingly unfazed, as her parents smoked, drank and often argued around her.
At 19, in the wake of her mother’s death, she was once again in the public eye — this time, as the protagonist in another reality show, “The Houstons: On Our Own.”
It was the Houston family’s attempt to form a united front, but it only revealed more rifts.
Almost immediately, the drama centered on Nick Gordon, a former classmate of Bobbi Kristina’s who had been raised by Whitney Houston for years after being kicked out of his house by his own mother.
On the show, Gordon was was described as a “family friend,” and Houston family members made it very clear how they felt about the pair’s budding romance. Like her mother, Bobbi Kristina was insistent on defying her family’s wishes.
“Nick and Krissy are inseparable,” Pat Houston told the cameras. “They feel like it’s them against the world. And that’s not what I want for her.”
On the show, Bobbi Kristina revealed that her relationship with her maternal grandmother, Cissy Houston, was “very iffy.”
“We get into those little arguments: ‘Are you doing this right, and are you doing that right?’ ” she said on the show. “But she’s my grandmother, and I love her so much.”
The show ended after one season, but the drama was renewed in perpetuity.
In 2013, Cissy Houston published a book about her daughter’s life; it featured her familiar doubts about Whitney Houston’s marriage to Bobby Brown, along with her relief when the marriage ended.
“How would you like it if he had anything to do with your daughter?” she told the Associated Press in 2013.
Bobbi Kristina said she refused to read the book.
“I ask youplsRESPECT [that],” she tweeted. “Haven’t read&won’t … I find it 2B Disrespect2MYMOTHER & me being HERDAUGHTER won’t tolerate it.”
The following January, Bobbi Kristina and Gordon announced their marriage, and she proclaimed in interviews that the two were thrilled and happy. (After her hospitalization last week, Bobby Brown said through his lawyers that his daughter and Gordon never legally married.)
After the marriage announcement, the familial rifts seemed to escalate. Tabloids reported that Pat Houston filed a restraining order against Gordon, which Bobbi Kristina seemed to confirm in angry tweets directed at her family.
The close relationship Bobbi Kristina and her aunt appeared to share in their reality show was all but gone.
Months later, there were more disputes about who would control Whitney Houston’s legacy and memory.
Lifetime announced that it would produce a biopic about Houston’s relationship with Bobby Brown, which briefly united the Houston family in shared anger.
The dead singer’s estate released an open letter condemning the movie, and Bobbi Kristina tweeted angrily that the film’s director, actress Angela Bassett, did not consider casting her to play her mother in the TV movie.
Bobby Brown, on the other hand, sat down for an hour-long tell-all interview that aired directly after the movie.
“There is often a fine line that separates elevation and degradation in the industry,” Pat Houston said in a statement at the time. “What lifts up one person in the headlines may in fact destroy another.”
She added that “the needs of Whitney’s family matter. We have dealt with her every emotion from the day she was born until the day she died, which gives us absolute position and absolute authority as a family to feel the way we do about her legacy.”
Exactly two weeks after the Lifetime movie aired, Bobbi Kristina was hospitalized.
Now, after 11 days, countless headlines and anonymous quotes and interviews with distant family members, one thing has become clear: Bobbi Kristina is still caught in the gravitational force of her mother’s legacy.
“Being Whitney Houston’s daughter can put a lot of pressure on one person,” she said once. “I’m going to prove to the world that I am my own person.”