Having conquered the top 40 charts, movies and performed to sold-out arenas, when Whitney Houston gave birth to daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on March 4, 1993, it appeared to be a culmination of her greatest, most personal dreams. That the course of both mother and daughter’s lives would eerily echo one another, particularly in regards to their tragic deaths, only shocked and saddened the public more deeply.
Houston called giving birth to Bobbi Kristina the most ‘incredible’ moment in her life
One of the biggest pop acts of the late 1980s and early 1990s with chart-topping hits including “So Emotional” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” Houston married R&B singer Bobby Brown in mid-1992 and gave birth to Bobbi Kristina in March of the following year. Becoming a mother was something she had spoken of longingly of, having an earlier miscarriage while filming the 1992 hit movie The Bodyguard alongside Kevin Costner.
“There’s been nothing more incredible in my life than having [Bobbi Kristina],” Houston — mere months after giving birth — told Rolling Stone in 1993 when asked if she would like to have more children. “God knows, I have been in front of millions and millions of people, and that has been incredible, to feel that give-take thing. But man, when I gave birth to her and they put her in my arms, I thought: ‘This has got to be it. This is the ultimate.’ I haven’t experienced anything greater.”
The demands of an international performing career soon impinged on Houston’s motherhood idyll as touring and filming demands often required mother and child to spend time apart. Whenever possible, Houston would bring Bobbi Kristina to her performances, often bringing her daughter on stage to the delight of fans. Houston had experienced similar periods of absence with her own mother, Cissy Houston. A backup singer for Dionne Warwick, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, Houston remembered her mother was very concerned she had to leave her children, recalling her saying, “Mommy loves you but she’s got to go to work.”
As Houston’s career skyrocketed, so did her substance abuse problem
Throughout the 1990s Houston’s career soared with starring roles in the films Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996), as well as releasing the chart-topping albums My Love Is Your Love (1998) and Whitney: The Greatest Hits (2000). But out of the spotlight, she was battling an ongoing substance abuse problem that was becoming more and more apparent to her adored, growing daughter.
“For some reason Whitney’s drug use got worse after Bobbi Kris was born,” Brown wrote in his 2016 memoir Every Little Step. “Maybe it was because she had to stop using all those months while she was pregnant, but she resumed with a vengeance.” Brown recalled locking Houston in her room at times in order to shield their daughter from their drug use, but also admitted Bobbi Kristina “often saw her mother and father high, and was around the two of us when we were f****d up. … Our daughter saw it all. When I think about it now, I just feel enormous pain, We failed her.”
Audiences were offered a glimpse into their family life with the release of the 2005 reality series Being Bobby Brown, in which a tween-aged Bobbi Kristina was often filmed visibly embarrassed and alarmed at the erratic and intoxicated antics of her parents. Yet Houston’s deep love for her daughter was also apparent. Like her mother before her, Bobbi Kristina was becoming aware of the harsh and intrusive glare of the celebrity media, all too aware of her parent’s controversies and rumored infidelities playing out in the public forum.
Bobbi Kristina was very protective of her mother
Following her divorce from Brown in 2007, Houston was granted custody of Bobbi Kristina and they moved to a new Atlanta, Georgia residence where Houston attempted to kick drugs once more and focus on her life with her daughter. It was during this period that Nick Gordon came to live with Houston and Bobbi Kristina. Unofficially adopted by Houston, Gordon had been raised as a brother to Bobbi Kristina.
Houston began to rely more and more on her daughter as Bobbi Kristina took a protective role toward her mother. As her substance abuse grew, a disheveled and dazed-looking Houston was often seen being steered through public events and paparazzi throngs by her teenage daughter. It was Gordon who allegedly obtained drugs for Houston, and now also for Bobbi Kristina, according to Houston’s sister-in-law and close friend Tina Brown. “[Bobbi Kristina] didn’t do [any drugs] until she started hanging around Nick,” Brown alleges in the Lifetime documentary Whitney & Bobbi Kristina: Didn’t We Almost Have It All, airing February 6 at 8/7c.
Houston’s sudden death rocked Bobbi Kristina
An aspiring singer, Bobbi Kristina had begun working on songs in the studio with her mother by late 2011. Unfortunately, their time together was cut short when Houston was found unresponsive in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012, and pronounced dead on the scene. She was 48. A report issued by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office stated the cause of death was accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use contributing factors.
Gordon and Bobbi Kristina were also staying at the Beverly Hilton that night, and an overwhelmed Bobbi Kristina was reportedly hospitalized in the days immediately following her mother’s death out of concern for her physical and mental health. The beneficiary of Houston’s entire estate, Bobbi Kristina’s struggle to come to terms with her mother’s death was chronicled alongside other family members in the 2012 Lifetime docuseries The Houstons: On Our Own.
“I can hear her voice and her spirit talking to me, telling me, ‘Keep moving baby,’” Bobbi Kristina said of her mother during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2012. “I can always feel her with me. She humbles me. I remember what she told me, I remember what she taught me.”
Bobbi Kristina’s death was eerily similar to Houston’s
Causing further controversy within the extended family, Bobbi Kristina had begun seeing Gordon romantically, announcing their engagement in October 2012. Like her mother, Bobbi Kristina would face media scrutiny over her love life, all while attempting to kickstart a music career in the shadow of her famous mother’s death. Though allegations of physical and mental abuse would later surface, Bobbi Kristina announced she and Gordon had wed in early 2014. Her father’s lawyer would later state the pair had never officially wed.
Almost three years to the date of her mother’s death on January 31, 2015, Gordon reportedly found Bobbi Kristina face down in a bathtub in her Georgia home. Alive but unresponsive, doctors placed her in an induced coma. She died in hospice care on July 26 at age 22. Unable to rule her death an accident, according to the Medical Examiner’s office report the underlying cause was “immersion associated with drug intoxication,” and an autopsy showed she had morphine, cocaine, prescription drugs and alcohol in her body.
Her family blamed Gordon for her death and accused him in a wrongful death lawsuit of giving her a “toxic cocktail” of drugs and alcohol before putting her face-down in the tub. Eventually ordered to pay $36 million to Bobbi Kristina’s estate, Gordon died on January 1, 2020, of a drug overdose at age 30.