For a long time, Bobby Brown was a tabloid magnet, earning his “bad boy” reputation by getting arrested multiple times for various issues such as drunk driving, battery and drug possession.
His misdeeds for a time overshadowed his successful music career with New Edition and as a solo artist.
His relationship with Whitney Houston also kept him in the headlines, as her drug-addled behavior on Bravo’s “Being Bobby Brown” reality show in 2005 while they lived in Atlanta became fodder for jokes. Soon, their marriage ended.
Brown himself found stability and peace when he met and married TV producer Alicia Etheredge, even as he navigated the trauma of losing his ex-wife Houston, his daughter Bobbi Kristina and his son Bobby Jr. to drug overdose deaths. Now at age 53, Brown is in a position to look back on his life via the long-running A&E “Biography” series, airing four hours over two nights May 30 and 31.
He is also returning to reality TV, this time with his wife and their three kids dubbed “Bobby Brown: Every Little Step.” His two other living adult kids from other relationships are featured as well. The series is a far cry from the weirdness that was the 2005 Bravo series and a reflection on Etheredge’s beneficial impact on Brown. The carefree, six-pack wild child of the late 1980s is now a reflective and sober man with a middle-aged paunch and gait.
“Alicia started managing me when I couldn’t manage myself,” Brown said in the first of 12 episodes of the reality series, set largely at their Los Angeles home. Besides his family stability, he said he has used prayer, meditation and therapy to stay grounded and positive about life even as he fights his own demons, including alcoholism.
“This biography I feel is therapeutic for me,” Brown said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I felt it should be done now more than later. I’m going through changes every day. I just wanted to get some things off my chest so I can move on.”
“We had no new record to promote, but people showed up,” Brown said. “Kids and grandmothers showed up, and we’re really proud of that.”
Not to say touring gets easier with age. “I still love to dance,” he said, “but the choreography is a job. From a vocal standpoint, it’s kind of challenging. You lower the keys a little bit and it still sounds the same.”
The unflinching A&E biography covers Brown’s early traumas including getting molested and seeing his best friend get knifed and killed in front of him. The New Edition portion recounts how Brown, always the rebel, got kicked out of the band when he wanted out of the “bubblegum pop” lane, aspiring to be more like the raunchier Rick James. “I was hurt and I wanted revenge,” Brown said in the second hour.
His revenge was ultimately sweet: a string of huge hits using the funkier new jack swing sound. He became a monster star with his high-energy dance moves, shirtless stage presence and hip fashion choices. And he lived like one, too. “I spent $1 million in one day,” he recalled. “I wish I didn’t.”
By the end of the second hour of the doc, he met Houston at the 1989 Soul Train Awards and they fell in love with each other immediately.
Brown moved to Atlanta and opened his own music studio Bosstown. “I was young, crazy and wild,” Brown said during the third hour. The documentarians even revisit his home in Atlanta off Powers Ferry Road. “The house looks the same from the outside,” Brown said. He even tried to check out the inside, but “nobody came to the door.”
The second half of the doc also covers his entire tumultuous relationship with Houston. “Drugs got the best of us,” he said. “After a while, we just lost our minds.” The couple stopped working. His arrests became tabloid fodder. His solo career flatlined. He said he did the Bravo reality show to prove “I wasn’t this monster of a person.” While that may have been true, it contributed to the end of their marriage in 2007.
Credit: TODD KAPLAN
Credit: TODD KAPLAN
The fourth hour is both bittersweet and hopeful. After his divorce, he moved to California and was broke. He befriended Etheredge, who effectively saved him and provided him a purpose in life.
But the doc also covers the tragic death of Houston, for which he still harbors guilt. “I think she’d still be here if we hadn’t divorced,” he said during the fourth hour.
The Houston side of the family did not cooperate for the documentary. Brown said he felt estranged for a time from his daughter Bobbi Kristina after her mom’s death and just when he felt they were reconnecting, she fell into a coma following a drug overdose. Brown spent months in the hospital by her side in 2015 until the family decided to pull the plug.
Grieving, he drank even more until he decided to opt for sobriety around 2018 and he entered a 12-step program.
His battle with alcohol was tested once again when his son Bobby Jr. died in 2020 from a fentanyl overdose.
“Every day, I fight for my sobriety,” Brown said.
The new 2022 reality show feels much more upbeat. Etheredge, an executive producer on both TV projects, comes off on the show as loving and supportive. The first episode of the drama features Brown and the family attending his oldest daughter La’Princia’s wedding. Brown adores his daughter and the wedding goes off without a major hitch.
“Having my life exposed in front of the camera has been an adjustment,” Etheredge said, “but it feels authentic and natural because we’re just being ourselves. My husband is a full entertainer. He’s always on. He’s the jokester of the house... We’re happy to give you an insight to where Bobby is today.”
HOW TO WATCH
“A&E Biography: Bobby Brown,” airing at 8 p.m. Monday, May 30, and Tuesday, May 31 on A&E
“Bobby Brown: Every Little Step” docuseries, debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, moves to 9 p.m. weekly starting June 7 on A&E
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.