It was a heartbreaking mirror of her famous mother’s untimely death, and a mystery that remains largely unsolved. Almost three years after the drowning that led to the death of Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of legendary singer Whitney Houston and R&B star Bobby Brown, a controversial new film, Bobbi Kristina, seeks to shed light on the young woman few got to know. Screenwriter Rhonda Baraka says she hoped to “dig a little deeper and understand why this little girl’s life was the way it was.” Certainly, the way it was didn’t seem easy.
For all the mystery still surrounding her death, one thing many knew: Brown was plagued from the start. Born into the harsh glare of Hollywood, the aspiring singer who family called “Krissy” lived in the shadow of her celebrity parents—coping with their blinding fame as well as their tragic fall from grace amid divorce, drug addiction and financial woes. When Brown was 18, Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 11 2012. Almost three years later, on Jan. 31, 2015, Brown, then 21, was found face down and unconscious in a bathtub of freezing cold water in her home in Roswell, Georgia. She suffered irreversible brain damage as a result of the incident and died in hospice that July.
A criminal investigation remains open, but suspicions soon fell on her boyfriend Nick Gordon, whom Brown’s housemate, Max Lomas, had been seen arguing with Brown earlier in the night. Gordon was found liable for her death in a civil suit the following September and ordered to pay $36 million to her estate.
Despite a privileged upbringing, Brown endured early traumas. In his 2016 memoir, Bobby Brown admits that his daughter “often saw her mother and father high, and was around the two of us when we were f—ed up.” She also witnessed her parents’ regular screaming matches. “We failed her,” he reflects.
Houston’s death was a blow from which Brown never recovered. “I think she should have been allowed a bit more time to grieve,” says actress Vivica A. Fox who plays Pat Houston, Brown’s aunt. In real life, Pat starred alongside Brown and Brown’s grandmother Cissy Houston on a family reality show shortly after Whitney’s death. Says Fox, who was a friend of the family, “The wheels of show business just kept going.”
According to friends, Bobbi Kristina “was plagued by demons”, which lead her to substance abuse and an equally toxic relationship with Gordon. Those close to the couple claim their union enabled self-destructive tendencies (“We were all bad into drugs” Lomas has revealed), while others whispered allegations of physical abuse. According to Lomas, friends and family planned on taking Brown to Los Angeles to stage an intervention immediately prior to her death.
Set to premiere Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. ET on TV One, Bobbi Kristina has prompted a legal assault from Brown’s relatives. Bobby Brown has filed an unsuccessful injunction to block its release, claiming in court documents that it “contains defamatory untrue depictions” of his relationship with Brown, including scenes “suggesting” that he “does not love his daughter.”
For his part, Gordon, now 28, has kept a low profile since Brown’s death. He was arrested in June on unrelated domestic violence charges that were later dropped. A lawyer who represented Bobby in the wrongful death suit against Nick Gordon, says Gordon has not begun paying the $36 million he owes. He currently lives in Florida, where a source tells PEOPLE, “He is just trying to build a life for himself.”
Brown will never have the opportunity to do the same. “I learned how much fight she had,” says Joy Rovaris, who plays the young woman so heavily shaped by tragedy. “In spite of all the things in her world, she was so strong.”
- Reporting by ELISSA ROSEN and JANINE RUBENSTEIN