The Tragically Similar Fates of Whitney Houston and Her Daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown

Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina Brown died within barely three years of each other in eerily similar circumstances, both having made similarly tragic choices.

By Natalie Finn Feb 11, 2022 3:00 PMTags
Watch: How Whitney Houston's Road to Recovery Spiraled

Whitney Houston's death on the eve of the Grammys in 2012 came as a horrific shock, if not entirely without warning. The platinum-selling singer and actress had been in possession of one of the all-time great voices, but her career wasn't close to what it was at her peak and years of substance abuse had tarnished those once-gleaming pipes.

She had survived a lot, including a tumultuous marriage and a highly public divorce, but still, her family worried about her.

And yet she was still Whitney freakin' Houston, a beloved entertainer who was due that night to attend Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammys bash at the Beverly Hilton. Instead, she died in a room upstairs, accidentally drowning in the bathtub. Losing an artist like that, an icon who breathed so much life into every note, who gave so much of herself with every performance, was an unequivocal tragedy. She was 48.

When her only daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, died three years later at the age of 22, there couldn't have been a more heartbreaking coda to Houston's story.

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And while the similarities in the circumstances of their deaths instantly registered as eerie, Bobbi Kristina never regaining consciousness after she too was discovered submerged in a bathtub full of water, the sad parallels between their experiences only became more potently felt as more information was revealed about their lives—and their deaths.

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Over the course of her 15-year marriage to Bobby Brown, the last two of which occurred in the perception-skewing shadow of their at-times surreal reality show Being Bobby Brown, it became harder to discern who led whom down what road. The world had pretty much assumed that her decline was her husband's fault, but she actually used drugs before she was with Bobby, even at the height of her success.

It turned out that they had walked down that road together, hand in hand.

But regardless of where they ended up, Bobby and Whitney were longtime sweethearts, first meeting in 1989 and marrying in 1992. Until their 2007 divorce, she stuck with the R&B hit-maker through rehab, arrests, car accidents and more misbehavior (Bobby has said there was infidelity on both sides), so much of which seemed to be brought on by his issues.

Whitney, however, would later describe herself as "what you call a functioning junkie."

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Still, though cocaine was cited as a contributing factor to her death by drowning, Brown rejected the notion that drugs killed her. "She was really working hard on herself to try to be a sober person," he told Rolling Stone in 2018. Asked what he thought did hasten her death, the New Edition singer replied, "Just being brokenhearted."

Scheduled to attend longtime friend Davis' party on Feb. 11, 2012, Whitney was instead found face-down in the tub in her suite at the hotel at around 3:35 p.m. The L.A. County coroner's office later noted in its postmortem findings that a "white crystal like substance" was found in the room, along with an open bottle of champagne, food and other personal items.

An autopsy determined the official cause of death to be accidental drowning, with atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use "just probably immediately prior" to drowning listed as contributing factors. Toxicology screens turned up traces of Benadryl, Xanax, traces of marijuana and Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, in her system.

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute

Bobbi Kristina was 18 when Whitney died, and was briefly hospitalized late that night after mixing wine and Xanax in a fit of despair. 

She, too, was an aspiring singer, born to a showbiz family as Whitney was and trying to make it in the shadow of her mother's enormous talent. Instead, she ended up robbed of the seven-time Grammy winner's support and guidance.

Also like mom, Bobbi Kristina turned to drugs at some point along the way, and ended up in what turned out to be a toxic relationship. Just how toxic ended up a matter of debate, with her family firmly of the believe that it ultimately killed her.

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But her partnership with the Nick Gordon, a wayward kid who was 12 when Whitney took him in and was brought up like a brother to Bobbi Kristina, at first seemed happy. In fact, he was in L.A. for Grammys weekend with Whitney and Bobbi Kristina.

They announced in the summer of 2012, when the reality show The Houstons: On Our Own premiered, that they were engaged. Then they called it off, saying they were back to being close friends as always, before declaring their betrothal back on in 2013, Bobbi Kristina writing on Facebook, "I'm tired of hearing people say 'eww your engaged to your brother' or 'if Whitney was still alive would we be together or would she approve of this.'"

In January 2014, they claimed to be married, but that turned out not to be the case. Bobbi Kristina's estate would later accuse him in a wrongful death lawsuit of stealing money from her bank accounts. (Nick was never arrested or charged with any crime pertaining to her death.)

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Nick, who was in and out of treatment before dying of a heroin overdose on Jan. 1, 2020, at the age of 30, denied being anything other than devastated by Bobbi Kristina's death. A friend of his stated in a deposition, filed as part of the legal proceedings against him, that Bobbi Kristina "smoked marijuana, she probably smoked crack often, and also did heroin."

Alex Reid, a close friend of Bobbi Kristina's, told E! News in 2015 that the young woman had been living in fear of Nick, who, she alleged, was abusive and controlling.

"Krissy felt isolated from the whole family and that left her completely dependent on Nick for everything," Alex said. "It was just her and Nick and that was it."

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Bobbi Kristina Brown's Life in Pics

On Jan. 17, 2015, the biopic Whitney, directed by the entertainer's Waiting to Exhale co-star Angela Bassettpremiered on Lifetime—not a TV event the Houston family was looking forward to.

Though it received better reviews than the majority of Lifetime celebrity biopics, her sister-in-law Pat Houston had stated beforehand that they were all "prepared for the worst."

"It is easy to turn a blind eye to other people if you're not careful. But the needs of Whitney's family matter," the wife of her brother Gary wrote on WhitneyHouston.com. "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. We matter. We're still here. Why wasn't there a call to myself, Gary, Cissy [Whitney's mom] or even her daughter?"

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"Why deny selected members of the family an advanced copy of the film? As we once again enter a season of bereavement and the strategic timing so close to the anniversary of Whitney's death, this is a disappointment that any of us who loved her could do without."

Bobbi Kristina was in a car wreck Jan. 27, 2015, losing control of her Jeep Liberty and hitting two other vehicles. At the time a bench warrant was also out for her arrest because she had skipped a court date regarding a minor traffic violation.

Four days later, a friend found her unconscious in the tub, her face submerged in water, in the Atlanta-area condo where she lived with Nick.

Jim Spellman/WireImage

She was in a coma or otherwise unresponsive for nearly six months and died at a hospice facility on July 26, 2015.

The autopsy results remained sealed for a year until a local news station successfully petitioned to have them made public, after which it was learned that the daughter of Whitney had died of a combination of drowning and drug intoxication. Traces of marijuana, alcohol, a cocaine byproduct, morphine and a sedative/anxiety treatment medication were found in her body.

The Fulton County medical examiner couldn't rule on whether her death was an accident or not, or whether the trace of morphine meant she had been a regular heroin user.

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Meanwhile, Nick insisted that they had been trying to get their lives together before Bobbi Kristina's accident, but (in a bombshell claim that couldn't be independently confirmed) that she had been devastated after suffering two miscarriages.

"We would have loved to have a kid but we weren't planning on it yet and she was just such a young fragile person it took a toll on her," he told the Daily Mail in April 2016. No, he did not think that Bobbi Kristina intended to harm herself. "We wanted to get clean, settle down, get married, have kids," he said.

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"I blame myself for not getting to Krissy quick enough that day," he also said. "I can't blame myself for another addict's addiction but I feel like I failed her. She didn't make it. I wish she got help...I wish she got my spot [in rehab]. I did not protect her the way that I was supposed to, even if it was from herself."

Nick further claimed that, the night before Whitney died at the Beverly Hilton, Bobbi Kristina had fallen asleep in the tub in her room, with the water running. It was her mother who saved her from something bad happening.

"Whitney found her, pulled her out and slept in her bed that night," he said.

In September 2016, he was found liable in Bobbi Kristina's death (a judge ruled for the plaintiffs after the defendant missed multiple court dates) and two months later was ordered to pay her estate $36 million in damages. But it was to remain a largely symbolic, not to mention hollow, victory.

Bobby, who started a domestic abuse prevention charity called Bobbi Kristina Serenity House, told ABC News earlier that year, referring to his daughter's fate, "It's not a mystery to me. The same thing that happened to my daughter is what happened to Whitney...There's only one person that was around both occasions. "Only one person who says they were there to protect them…and he didn't."

On the fifth anniversary of her death in July 2020, Bobby wrote on Instagram, "There's no way to explain how I feel. I miss you so much little girl you stay in my heart on my mind every day daddy loves you."

(Originally published March 4, 2016, at 4:37 p.m. PT)