10...

An imperfect 10: Whitney and Bobby, a decade later
By Rene E Graham, Globe Staff, 7/16/2002

On Thursday, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown will celebrate their - gasp! - 10th wedding anniversary.

Who'd a thunk it? Let's face it: When Whitney, then America's sugary R&B sweetheart, and Bobby, Boston's mercurial new-jack swinger, got hitched at her New Jersey mansion on July 18, 1992, few imagined their marriage would last 10 minutes, let alone 10 years. This seemed the most unlikely, even absurd celebrity coupling since Ethel Merman became Mrs. Ernest Borgnine in 1964. That misbegotten marriage lasted about a month, and no one expected much more from the union of Whitney and Bobby.

I certainly didn't. Ten years ago, I wrote ''Houston's gown, we've been told, took six months to complete. We'll let you know if the marriage lasts that long.'' Even though Whitney and Bobby had been dating for three years, some opined aloud that their marriage was little more than a business transaction and publicity stunt. For Whitney, it was viewed as the singer's last, best attempt to quell deathless rumors about her alleged lesbianism.

And for Bobby, it was a positive boost to a career that had slipped since his heady days when he enjoyed major success first as a member of New Edition, then as a solo artist with such hits as ''My Prerogative'' and ''Don't Be Cruel'' in the late 1980s. Their marriage was also tagged as an antidote to Bobby's reputation as a hell-raiser. He'd fathered three children by two women, and he always seemed to be in some dust-up with the authorities.

Yet Whitney and Bobby, who have a daughter, Bobbi Christina, have outlasted the snakebitten trifecta of Jennifer Lopez and her first husband, hunky waiter-model Ojani Noa; J. Lo and P. Diddy, hip-hop mogul and lovesick fool; and Jennifer and her backup dancer/second husband, Mr. Jennifer Lopez, otherwise known as Cris Judd.

Of course, the Browns - now there's a ''reality'' TV show I'd like to see - have also inspired a two-hour ''E! True Hollywood Story'' episode and enough tabloid stories to lap the world twice. Marriage didn't curb his wild ways; instead Bobby, now 33, seemed to get in even more trouble. Then again, with his singing career all dried up, he had to do something to fill his days. He cracked up cars (usually Whitney's), punched out people in clubs, drifted in and out of rehab for various substances, and, in 2000, spent time in a Florida prison on a probation violation. Last month, he was briefly hospitalized for an undisclosed infection.

Not to be outdone, Whitney, now 38, was busted that same year for marijuana possession while boarding a flight in Hawaii (after pleading no contest, she abided by court-ordered obligations, and the case was dismissed). Weeks later, she was reportedly booted from performing at the Academy Awards - Whitney claims she was sick, but organizers may have been sick of Whitney - prompting a million ''Houston, we have a problem'' headlines. Rumors were rampant that an out-of-control Whitney was vexed with her own drug problems.

A low point came last September, when a skeletal Whitney appeared at the first of Michael Jackson's two self-tribute concerts at Madison Square Garden. So frightening was her frail appearance that there were soon reports that Whitney was dead. Her publicist finally issued a statement declaring Whitney's health ''perfectly fine.''

Still, one of the couple's strangest moments may have been their most revealing. In picking up her 1999 Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance in February 2000, she saluted her husband: ''Honey, this one's for you, the original R&B king. I love you.''

While calling Bobby ''the original R&B king'' sounded historically wrong in every possible way, the scene was also oddly touching. It was clear: Whitney just can't help loving that man.

When she told Bobby ''I love you,'' it was tantamount to a middle finger aimed at the rest of the world: ''It doesn't matter what any of you think, it doesn't matter what the headlines say. Only we understand what we have.''

Whatever it is, it's allowed Mr. and Mrs. Brown to sustain storms both public and private, both real and imagined. If theirs isn't quite the greatest love of all, it's been an enduring one, outrunning Tom and Nicole, Anne and Ellen, and every shrill story predicting divorce, death, and devastation. And as off-key as they can sometimes be, Whitney and Bobby, 10 years and counting, are still a duo with a song worth singing.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 7/16/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


NEWSFILE: 16 JULY 2002

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