Bobby Brown on "The Bobby Brown Story," mental health, and being in "the R&B 'Lord of the Rings'"

Salon talks to Bobby Brown about the BET miniseries that he says sets the record straight about his biography

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published September 5, 2018 5:00PM (EDT)

Bobby Brown (Willy Sanjuan/invision/ap)
Bobby Brown (Willy Sanjuan/invision/ap)

Frequently during a recent conversation with R&B superstar Bobby Brown he returned to some version of an insistent refrain: “I'm just Bobby. Can't be nobody else.”

Such a statement presumes, perhaps correctly, that anyone hearing it has an opinion of Brown based on incomplete information. Not false, perhaps, but incomplete.

“We know so much from the headlines and tabloids and things like that,” explained Jesse Collins, the executive producer of  BET’s four-hour miniseries “The Bobby Brown Story,” airing its second part Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.  "But we tried to pick parts of Bobby's life to help tell the emotional story. We really tried to get into more of like, how did you feel when this happened? Did you feel guilty? Did you feel responsible? Were you happy? Just getting inside of who Bobby is. That was our trajectory.”

Brown is an R&B icon first, but television’s impact on the public perception of him has been consequential. But it also means “The Bobby Brown Story,” featuring Woody McClain reprising his portrayal of Brown from last year’s sleeper hit “The New Edition Story,” was destined to have a passionate audience.

Sure enough, in the hours since Part 1 debuted on Tuesday night, social media has been losing its collective mind over the details people didn’t know about Brown’s life, such as a secret affair with Janet Jackson and the unsubtle implication that his wife Whitney Houston (played by Gabrielle Dennis) was having an affair with her close friend Robyn Crawford, played in the film by Yvonne Senat Jones.

“I'm grateful that I'm able to tell my story to my kids and let them watch it with me,” Brown told Salon. “That’s the most important part. "My grandchildren need to know who their father is. My children need to see who their father is.”

And as he did in Collins’ 2017 production “The New Edition Story,” Brown was closely consulted on how his story was told.

“Hopefully people will take away that they didn't know me at all. They thought they knew what I been through and what I am. But they don't know how I got to that point,” Brown said. “This movie will show them how I got to the downfall and how I picked myself back up. That's the great part.”

The titular subject of “The Bobby Brown Story” grew up before the eyes of TV audiences, most of whom became familiar with the pop star via the earliest New Edition videos for catchy hits like “Candy Girl.” A successful solo career made him even more famous than his former bandmates. Then, his marriage to Houston, R&B’s reigning queen, made him royalty.

Marketed as the “bad boy” of the group, Brown was ousted from New Edition and launched a solo career that exploded with his second album, 1988’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” which became one of the seminal R&B albums of its time thanks in no small part to its production polish by Babyface, Antonio "L.A." Reid and Teddy Riley.

Brown, though, wrote its signature hit “My Prerogative,” and with the explosive success of that single and others, his already tumultuous life became a rollercoaster of libidinous indulgence and controversy. That slice of Bobby Brown’s biography is covered, with no small about of sex, drugs and R&B swagger, and with its accompaniment of fancy cars and the famous scenes of Brown sporting furs in the dead of summer, in Tuesday night’s debut of part 1.

The opening half of “The Bobby Brown Story,” written by Abdul Williams and directed by Kiel Adrian Scott, encores at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday and is streaming on

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Collins professed his hope that this sets the foundation to his aim of shocking the world “by showing the Bobby that I had gotten to know over the years, which is somebody that is actually bad boy on stage, very sensitive person offstage really cares about everybody. He's that guy that will put everybody before him. And that's not necessarily the public persona that's been out there for awhile.”

Houston and Brown’s subsequent marital issues, worsened by rampant substance abuse, mark the segue to Wednesday night’s two-hour conclusion, starting at 9 p.m. Like the first half of “The Bobby Brown Story,” some signposts of Brown’s fall from grace, resulting from numerous run-ins with the law, are already known to many people.

They made Brown prime fodder for a celebrity scandal-hungry, post-O.J. Simpson trial cable news cycle, not to mention a favorite punchline. Famously in 2000, Chris Rock staged a mock protest outside Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, complete with people holding signs, on the day of Brown’s release from prison as part of a skit featured in the comedian's HBO series.

Brown is still sensitive about this chapter in his life, and he seems especially resentful of being painted as an abuser. Although “The Bobby Brown Story”  depicts the violence he experienced within his circle of family and friends during his formative years, the mid-career legal troubles that remain closely associated with Brown include a 2003 charge of misdemeanor battery related to alleged domestic violence. He admits to an incident in which he hit Houston in his 2016 memoir “Every Little Step.”

Even so, when a reporter brought this up during a July press event in L.A. to support “The Bobby Brown Story,” he would only insist “the public record is wrong.” The press conference then abruptly concluded.

In 2005, Brown became a reality TV star on Bravo’s “Being Bobby Brown,” a legendary train wreck that lasted only a season but remains famous for revealing a side of Houston few had seen before. The couple separated a year after it debuted and finalized their divorce in 2007. (For this interview Brown refrained from answering questions about the 2018 documentary "Whitney," a profile of his ex-wife. Houston died in 2012.)

“'Being Bobby Brown' was a way for me to get up from under the foot of the press because I was able to just be myself, no matter what,” Brown explained. “People didn't realize that I'm just Bobby. And they were able to see that on the show."

“With this,” he continued, “I get a chance to tell my life story. I get a chance to tell them how I grew up in and what happened that made me the way I was back then. That made me manic sometimes, and depressed sometimes and then, you know, happy one minute. I'm grateful that I'm still here and I'm happier than I've ever been in my life.”

"Bobby Brown is not done yet," he added. "I'm not finished yet, baby!"

Currently Brown is touring with his “New Edition” cohorts Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe under the moniker RBRM: Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike, and is in the process of raising funds to build the Bobbi Kristina Serenity House, named for Brown and Houston’s daughter who died in 2015.

Although the non-profit has not yet broken ground, Brown envisions it as “a safe haven for domestic violence abused women and men.”

“We are doing so much to, you know, just delete that disease from, from this earth. I've been a part of it. Through my mom and I've seen it, you know," he said. "My daughter is not here because of domestic violence, so we are trying to just help out as much as we can.”

As for the rest of the New Edition story, Collins insists that he’s not finished either.

"This is like the R&B ‘Lord of the Rings,’” he quipped.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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