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Bobby Brown battles drugs, marital problems

In a Dateline exclusive, Bobby Brown speaks out about his marriage and his demons, his bad boy image and a blame game that he says has gone on for too long.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

We've seen her meteoric rise and puzzling fall. We've watched him go from concerts to courtrooms. Every step, every stumble in the very public marriage of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, has taken place under a microscope.

Bobby Brown: “I'm not perfect. Not a perfect man.”

Bobby Brown sits down with another woman at his side, his mother Carol, for a candid talk about addictions and recoveries, the direction of his life, and the troubled state of his marriage.

Stone Phillips: “Carol, are you concerned about him?”

Carol Brown: “I'm concerned about both of them.”

Phillips: “Will some time for each of you on your own be a good thing?”

Brown: “Yes. Yes. And I'm not saying separation. I'm saying it's time for Daddy to go to work. So, you know, it's time for Mommy to be at home.”

When he married Whitney Houston in 1992, the rap on Bobby Brown was that the bad boy of R&B would tarnish her highly-polished image and career. After all, she was the glamorous diva with a heavenly voice and universal appeal.

But Brown says, if the marriage has taken a toll on anyone, it's him, that giving up his career for the sake of the marriage sent him speeding down a spiral of self-destruction. He admits that before the marriage, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the height of his solo career, he was reckless with the millions he was making.

Brown: “I bought property probably in every state I went to and forgot about it. You know? I would leave cars on the freeway, just because, say, let's see what happens to it."

Phillips: “And you'd just leave it there?”

Brown: “And just leave it there.”

Phillips: “Cars you bought?”

Brown: “Just bought.”

Confronting the demons of drug abuse
But as wild as he was with money, Brown says when it came to drugs he was the exception in an industry known for excess. He claims he only dabbled.

Brown: “I would smoke a little weed here, and a little weed there. But you know, cocaine was never in my life. You know? Never.”

Phillips: “When did that change, Bobby?”

Brown: “I would hate to say when I got married, you know.”

Phillips: “But things did change when you got married?”

Brown: “Things changed when I got married. Because, you know, I stopped touring. I stopped working. And, you know, things—"

Phillips: “Your career took a backseat to, really, hers?“

Brown: “Yeah. To my marriage, to my marriage, you know. Not to her career, but to our marriage.”

While he all but disappeared from the stage, he began making plenty of other appearances. There were his arrests, beginning in 1995, for a bar fight, twice for driving while intoxicated, violating parole, as well as jail time in Florida and Georgia related to the DUIs. But the enormous media coverage painted him as far worse than the record actually showed. Underlying it all, was an escalating alcohol and drug problem.

Brown: “I would spend like, I'm talking, days to weeks just high. I mean, just high, I mean, just on coke. You know? Marijuana at the same time, alcohol. You know? I wasn't a type that was going to discriminate. You know?”

Phillips: “When it came to drugs.”

Brown: “When it came to drugs. The one thing I'm grateful that I never got into was heroin. Because that's a killer.”

It's a problem he's denied in other interviews, and one his mother wasn't sure he'd be ready to talk about with us either. But he did speak, candidly, about drug abuse fed in part, he says, by marital discord.

Brown: “And get high, and get high, and get high, and get high, and get high. You know what I'm saying? Because I was afraid of coming down. I was afraid of what I had to deal with the next day. You know? Whether me and my wife was going to be arguing or it was going to be loving, or what was going to happen. You know?”

As distressing as it was to hear, Carol Brown found comfort in her son's acknowledgment of his long-standing drug problem.

Carol Brown: “Sitting here now, listening to him, has taken such a load off of me. My heart was so heavy with just pain, frustration of wanting to reach to him and him not hearing me.”

She called the interview a breakthrough and a blessing, years of denial from her son dissolving before her eyes.

Carol Brown: “To hear him.”

Phillips: “Acknowledge that this is an issue for him-- he's got to stay on top of it?”

Carol Brown: “That's right. Yes. Through day by day.”

Brown: “Through day by day. That's all it is, day by day.”

Brown says he's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Instead of resorting to alcohol to calm the highs and cocaine for the lows, he says he's now on medications to help break that cycle.

Brown: “It keeps me away from wanting my cravings. If I can just live through for today, just live through this day, without taking a smoke of something, of any, you know, marijuana, without sniffing anything up my nose, then I lived. You know?”

Battling a bad boy image
Even as he has struggled with his own addiction, Brown has also had to confront an avalanche of negative publicity surrounding himself and his wife.

Phillips: “It seems like every time something bad is reported, maybe it's erratic behavior. Maybe it's drug issues. Maybe it's you know, a bump in the road of the careers. Whether it's you or whether it's Whitney. It always seems like--

Brown: “I'm the bad guy.”

Phillips: “The blame gets placed on you, Bobby Brown. Some anonymous source says—“

Brown: “Bobby's the reason.”

Phillips: “Bobby's the reason. It's Bobby's fault.”

Brown: “He's not good for her.“

Phillips: “He's not good for her.”

Brown: “Well, that's not up to them to decide.”

While Brown would not talk about his wife's own drug problems, there have been endless reports in the media, often quoting anonymous inside sources, that he is the one who dragged her down.

Phillips: “I mean, here's a recent example. ‘Bobby told Whitney, '”Don't go to rehab.” Although, Bobby, 35, understands substance abuse issues firsthand, a source close to Houston says he's always been adamant that Whitney not seek professional help for her own drug demons.’”

Brown: “It’s not true."

Brown: “I've encouraged us to be clean and healthy. And she's encouraged us, my wife, you know. We're both on the same length as far as us getting help, but I just let other people know--you ain't got to put our business in the street."

Phillips: “Quote, same article: ‘Bobby would always try to convince Whitney she did not have a substance problem, says the source. Even when she'd go to him for help and ask his opinion about rehab, he usually ended up screaming and threatening that he wouldn't tolerate it.’”

Brown: “Oh, please.”

Phillips: "’Saying it would publicly embarrass their family.’" 

Brown: “Well, them sources need to watch what they say and leave my name out of their mouth.”                

Brown says he can't be sure just who these anonymous sources are, so eager to blame him. What he does know, he says, is that love and acceptance has not been a two-way street between his family and Whitney's.

Phillips: “You feel, your family has accepted her.”

Brown: “Yes.”

Phillips: “Do you feel like her family has not accepted you?”

Brown: “I don't feel like they have accepted me totally. No. Well, it's just her mom. I feel like her mom doesn't really know me.”

Phillips: “Even through 11 years, Bobby? She hasn't had a chance to get to know you?”

Brown: “Through 11 years.”

Phillips: “Have you tried to reach out to her, and—"

Brown: “You know what? I think me and my mother-in-law are, when we talk, we're the best of friends. You know? You know, it's when other people tell her that this is me. And it's really not me.”

Phillips: “Carol? What's your take on this?”

Carol Brown: “I love Whitney. She can be a crazy person, she can be -- we can all be crazy at times. And I think the problem with Whitney is that there are too many bad influences.”

Phillips: “Around her.”

Carol Brown: “Around her. It makes it very hard.”

Bobby Brown: “If we want help for ourselves and we go get help, you know, it's not about them putting it in the paper and trying to make it seem like good girl/bad guy.”

A complicated relationship
But that bad-guy image got a lot more play recently, and the source this time wasn't anonymous. It was Houston herself.

Phillips: “There was a disturbing report in December about an incident at the house. You want to talk about that?”

Brown: “Well, me and my wife kind of got into the little heated--not heated, but, you know, little spat.”

On the night of December 7, 2003, Houston called 911 from their home in Alpharetta, Ga. According to a police report, she said that Brown threatened to “beat her ass and then struck the left side of her face with his open right hand.”

Phillips: “Were drugs involved?”

Brown: “No. Not at all. That's—“

Phillips: “On either of your parts?”

Brown: “On either of our parts. Not whatsoever. No alcohol or nothing was involved. I think it was just frustration on my behalf, knowing that I had to go out of town and my wife wasn't there all day, and you know, I didn't know where she was, and she didn't know—and couldn't get in touch with her.”

Phillips: “And so, what led to the—“

Brown: “Well, she hit me. She threw something at me. And it just wasn't—“

Phillips: “It escalated?”

Brown: “It escalated. One thing I didn't understand, is that it turned out to look like that I hit her, or—"

Phillips: “You didn't hit her?”

Brown: “No. No.”

Phillips: “You didn't slap her?”

Brown: “No.”

But the police report the report cited visible injuries to her face, a bruise on the cheek and a cut inside her upper lip.

Phillips: “So, the cut on the lip, that's in the police report?”

Brown: “I don't know what they're talking about”

Phillips: “Did not happen.”

Brown: “Did not happen. I got big hands, man. I would hurt her. You know? It would be more than just a little cut on the lip.”

Phillips: “Why do you think she called the police?”

Brown: “My wife has called the police many times. You know, playing around.”

Phillips: “So Bobby, I mean, are you saying that this was made up?”

Brown: “Well, I'm not saying it was made up. It was just like, we play like that. We play slap box. We slap box. That's what we do. And you know, I guess one she just took it a little serious. And she'll tell you the same thing. That it was just a little something in the [lip].”

Houston did accompany Brown when he turned himself in to police four days later to face a single misdemeanor charge of battery, standing by her husband like so many times before.

Phillips: “Are you a good husband?”

Brown: “I am a great husband, I believe. I believe I'm an excellent husband.”

Phillips: “And father?”

Brown: “I enjoy spending as much time as I possibly can with them.”

But in March, his commitment to his children was also called into question.

Phillips: “You know, Bobby, there was a picture of you in court in Boston, that sent a very different message. The headlines were—“

Brown: "’Deadbeat Dad.’"

In family court in Massachusetts, Brown was charged with failing to pay child support for his two children from a previous relationship. Since May 2003, it has been a total of $63,000.

Phillips: “So what happened? How come the checks weren't being sent?”

Brown: “Usually that is automatically sent. You know, I was going through a lot of things during that last year, from court situations to marital problems. I was not paying attention to someone paying the monthly of my children.”

Phillips: “So, you're not in control of that money?”

Brown: “I haven't been. No. You know, I leave all my bills to my wife. Like Bill Cosby said, 'Camille handles all the monies in the house.' Whitney handles all of the bills in the house.”

In fact, his lawyer told the judge that Brown relies completely on his wife for money, that the former multi-millionaire has no income and no assets of his own. So Brown spent the night in jail until friends of his -- not his wife -- loaned him the money to pay the outstanding debt.

As for his claim that his wife failed to pay the child support bills, Brown offered no explanation as to why, and whether it might be part of a larger rift in his marriage.

Phillips: “It strikes me hearing you talk, Bobby, as you have struggled with dependency on alcohol or drugs, there's been a financial dependency on Whitney.”

Brown: “Yeah.”

Phillips: “How important is it going to be for you to get your income back?”

Brown: “Very. Very important. As far as, you know, being able to do something every day that keeps me away from the demons that bite at me.”

Carol Brown: “He's made mistakes. Who in the world hasn't? But nobody truly knows his heart. And that's what hurts me as his mother.”

After all he's been through, Brown says he's now ready for a shot at the most difficult act of all: a comeback. All he wants he says is a fair shake.

Brown: "I work real hard at being perfect each-- trying to be a little bit more perfect.”

Phillips: “How about just a little better?”

Brown: “Little better. That's the better word. Thank you. Thank you for that word. But a little bit better every day.”

Brown acknowledges that getting back to work may mean time away from his wife and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina. But wherever that road leads, he hopes it won't put too much distance between them.

Brown: “If we want to be apart from each other, then we'll be apart from each other. If we want to be together, then we'll be together. And ‘til that day that she does not want to be around me, I'm [going to] love her."

Phillips: “It's going to take hearing that from her to convince you she doesn't want to be around you?”

Brown: “Yes.”

Phillips: “And you haven't heard it yet?”

Brown: “I haven't heard it yet. So, when she says it, there it is.”