I was saddened, but not surprised, when I heard back in January that Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late Whitney Houston and rapper Bobby Brown, was in a coma. Krissy, as she was known to her friends, had been found unconscious in a bathtub, much like how her mother was found back in February 2012; her mother died that way, at age 48, a death the coroner said had in large part been caused by prolonged drug and alcohol abuse. Bobbi Kristina remained in a coma till yesterday, when she finally died in hospice care, at age 22.
By all accounts, Krissy had been raised in a totally dysfunctional home, surrounded by people who may have been rich and famous but had no idea how to be parents, and who allowed their own personal demons to dominate their lives. On a number of occasions, when I read reports of Bobbi Kristina using drugs or spending time with people that most parents would never want their kids to hang with, I wondered why none of her relatives had ever taken custody of her as a child and raised her somewhere far from the party scene, where she could be a normal kid and not have to worry about her parents' substance abuse. But whether Whitney Houston was Mother of the Year or not, I know how much Krissy loved her; and when Whitney died, Krissy never entirely recovered from it.
I am not going to get into finger-pointing, the way the tabloids do ("It was Bobby Brown's fault!" versus "It was Whitney Houston's fault" seems a useless discussion to have); nor am I going to blame the excesses of the mythic "celebrity lifestyle," since the truth is that not every celebrity is addicted and many celebrities make sure they give their kids a good upbringing. But the life and death of Bobbi Kristina is certainly a cautionary tale: she seemed to have it all-- popularity, material possessions, and millions of dollars to spend... and yet she was miserably unhappy. It's an old cliché but there's some truth to it: money can't buy happiness. According to some figures I've seen, Whitney Houston's estate was in the vicinity of $21 million. And Bobbi Kristina will never benefit from it.
I think the popular culture perpetuates a dangerous myth by giving the impression that being wealthy is the answer to everything. Yes, of course, I'd love to have $21 million-- I can think of all sorts of philanthropic ventures I could get involved in, plus I could buy the radio station I've always wanted. But would being rich provide the solution to every problem? I doubt it. Plus when you are that wealthy, you never know if your friends are there because they like you for yourself, or because they figure you'll be able to do them favors. (I remember discussing this with a business executive friend of mine-- he had a lot of money, but when he lost much of it during the financial crisis in 2007-2008, he found out who his friends really were... and a lot of the folks he thought would be there for him suddenly weren't there at all.)
Call me foolish, but I would rather have peace of mind and a good reputation, instead of having a ton of bucks. I've seen so often how money comes and goes, and so does popularity. Even when life isn't perfect, there's something to be said for feeling comfortable with who you are, and not having to worry about buying anyone's loyalty. Shakespeare remarked on that many centuries ago, in the play Othello:
"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
When I mentioned on Facebook last night that I felt sorry about Bobbi Kristina, someone remarked that there are people who have things much worse, so why focus on her? I agree that we often focus too much on celebrities, and it's true that every day, there are people dying who are not famous and who did not have her opportunities, people who won't be mourned on social media. And yet... I still feel sorry about what she might have been, and what she might have accomplished. Krissy's life was too short, and even with all that money and fame, she never found any peace of mind. I wish it had been different for her. And I wish those who claimed to care about her had tried harder to protect her. Perhaps she would still be alive if they had.