Reality bites as Houston and Brown split

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The Independent US

Few celebrity marriages have been as tumultuous as the union between the American singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. And now, after 14 years together, the two singers are formally separating.

Houston filed papers for a legal separation at the end of last week, citing irreconcilable differences. Her publicist offered no comment yesterday. A lawyer representing Brown, meanwhile, emphasised it was not a divorce or divorce petition - yet.

According to the court papers, Houston asked for custody of the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, saying she would be willing to grant visiting rights to Brown. The division of property was something she was willing to talk about later.

Houston's career has been on a long downhill slide ever since she hooked up with Brown. When they married, in 1992, she was considered the epitome of soul music elegance, while he was an R&B bad boy with a hell-raising reputation as a drinker and party animal who frequently ran foul of the law.

Their marital problems - everything from Brown flirting with other women to rumours of spousal abuse after Houston was seen with a nasty cut on her cheek - became staple stories for the tabloid press. And the gossip went into overdrive after the couple narrowly escaped arrest in Hawaii for possession of marijuana.

Bobby's well-publicised struggles with cocaine and alcohol - he spent at least two stints in a clinic - were compounded by growing reports that Houston was struggling with drug problems. On a morning television show in 2002, an interviewer, Diane Sawyer, asked her if she was taking crack cocaine. Houston responded: "Crack is wack." She said she was too rich to be interested in such a cheap street drug.

Houston's dwindling recording career and increasingly haggard appearance did nothing to quell the rumours. She went into a drugs clinic in 2004 and again in 2005. The second time, she said she was turning to prayer to overcome her problems.

The couple made an unorthodox effort to revive public sympathy and breathe new life into their performing careers when they agreed to open up their lives to a reality television show - "Being Bobby Brown" - much as the rock singer Ozzy Osbourne and his family had, to critical and public acclaim, a few years earlier. The show was shortlived and did little to dispel impressions of a deeply dysfunctional union.

Earlier this year, theNational Enquirer splashed photos on its cover of what it said were pictures of Houston's bathroom littered with drug paraphernalia. The pictures, it said, were provided by Bobby's sister Tina Brown. In recent days, Houston has made attempts to clean up her image. On Tuesday night, she attended a public event with her cousin, the singer Dionne Warwick, and her mentor, the businessman Clive Davis, in Beverly Hills. And she is working on an album of new material. She hasn't released a record since 2002.

Houston was one of the brightest musical stars of the 1980s, racking up hit after hit including "Saving All My Love For You" and "I Want To Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)". Perhaps the apogee of her career was her starring role, opposite Kevin Costner, in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, which was lambasted by many critics but went on to be a major commercial success.

The couple have separated before but this is the first time it has reached the stage of formal court petitions.