Brown died on Christmas Day 2006 from a heart attack and fluid in his lungs, but there was never an autopsy on the singer’s body. The doctor who treated Brown before his death told CNN he “doubted Brown had died of natural causes. He suspected that Brown died of an overdose, accidental or otherwise.” At least 13 people connected with the singer feel his death should be investigated or an autopsy should be performed; that list included Brown’s daughter LaRhonda Pettit, who has since died.
This is the stuff of a TV series in the not-too-distant future: CNN sifts through an extensive web of lies and conspiracy theories, stories of shadowy figures and estate battles, all connected in some way to one of the most famous soul singers of all time. Many of those who knew Brown best have died, or died while CNN was investigating, making the investigative work that much more challenging.
The epic saga began when a reporter was contacted by Jacquelyn Hollander, a 61-year-old circus performer who was, at various times in her life, a songwriter and a member of Brown’s inner circle. She has collected tons of paperwork and documents about the singer’s life. Her stories seemed fanciful at first, but CNN discovered that many people, including a District Attorney in Gwinnett County, Georgia, thought Hollander was a reliable witness in general. She served as the CNN writer’s entry into the seamy underbelly of Brown’s world.
The first installment of CNN’s three-part investigation details Brown’s legacy of alleged assaults or threats — involving a backup singer, an employee and Adrienne Brown — before offering graphic details about the time in 1988 when Hollander claimed Brown raped her in the back of his van. By then, she was a member of his inner circle, sang onstage with him and helped him raise money for charity causes; they had met when he agreed to record a song celebrating the Atlanta Falcons in 1985.
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Part two covers the death of Adrienne in 1996: Though it was ruled an overdose, CNN finds evidence that Adrienne feared for her life in the months leading up to her death, and a police informant alleges that the singer’s wife was murdered by a doctor — his name is kept out of the story “because he has not been named as a suspect in Adrienne Brown’s death” — who then made her death look like an accident. In addition, Brown’s fourth wife, Tomirae, tells CNN that the singer himself believed his third wife had been killed. When confronted, the doctor claimed he has Alzheimer’s Disease and denies any involvement in Adrienne’s death. “I know I had nothing to do with anything you’re talking about,” the doctor says.
The final part of the story is devoted to a list of 15 different questions — for example, why was no autopsy performed on Brown’s body? — that each form the basis for further investigation. Darren Lumar, Brown’s son-in-law, was among those who believed the singer was murdered, but he was shot to death. There are rumors of a second will that has never come to light, a theory that Brown was poisoned, and a story about a mysterious vial of blood taken from the singer’s body the night of his death that can reveal what killed him.
CNN’s research included travel to “nine states,” reading “tens of thousands of pages of police and court records” and interviews with approximately 140 people. CNN asked so many questions, in fact, that Russell Bauknight, the accountant running Brown’s estate, placed the outlet’s reporter on “trespass notice.”