Tragic Details About Toni Braxton

The following article includes references to suicide and drug use.

Toni Braxton's signature sultry vocals are hard for anyone to replicate. Since the 1990s, that unique voice has made her one of the top-charting female artists in history. Throughout her lengthy career, Braxton has delivered an amazing soundtrack to help people through the rollercoaster of heartbreak and love. With millions of records sold and a total of seven Grammy wins, Braxton is one of the most successful R&B artists of her era. 

Despite her impressive career achievements, the "Breathe Again" singer has faced plenty of lows in her private life. Some of those devastating moments made headlines as they happened, while others were private struggles that she faced on her own. From financial troubles to health issues, the queen of heartbreak songs has bounced back stronger each time. And as fans have seen on her reality show, "Braxton Family Values," her famous sisters and mother have been by her side every step of the way. 

"I never imagined all the things I've accomplished through the ups and downs," she told Billboard in 2018. "Downs that got so low I never thought I'd still be here." Over 25 years into her career, she's still here and she has an incredible story to tell.

She grew up in a very strict religious household

If you had known Toni Braxton as a child, you probably would've expected her to sing gospel music, not R&B. The songstress grew up in a religious household in which many things were off-limits, including secular music. Braxton's father was a Pentecostal preacher who expected his family to follow strict religious teachings. As she explained on "20/20," "We couldn't celebrate Christmas ... [Music] was not allowed. No secular music. I couldn't go to the movies — all these things were considered a sin. I didn't wear pants until I was fourteen years old. I had to wear hats." Of course, this made her the odd one out among other children around her age.

In her book, "Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir," Braxton revealed that her strict upbringing left her feeling isolated and anxious about the afterlife. "I began connecting religion, God, and church with judgment, anxiety, and guilt," she wrote. As a young child, she saw people speaking in tongues and viewed it as a sign of righteousness. A young Braxton wanted to fit in and go to heaven, so she frequently faked speaking in tongues.

After making it big in music, Braxton chose a new lifestyle — and sense of style. "The way I dress would be considered provocative, but I enjoy being who I am now. I'm very grateful for my childhood because it helped form who I am today," she said.

She filed for bankruptcy twice

When most people think about the life of a musician, they think about the glamour and the money. In the 1990s, Toni Braxton was the epitome of both of those things until she was forced to confront the serious financial troubles she was facing behind the scenes.

In 1998, Braxton shocked fans when she filed for bankruptcy. Despite selling millions of albums, the singer was struggling to enjoy the fruits of her labor. In fact, her contract with LAFace records meant that the majority of the money she made actually went to them, not her. According to the Los Angeles Times, Braxton generated over $188 million for the label but her shady contractual agreement meant that she was only paid about 35 cents per album sold. A dispute over royalties alongside poor spending habits led the singer to rack up over $4 million dollars in debt, the Daily Mail reported. Braxton later settled the lawsuit with her label to the tune of $20 million. However, her financial troubles were far from over. 

In 2006, after getting her music career back on track, the singer embarked on a special residency in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, 18 months in, Braxton was forced to cancel due to health complications. This led to her filing for bankruptcy again in 2010, according to TMZ. In 2013, she was forced to cough up $150,000 to settle her case, per TMZ.

She was wracked with guilt after having an abortion

In her 2014 book titled, "Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir," Toni Braxton bared it all. The singer wrote about the ups and downs of her career and personal life. She also revealed some secrets. In one chapter, the singer bravely revealed the difficult decision she made to have an abortion early in her career. Braxton described finding out about the pregnancy when she was with her then-boyfriend Keri Lewis. At the time, she was on the medication Accutane, which is prescribed to treat acne. However, the medication is also known to cause severe birth defects.

Braxton ultimately made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. "I was suddenly faced with a choice I'd never thought I'd have to make. Amid my major misgivings about abortion, I eventually made the gut-wrenching decision," she wrote. "In my heart, I believed I had taken a life — an action that I thought God might one day punish me for. My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt," she wrote.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Braxton further explained her feelings of shame. She revealed that at the time of that pregnancy, she was dealing with bankruptcy and feared she wouldn't be able to provide for the child. She admitted that she still feels guilty when she looks at her two children. "But in my head I feel like I have three kids," she said.

She felt guilty for her son's autism

Toni Braxton is a proud mom who has enjoyed every step of motherhood. However, things haven't always been easy. In 2006, her son Diezel was diagnosed with autism. Braxton took her concerns to doctors, but they brushed her aside. "They dismissed me. I don't know if it would have made a difference or not for him to be diagnosed earlier, but they had a 'wait and see' attitude," she revealed. "It makes me so angry because a mother knows when something is wrong with her child."

Initially, Braxton felt guilt for her son's diagnosis. "You tend to blame yourself," Toni told People in 2008. The singer constantly asked herself if she'd done something to cause it. Braxton went into more detail in her memoir, recalling a time she felt as if her son's autism was a punishment for having an abortion earlier in life. "I believed God's payback was to give my son autism," she wrote. 

Many activists and fans expressed outrage about her view, which forced Braxton to clarify her thoughts on Twitter. She retweeted a post from a fan who argued that her statement was taken out of context. Braxton also told Entertainment Tonight that although that's how she felt at the time, she did eventually "get past that" — though it took some time.

She was diagnosed with Lupus in 2008

Things were looking up for Toni Braxton in 2010. In November of that year, she received the Women in Achievement award. During her speech, however, the singer emotionally spoke about her life outside of music. Braxton shared with the audience that she'd recently been diagnosed with lupus. "Today I'm going to talk about it because I'm a survivor and I'm here, and I don't want to lose hope," she said, as Billboard reported at the time. "Take a look — this is what lupus looks like." 

Though she bravely stood on stage and discussed her diagnosis, Braxton wasn't always so fearless. In a 2020 interview with Prevention, the singer spoke about feeling terrified when doctors told her she had the autoimmune disease. "I was petrified, depressed, and scared, but I realized I had to change my life," she recalled. "I may have lupus, but I decided I was not going to be a victim. Now, I listen to my body."

At the time of her diagnosis, doctors told Braxton that lupus was affecting her heart and she may need a heart transplant. In the end, the "You Mean The World To Me" singer thankfully ended up not needing an organ donation.

These days, Braxton is an advocate for lupus awareness and manages the disease alongside her career. "They initially said I would never be able to perform, but here I am today performing," she told Business Insider in 2020. The singer has made some adjustments, such as decreasing the number of shows she performs and wearing a heart monitor on stage, but she hasn't hung up her microphone.

Her marriage fell apart

In 2013, Braxton suffered major heartbreak when her 12-year marriage to Mint Condition singer Keri Lewis ended in a painful divorce. In a 2018 interview on Jada Pinkett-Smith's talk show "Red Table Talk," Braxton opened up about the complicated split and revealed the multiple causes behind it.

"I felt shallow because ... we broke up for money issues," Braxton explained, referencing her second bankruptcy. "I found out I had lupus at the time. I couldn't make money because I had lupus ... That was my personal contribution to the marriage failing. Who wants to take care of a person who's sick all the time? He never said that, but I felt it." The singer explained that her worsening health condition led her to feel insecure about the marriage. Despite her husband frequently visiting her in the hospital, she constantly felt like her sickness drove him away. "I always felt like if I didn't get sick and I could have continued to work ... we would probably have [still been] together," she admitted. 

Even after the couple finalized their divorce, Braxton said they made multiple attempts to salvage the relationship. The exes chose to live as boyfriend and girlfriend for almost two years before finally calling it quits. 

She lost her passion for music for a time

When you've been in the music industry for 25 years, you're bound to experience some moments of frustration. In 2013, Toni Braxton felt like her time recording music came to an end. In an interview with theGrio, the R&B singer officially announced her retirement and explained that she only wanted to focus on acting. "For what I do I have to love it. I have to feel that excitement and it's gone," Braxton revealed. "I'm just not going to do any albums anymore; maybe touring occasionally here and there because I love performing, but not as much as I did in the past. But no new projects." 

Fans were devastated by the news, as was Braxton's longtime collaborator and mentor, Babyface. The iconic songwriter visited Braxton at home, as seen on "Braxton Family Values," and grilled her on her decision. Braxton explained to him that she had nothing inspiring to sing about anymore and felt overwhelmed in her personal life. "What attracted me to you in the first place was because you had pain in your voice," Babyface told her. "I think part of what made people love you in the first place was because you let them in through your music," he added. The songwriter urged the singer to continue using her music to connect with her fans.

He wasn't the only iconic singer protesting her retirement. In 2016, shortly after Prince's death, Braxton revealed to NBC that the singer had called her, urging her not to retire. "It's too early and you're gifted to even think this," she quoted him as saying.

She lost her niece in 2019

In 2019, a tragedy struck Toni Braxton and left her shocked and heartbroken. TMZ reported that the singer's niece had died. Lauren Braxton, the daughter of Toni's brother Michael Braxton Jr., died when she was just 24 years old. The report indicated that a friend phoned 911 after finding Lauren unresponsive in the kitchen. When paramedics arrived, they were unable to revive her.

Following the news, Toni took to Instagram. "R.I.P to my amazing niece Lauren 'Lo Lo' Braxton," she captioned a photo of the two. "I'm still in disbelief and so very heartbroken. Love you...always auntie 'Te Te.'" 

TMZ originally reported that Lauren's death was due to complications from a heart condition. However, an autopsy later revealed that her cause of death was a "heroin overdose and fentanyl intoxication," according to People

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Toni felt like she was stuck in 'a bad dream' when Tamar attempted suicide

Tamar Braxton has always marched to her own drum. As the outspoken baby of the family, Tamar has never shied away from speaking her mind and ruffling the feathers of her older siblings. Despite frequently getting on everyone's nerves (what else are sisters for?) she has always been fiercely protected by the Braxton family. In July 2020, the tight-knit sisters were all left shaken by the news of Tamar's attempted suicide. 

As TMZ reported at the time, the singer was staying at a Los Angeles hotel when her then-boyfriend, David Adefeso, found her unconscious. Adefeso called 911 and told authorities that she may have overdosed. She was then briefly hospitalized while she recovered from the terrifying experience. While the ordeal unfolded, Tamar's sisters were filming their reality show "Braxton Family Values," and their raw reaction to the news was captured

The cameras rolled as Toni learned of Tamar's hospitalization. She frantically asked the person on the line for more details before rushing out of the room. "It just seemed like a dream, a bad dream," Toni said in a confessional. After rushing to Tamar's side, Toni shared a photo on Instagram of her sisters with an uplifting message. "Family is everything," she captioned the post. "Especially sisters!"

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741

She lost her sister in 2022

When the "Braxton Family Values," reality show premiered in 2011, viewers were immediately drawn to Toni Braxton's endearing relationship with her four younger sisters. When together, the sisters provided jaw-dropping harmonies and nonstop laughs. Of course, they would also bicker like typical siblings — but the love was always there. 

Sadly, in March 2022, it was revealed that Traci, the oldest Braxton sister, had died at just 50 years old. Though her death was shocking to fans, Traci's husband, Kevin Surratt Sr., told TMZ that the singer was privately dealing with esophageal cancer. At the time of her death, Traci was surrounded by her sisters and friends.

Shortly after the news broke, Toni took to Instagram to share a moving tribute to her big sister. "Needless to say, she was a bright light, a wonderful daughter, an amazing sister, a loving mother, wife, grandmother and a respected performer. We will miss her dearly," she wrote. In an interview with Tamron Hall, Toni explained that she feels like her late sister still communicates with her. "Her favorite bird was a hummingbird. I saw a hummingbird the other day. It kind of flew around me and kind of suspended itself," Toni said. "I felt like she was trying to say hello to me." 

She needed emergency heart surgery in 2023

Since being diagnosed with lupus, Toni Braxton routinely visits doctors to check on her kidneys and heart, as the autoimmune disease is known for causing inflammation and damage to those organs. However, in 2023, the singer skipped out on one of those checkups and almost paid a serious price. 

"I did a specialized test and they looked at my heart and saw some abnormalities," Braxton told People. "I found out that I needed a coronary stent. My left main coronary artery was 80% blocked. The doctors told me I could've had a massive heart attack, I would not have survived." The singer admitted to feeling frequent chest pains long before the screening, but she brushed it off at the time and assumed it was related to grief from her sister's death. Two days after the test, she underwent the emergency procedure and successfully had a stent inserted into her heart.

The singer is grateful for the surgery and believes it taught her an important lesson about prioritizing her health and routinely seeing a doctor. "I know we're all scared sometimes to go to the doctor. Especially for me having lupus, I was scared, I didn't want to know. But I find that knowing is empowering and it gets my doctors on top of my lupus and my kidney health," she explained.