bob brown is sitting in the driver’s seat of his red polaris SUV, looking out over a horse paddock. he is calm at this other end of the ranch. the distant rumble of live country music gleefully echoing from the barn barely registers over the dry desert breeze. It’s a rare moment of peace for Bob, who for the past two months has done his best to stay busy and fill the silence. But comfort is always only temporary, giving way to waves of sadness that most days seem as inevitable as the tides.
It still feels like just yesterday that he and chris were parked on the edge of this pasture, drinking coors and watching the horses roam. Since last spring, when the pandemic brought Chris home, this was where father and son talked, about the ranch, about music, about everything else, dreaming up plans until the beer ran out and the sun went down. the nearby hills. .
Reading: Chris brown trojan football player
The ranch was at the center of that future. Bob purchased this 53-acre desert wine country in Temecula in December 2019, fulfilling a promise he had made to his wife, Erin, on his first date decades earlier. he planned to convert the california ranch co. into a family sanctuary and cowboy paradise, complete with a saloon, horse arenas, equestrian training fields, a party barn and a wedding venue. But no one in the Brown family, not his older brother Nick, nor his younger sister Kaylin, embraced the ranch like Chris.
He loved cowboy hats and cropped tank tops, line dancing and country music bars. Above all, Chris loved country music. she carried her acoustic guitar as an extra appendage. she dreamed that one day she would take the stage at stagecoach, an indian country music festival she attended every year. she had a stage name, chris ryan.
“if you are going to be a country, then you have to live a country”, Bob told his son. So when Chris was home, for days or weeks at a time, she cleaned the stables, fed the horses and cattle, and worked the land.
Over the past year, friends and family say, Chris has seemed to settle on his path. After starring as an offensive lineman at USC, playing briefly with the Chargers, then diverting to Washington, D.C., to play in the short-lived XFL, Chris was ready to leave football behind. he got a commercial real estate job. he devoted his extra time to music, jotting down lyrics in journals and guessing chords with kaylin.
“I was finally happy where I was,” said Justin Caruso, his close friend and roommate.
The use of the past tense leaves those close to Chris with a lump in their throat. On April 17, eight days shy of his 25th birthday, Chris Brown was found unresponsive in a friend’s pool during a party in Malibu. eight hours later, he died in hospital. an autopsy later revealed that his death was an accidental drowning, caused by acute alcohol intoxication.
bob brown, months after the tragedy, remembers his son as “a father’s dream”.
He stares out at the grass. then his phone rings. He is needed back at the ranch, where a live band plays country music, steaks are grilled, and a horse competition is held, all as part of an event organized to celebrate the life of his son.
A short walk later, Bob walks up the steps of the ranch ring to welcome the cowboys competing in his son’s honor. she grabs the microphone, takes a deep breath and spits out a welcome speech. she apologizes for rambling.
“My son would be honored to be here with all of you,” he says.
is doing everything possible to put on a brave face. But when Bob reaches the exit, he braces both hands against a wall to steady himself, doing his best not to fall apart. tears come out anyway.
and I pray that when I go to sleep at night/I wake up in paradise/and we’ll meet at the bar where we first met once known
— chris ryan
Her friends find the journals a few days after the party. it is a happy discovery. flipping through the pages feels like a window into chris they’ve never seen before.
“chris didn’t really share his feelings with us,” caruso said. “so just seeing that part of him was really special.”
some of the diaries are full of song lyrics, dozens of stanzas of song lyrics. others with random lists and goals and plans. they tell the story of a year of great changes and new ambitions, a turn from football to his greatest passion, music.
guitar came naturally to chris. Ever since Bob and Erin bought her the first one, a $25 Christmas present from Costco when she was 7 or 8, the guitar has rarely left Chris’s side.
after years of lessons, his music teacher told the browns that he had nothing more to teach their son. chris taught himself from there, learning from youtube clips, with a natural ear that allowed him to learn songs after listening to them only a few times.
“No matter where he was or how he was doing, I would always end up with him and his guitar in hand,” says Wyatt Schmidt, a close friend and roommate who also played football at USC. “There was nothing better than seeing the guy with his eyes closed, not even thinking about what he was doing, but just making up a beautiful country blues song. His fingers were just moving.”
His athletic career tells a similar story. he was first a natural ballplayer, once hitting four home runs in a minor league game. but as he continued to grow, soccer became his future. At Loyola High, Chris became one of the most coveted offensive line recruits in the country. Ultimately, he opted to stay close to home, choosing USC over Oregon and Texas A&M, among others.
The first two years were tough. She redshirted as a freshman in 2014 and then played sparingly in 2015. She “felt like a caged animal,” says Bob. But patience and hard work paid off, and by 2017, he had become the best lineman in USC. In May 2019, Chris signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers.
It was clear, even to his coaches, that Chris had other aspirations. she often played her guitar in her dressing room.
“football wasn’t the last thing for him,” says clay helton, coach at usc. “Just one of those kids who was good at everything he tried. he was as good as a guitarist as he was a football player.”
Still, chris tried to stick with soccer. when the Chargers coaches once asked him what was important to him, he told them that he was getting through football by thinking about music. he was fired shortly after and bounced on and off the practice squad before landing with the d.c. defenders of the xfl. he played five games and earned a starting spot before the covid-19 pandemic shut down the league.
“I know he kept playing football thanks to me,” his father now says.
But the premature end of the season brought father and son closer together. Bob called the following year “a blessing in disguise.” For Chris, he brought relief and purpose, even if it was hard to give up football checks. he focused on writing music, playing his guitar late into the night. he shared each of the new songs with kaylin.
He got into real estate and landed a job as an associate agent at Lyon Stahl Investment Real Estate, a commercial brokerage in the latter. she didn’t come naturally this time. she had to cold call clients, sometimes hundreds in a day. but he was determined. he wrote career goals in his diary. he stayed late at the office. The last text he sent to Bob, just days before the April 17 party in Malibu, was a thumbs-up selfie from an empty office.
“job tracks,” chris wrote.
“It only takes one,” replied Bob.
It seemed only a matter of time before Chris found his way into real estate. that, or write a hit country song. Her close friends considered her future success to be a foregone conclusion.
made losing him even more devastating. But as his friends sit around a table at the ranch, swapping stories and laughing at his quirks, there’s no questioning the legacy he’s left among this close-knit group.
“everybody closest in my life right now, it all came from chris,” schmidt said. “He brought everyone together. I think that’s what will stay with me the most.”
The phone rang sometime after 9:30 p.m. m. on April 17. Bob was already in bed. “Chris had an accident,” a voice on the other end of the line told him.
bob says he doesn’t remember any details of the two-hour drive to malibu that followed. but he can’t forget the scene upon his arrival at the oaks in a thousand oaks hospital, where chris’s friends were scattered crying. then he sensed that it was more than an accident.
chris was on life support, hooked up to a ventilator. his oxygen levels were low. her body temperature, upon arrival, was around 85 degrees. early in the morning, the rest of the family had arrived.
there were so many questions, but very few answers. The report from the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office only filled in a rough outline of the details. The investigator noted that Chris had been drinking all day and had a blood alcohol level of 0.422. she was in the pool with 15 to 20 people when, for unexplained reasons, the others entered. When they came back, 30 seconds to two minutes later, Chris was underwater, she was unresponsive.
His death was ruled an accident, but there was no comfort in that word. During Chris’s memorial service on May 27, Bob saw four chairs where the family was sitting, so he reflexively grabbed a fifth. every part of him felt like chris was still there.
“The thing about grief is that it hurts,” Bob says. “Everyone does it alone, but you also do it as a family.”
every member of the brown family has treated him differently ever since. Those first few weeks, Bob felt like he couldn’t breathe and tie his shoes at the same time. but he kept accumulating days. he leans on his faith. he talks about accepting and letting go of the pain, even as he feels it constantly detonating below the surface.
“He’s just going, going, going, going, trying to be as busy as possible,” Kaylin says, “so he doesn’t have to think about it.”
chris’s younger sister has had a hard time being so public with her grief. blown up photos of chris around the ranch are hard for her to process. he was her best friend, her mentor, her confidante, her protector.
It wasn’t until the night before that he decided to speak at his memorial. Standing on the dais at the Los Angeles Coliseum, she told the story of her last trip to Chris’s favorite country western bar, how a group of older women accused them of being scammers trying to steal her credit card information, and how chris set out to defuse the situation as she left the bar.
It was an apt scene to describe their relationship, the two like-minded brothers always causing trouble, only to be laughed at later. Now those are the moments he misses the most.
my friends are gonethis bottle of whiskey on my nightstand never lasts long,drink alone,truck and A guitar is the only thing I call mineIt’s more than I need, not exactly what I want, but what can I do?All I’m missing is you
— chris ryan
two months passed when friends and family flooded the ranch to celebrate the life of chris. the duel remains an open wound. but bob prefers to air it. the ranch vibrates with country music and real cowboys.
memories and daisies flow. chris, spinning invisible turntables like an imaginary dj. chris, line dancing with a pretty girl on the stagecoach. chris, gobbling up breakfast burritos and laughing at the weirdest clips on youtube. he lives in stories, and there are plenty of those for everyone.
for kaylin, it’s too overwhelming to be at the ranch without chris. will be leaving on a flight to oahu a few days later, his return date is open.
but for bob, the land is a lifeline. he feels chris here. she talks to him every morning. she sees number 77 of hers everywhere. “We couldn’t be in a better place in the world than this to heal,” she says.
He points in the distance to Palomar Mountain, where another USC lineman, Max Tuerk, died unexpectedly on a hike last Father’s Day weekend. Max and Chris had been friends, and occasionally last summer and fall, Bob would find his son thinking about Max.
“I told him to look up the mountain and you’d feel it,” Bob says. “He’s always here.”
She lingers on that thought for a moment, thinking of Chris as the desert breeze blows, carrying the sound of a country-blues riff across the ranch.