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Toni Braxton: A Star is Broke

Toni Braxton is a pop-music sensation. She has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide over the last five years. They have grossed an estimated $170 million. A month ago, the 31-year-old filed for bankruptcy. What happened? An exclusive report.

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Through a gated entrance in Century City, Calif., within a cluster of mansard-topped apartment buildings designed to look like mini-chateaus, lies an elegantly decorated $750,000 two-bedroom condo. It’s the home of Toni Braxton, but it may not be for long.

The five-time Grammy winner — whose hit singles “Breathe Again” and “You’re Makin’ Me High,” among others, have ignited sales of more than 15 million albums worldwide — filed for Chapter 7 protection in Los Angeles bankruptcy court on Jan. 23. Which means, within 60 days of this date there will be a liquidation of all Braxton owns to pay her debts. “I don’t know where I’m going to live; I’m going to be homeless,” she says matter-of-factly, sitting on a plush beige sofa in the beige-carpeted condo. It’s the evening of January 26, only four days after the bankruptcy filing, and the night of the record industry’s American Music Awards. Braxton’s up for two prizes, but she’s barely interested in the broadcast. “It wasn’t really on my mind that I was nominated,” she says. Instead, she’s answering questions about her unexpected financial crisis. Dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, she tucks her white-socked feet up under her lotus style, making her 5’2″ body appear even smaller than it is. But vulnerable she’s not. As she ticks off her debts, her voice — so nakedly emotional on her 1996 smash “Unbreak My Heart” — stays flat and controlled.

In late December, Braxton was informed that what she thought was a $600,000 line of credit from the Republic Bank was already used to cover overdrafts. In January she learned that a concert tour in Europe last fall had gone into the red; that she owes her business manager over $400,000; and that she’s in debt several hundred thou to managers and lawyers no longer in her employ. The total: $2.8 million.

Braxton, 31, is clearly embarrassed. “It all suggests failure for me, personally,” she says. But she’s also angry. The bankruptcy comes amidst an ongoing dispute between Braxton and her label, LaFace Records — the Atlanta-based company co-owned by Arista Records and hitmakers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid. The producer-entrepreneurs made Braxton a star, but now she’s accusing the label of unduly enriching itself at her expense. According to Braxton’s management, her two albums — the eponymous 1993 debut and 1996’s Secrets — have grossed an estimated $170 million. Of that sum, Braxton has seen just $5 million — or less than 3 percent. “It’s between 33 and 35 cents an album,” she claims. “That’s what I got.” Braxton’s reps figure that she’s been living on less than $400,000 a year after taxes, commission fees, and personal-assistant salaries.

She knows that’s not privation. Indeed, a tour of her pad reveals a young pop star’s trove: a collection of turn-of-the-century silver tea services. A baby grand piano. Bamboo-handled Gucci silverware. There’s a Porsche in the garage (a gift from Reid after her first album surpassed 2 million in sales). And on a living-room shelf, an egg-shaped Fabergé vodka-and-caviar service. Still, these are not the collectibles of, say, a Barbra Streisand. Braxton insists her current woes stem less from self-indulgence than career expenditures. The implication that she is spendthrift is upsetting to her.

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