The outpouring of love and grief following Kim Porter’s sudden death last fall surprised even those of us who knew her. On the morning of November 15, 2018, one month before her 48th birthday, she didn’t wake up. She was a stunning, poised, world-class beauty who lived a glamorous public life, yet she never considered herself a celebrity. Weeks after her passing from pneumonia, strangers were still posting heartfelt tributes. It felt as if we were mourning royalty.
Kim started out as a model whose beauty took her from Columbus, Georgia, to New York City in the early nineties. Sean “Diddy” Combs (he’ll always be Puff to me) had a crush on her when she was working part-time at Uptown Records. He was an ambitious record man who dreamed of making great music and building a cultural institution. When they fell in love, those of us who knew Puff understood that she was The One. They would turn out a red carpet with what she called their “Black love.” “When we got dressed up, I couldn’t believe anyone could be that beautiful in real life,” Puff told me in this interview. “She was like a gazelle.”
Like all great women, Kim was complex and known as much for her kindness as for her self-possession. She and best friends Eboni Elektra and Nicole Johnson were instrumental in promoting talent like Janelle Monáe under the banner of their company, Three Brown Girls. Kim’s small, tight-knit circle of friends sustained her, but it was her four children who were the center of her world. Privately, Kim helped Puff grow into a better man and father. When she began dating him, she was a single mother and insisted that she and her son with Al B. Sure, Quincy Brown, came as a package deal. Puff honors that to this day.
Years later he and Kim would welcome their own son, Christian. But Puff also made Kim suffer publicly. Although she grappled with accepting his daughter Chance—born weeks before the couple’s twins, D’Lila and Jessie—the pain he caused her never compromised her dignity. Her last Instagram posts celebrated their unconventional family: the children they shared and Puff’s other children—including oldest son Justin—whom she loved as her own. Now, on the first Mother’s Day without Kim, Puff recalls the moment his world was turned upside down—and given new focus.
dream hampton: ESSENCE has made a historic—and possibly controversial—decision to put a man on the cover in celebration of Mother’s Day. This isn’t so much about you as a single father but as a tribute to Kim Porter. Her sudden passing affected people in such a profound way. Talk to us about that day, please.
Sean “Puff” Combs: It’s a testament to who Kim was, how she touched people, the grace and poise she had, the way she changed a room as soon as she entered. She was unforgettable. That day turned my world upside down. Three days before she passed, she wasn’t feeling well. She had the flu, and she sent the kids over to my house so they wouldn’t get sick. One night I was checking on her, and she was like, “Puffy, take care of my babies.” She actually said that to me before she died.
Of course, I worry about the girls.
That day must have been so hard, just managing the news and making sure you got to your kids before they saw it on social media.
I jumped into mommy mode. I sent people in every direction to try to make sure the kids would not hear about it on social media or the news. I had to get to the girls’ school and find Quincy, who was onset in Atlanta. Christian was on a plane, and I had his phone disconnected so he wouldn’t read it in the air. Every time Kim and I talked, it was about the kids. It was what she cared about the most. We’d check in as friends, of course, but we never had a conversation that didn’t include the kids. It was like some superhero sh-t. I ain’t even gonna lie. On some level I knew she was training me for this. I knew that I had to be ready to do whatever I was supposed to do if something like this ever happened. There was screaming and crying when I heard the news, of course, but I had to ask myself, What would Kim do? I was scared, and I was crying out to God—and to her—and almost immediately Kim’s voice kicked in, and I could hear her saying, “Make sure you take care of my babies.”
What has life been like for you since? How have you changed as a father?
Before this, I was a part-time father, you know? My family was always first, but there are countless times when I chose work over everything else. But every day I can hear her telling me to go and spend some time with the kids and make sure everybody’s all right, like she would do. I’m just a lot more present, and, most important, now my kids come before anything else in my life.
How is the family doing?
Kim was about love, and all of that care she gave to us every day, we just came together. It really made me proud that even though I didn’t get married, Kim and I, along with the other mothers of my children, raised a great family. We have a great family. The way we’re handling it is together. From Sarah [Chapman, Chance’s mom] to Misa [Hylton-Brim, Justin’s mother] to all of Kim’s friends, the grandparents—it takes a village. We’re doing really well because her passing has changed us and made us love each other more. I’m happy to say that, because at first I really didn’t know how we’d be doing. But God is the greatest. And it’s because of Kim we’re doing this well, because of the way she loved us. We wouldn’t be able to love any other way. Her spirit wouldn’t let us.
Of course, I worry about the girls. One day I asked them how are they being so strong. They said that, in a weird way, their mother had taught them how to deal with death. About six years ago, Kim’s mother [Sarah Porter] was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and we moved her to L.A. She passed away about a year and a half later, so the girls saw their mother deal with losing her mother. Now, ironically, they are teaching me how to deal with Kim’s passing.
For more, pick up the May 2019 issue of ESSENCE, available on newsstands and digital platforms on Friday.
Photography by Dana Scruggs
Manicurist—Andrea Viera for Creative Management
Set designer—Cristina Forestieri
Production—HG Producers Inc.
For Chance Combs, D’Lila Combs and Jessie Combs:
Makeup artist—Rocio De La Cruz
For Sean “Diddy” Combs:
Stylists—Marielle Bobo, Avon Dorsey, Jun Choi and Derek Roche
Groomer—Rocio De La Cruz