Being on reality TV is like living life with a magnifying glass in front of your face. You're still you, but everything around you is bigger.
In real life, some people like you, and some people don't. If life gets tough, you often have the option for change: meet new friends, move to a new town, get a new job, whatever. But when you're on reality television, everything is bigger. Millions of people think they know you. Lots will like you, but others will hate you, and will have no problem blasting your problems all over the media, often with a negative spin. And as much as you may try, you can't escape.
This brings us to the story of Russell Armstrong, husband of Taylor Armstrong, and cast member of the hit Bravo show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Russell committed suicide on Monday, August 15, 2011. At the time of his suicide, Russell was facing emotional and monetary trouble, which likely would have occurred even if he didn't appear on RHOBH. But because he was a reality star, his troubles became public and the media attacked him.
Not too long ago, Taylor Armstrong went to the media with the fact that she was divorcing Russell due to physical abuse, and the media seemed to believe her 100%. I'm not saying that Taylor is lying about Russell, not at all. But in the case of the spousal abuse, it's her word against his, and her word was the one that people wanted to hear.
On top of his relationship issues, Russell, a venture capitalist, was facing financial troubles. At the time of his passing, he had no assets and had incurred millions of dollars in debt. Because his issues were so public, Russell probably felt like he had nowhere to go to get away from this, which led to his self-inflicted death.
Before his death, Russell blamed his troubles on his appearance on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Russell, regarding his relationship with Taylor, said to People magazine that the show "pushed us to the limit." Also, his friend Tom Vickers spoke out after his death, stating:
"He was down in the dumps over the latest allegations that he had abused Taylor. I told him people don’t believe everything they read and he told me, 'It’s funny how a reality show can ruin your entire life.'"
Russell's ex-wife Barbara Frederickson disagrees with the fact that reality television ruined Russell's life, stating that Taylor is to blame for his demise. She states that Taylor made him break down by causing him severe money-related stress. (Which, for the record, could have been perpetuated by her need to look super rich on her reality TV show.)
It has been stated that the Housewives show should be cancelled because of this, but I don't think that should be the case. People have a choice as to whether or not they appear on reality television. We can't live in fear of filming unscripted television just because one of many people went to an extreme place. That's like saying that mad cow disease was so bad that we should never eat beef again...it just doesn't make sense, and it's not what society wants. Do I think reality television perpetuated Russell's grief, which ultimately led to his suicide? Absolutely. But should this incident make us live in fear of reality shows? Of course not...that would be ridiculous. That being said, Bravo hasn't decided yet what to do with season two of RHOBH (either delay or re-edit), because Russell and Taylor's marriage problems are featured in the episodes.
Update: Word has it that Russell's family is considering suing Bravo. Seriously? While the loss is awful, Bravo is in no way responsible for Russell's death since he participated in the show voluntarily. I think that's going to be a ridiculous lawsuit. Also, Danielle Staub, ever opportunistic, spoke about her own suicidal thoughts in response to Russell's suicide. Read my thoughts on her response here.
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