The suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Taylor Armstrong was the latest--and most shocking--tragedy to strike the seemingly cursed cast of the Bravo TV franchise.
At least 10 failed marriages, two bankruptcies, a foreclosure, and two deaths have plagued the glamorous women of the show since the series began in 2006. Yesterday, it was reported Taylor Armstrong, whose marriage to Russell collapsed during the filming of season two of the show, was one of the people to discover her husband's body at his Los Angeles home. Armstrong, 47, reportedly hanged himself.
At the time of his death, Armstrong was more than $1.5 million in debt as a result of trying to keep up with expectations for the lavish lifestyle portrayed on the show, his lawyer told ABCNews.com.
"These couples join these shows, and then they keep trying to outdo each other and they end up spending all their money trying to sustain a lifestyle that's unrealistic and wasn't there prior to the show," said Ronald Richards, Armstrong's attorney. "The weekly social events, the dinners and all the BS, trying to pretend you have unlimited resources in Beverly Hills is tough. When every night is a potential sound bite or posting on a website, you end up getting addicted to it, you go out all the time."
Justin Ravitz, senior editor at US Weekly, said that trouble seems to follow the casts of the show, who are under more pressure than most reality stars because of the pressure to be over-the-top.
"When you become a reality star, it puts everything under a microscope. If you have unhealthy relationships with your husband or your kid, where maybe you use money to try and make things better, all that's going to be magnified," Ravitz said.
Some of the calamities--including relationship meltdowns and financial disasters--can be fun for viewers, Ravitz said, noting that there's a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing the rich brought down to a more human level.
The $11 million bankruptcy filing of New Jersey housewife Teresa Guidice, for instance, made headlines around the country as the shopping-obsessed star and her husband headed to court to try and keep their lavish mansion in one of the most exclusive towns in New Jersey. Now, the two are being prosecuted for bankruptcy fraud in New Jersey courts.
"With Teresa, there's definitely a comeuppance issue," Ravitz said. "They lived so lavishly in New Jersey that there's some schadenfreude in [the bankruptcy]."
Contessa LuAnn de Lesseps, of the "Real Housewives of New York City," was rich, married to a French nobleman, and somewhat condescending, so when her husband left her for a younger woman, de Lesseps suddenly seemed more sympathetic to viewers, Ravitz said. When she came back the next season with a younger man and a new career as a singer, viewers cheered her on.
"It's like we raise them, knock them down, and then raise them back up again," Ravitz said.
Before Armstrong's suicide, another death plagued the cast of the show. In 2009, cast member Kandi Burress lost her fiancé, A.J. Jewel, when he was struck in the head and killed by people fighting outside of an Atlanta nightclub. Audiences who had cheered the couple on during their engagement were sympathetic, Ravitz said, as the show followed her dealing with the tragedy.
In Beverly Hills, however, Russell Armstrong was portrayed as controlling and unlikable on the show, and his wife had accused him of physical and verbal abuse in divorce papers she filed.
"He wasn't a really wonderful guy," said Howard Bragman, a Hollywood publicist who represents two "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast members. "And what the reality situation does is shine a lot of light on that and, if you have skeletons in your closet, they're going to come out and that's exactly what happened to him," Bragman said.
Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist who helps screen and counsel people that appear on the "Jeremy Kyle Show," said the pressures that Armstrong had were clear risk-factors for suicide.
"He recently got a divorce, he had financial pressure, and then he did have the stress of the show and certainly added stressors play a part," she said.
As reality TV fans reel from the news of Armstrong's death, Bravo said it will decide within 24 hours whether to air the upcoming season of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Ravitz said fans of the show will have to face the reality that the characters portrayed on the show are real, complex people.
"[Armstrong] wasn't portrayed as a sympathetic character, he was portrayed as a villain, but when real-life characters are portrayed as good or evil, you have to realize it's a real person under there," Ravitz said.
Taylor emphasized that though Armstrong had the risk factors for suicide, those stressors--and reality TV--cannot be blamed for his suicide.
"Most people who commit suicide have an underlying mood disorder. I think we can't lose sight of that fact. I think we can't knock of all reality shows because an individual unfortunately chose to end his life," she said."