11.04.10

The Curse of Reality TV

Julien Hug, a Bachelorette contestant, was found dead in a remote desert area of California this week—the latest in a long string of reality-TV star deaths.

Call it the curse of reality TV.

In September, Joseph Cerniglia, who appeared on an episode of Fox’s Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, was found floating in New York’s Hudson River. Matt Hughes, a meteorologist featured on Discovery Channel’s Storm Chaser, committed suicide by hanging in May. Captain Phil Harris of Deadliest Catch died in February of a stroke, and Ryan Jenkins, who starred on Megan Wants a Millionaire, killed himself after being accused of killing his model wife.

On Wednesday, Julien Hug, a former contestant on the ABC reality show The Bachelorette, was found dead in a remote area of California’s Riverside County. Hug, one of 30 bachelors vying for the heart of bachelorette Jillian Harris, was 35 years old.

“Please say a prayer for the loss of a friend this morning,” Harris tweeted, after news broke. “Life is fragile, don’t forget to love the ones you love.” Hug appeared on just two episodes of the television show last spring,

What happened to the restaurant manager from San Diego is unclear. Hug disappeared  Monday after leaving San Diego for Palm Desert, where he began managing Augusta Modern, an upscale restaurant owned by his restaurateur parents, Bertrand and Denise Hug.

Audrey Doherty, a spokesperson for Hug’s parents, says that their family is too devastated to comment. “They can’t even talk today,” she says. “They are very broken-hearted.”

“We bonded because we were the only ones on that limo who received roses that first night.”

On Wednesday morning, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was asked to assist detectives from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to find Hug. According to the Riverside sheriff’s department, San Diego detectives believed that Hug was in a remote area in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Later that day, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and San Diego police located Hug’s car on a Forest Service access road. A few hours later, a Riverside sheriff’s helicopter located Hug’s body in a remote area that was inaccessible to emergency crews. Because of the rugged terrain and the late hour, coroner investigators didn’t retrieve the body until the following day.

Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Herlinda Valenzuela told The Daily Beast that no foul play is suspected. However, authorities would not comment on whether Hug died as a result of an accident or committed suicide.

“I met Julien on the limo ride from the hotel to the mansion the first night of The Bachelorette,” said Jesse Kovacs, a former friend and contestant with Hug. “We bonded because we were the only ones on that limo who received roses that first night. He was a great conversationalist and very intelligent. We talked about food and wine quite a bit. After the show we stayed in touch about doing a wine event at Mille Fleurs, the restaurant he managed,” she recalled. “It’s such a tragedy to die so young.”

On the Season 5 opener, Hug, who was seen jumping out of a plane and driving an expensive red sports car, described himself as an adventurer. "The sense of freedom that comes from skydiving is a big thrill," he said on the show. When he got booted off by Harris, he still felt bonded with her. "Jillian and Julien together forever," he said. "That sounds great."

A fellow Bachelorette contestant said Hug was known as the cook of the house and for his long-winded jokes that took ages to get to the punch line. “I still laugh thinking about how hard we laughed at how long his jokes were,” said Dave Good. “They were more like stories with punch lines…He was a really easy going guy and always going out of his way to help someone in the house. The guy did not seem like he had a mean bone in his body.”

"The sense of freedom that comes from skydiving is a big thrill," he said.

Producers of the hit reality show issued a statement Thursday, saying: “We are very saddened to hear of Julien’s passing. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

Christine Pelisek is staff reporter for The Daily Beast, covering crime. She previously was a reporter at the LA Weekly, where she covered crime for the last five years. In 2008, she won three Los Angeles Press Club awards, one for her investigative story on the Grim Sleeper.