Obituary

08.16.11

The Shocking ‘Housewives’ Suicide

Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of Taylor Armstrong of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” was found dead last night, an apparent suicide. The couple’s relationship fell apart on camera.

Russell Armstrong, the 47-year-old husband of Taylor Armstrong of Bravo’s hit show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, was found dead Monday night, an apparent suicide. The news was first reported by TMZ. The couple had been married for six years and had one daughter, Kennedy, age 5. Russell also had two sons from a previous marriage.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office told The Daily Beast Tuesday afternoon that Armstrong’s death does appear to be a suicide. But an autopsy will be done within two days.

Armstrong had been staying with a friend in West Los Angeles on Mulholland Drive. According to a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department speaking with The Daily Beast, the friend discovered Armstrong hanged in his bedroom. Paramedics found him dead at the scene, a police spokesman said.

Taylor Armstrong, 40, had filed for divorce in July, citing irreconcilable differences. But in an interview with People magazine around the same time, she said that her husband had physically abused her. Russell Armstrong told People: “Did I push her? Yes, maybe things happened in the heat of the moment, but it was during a time in our lives that was not characteristic of who we were. This show has literally pushed us to the limit.”

The divorce petition filed by Taylor Armstrong on July 15 in downtown Los Angeles Superior Court makes no mention of abuse or domestic violence.

On the show’s first season, Russell had been seen as a grumpy-at-best partner, with Taylor often lamenting the sadness in their marriage to other cast members. “My marriage is the worst it’s ever been,” she said to the cameras. “I just feel that something has to change.”

In January, Russell Armstrong talked to The Daily Beast for a story about the husbands of Real Housewives, “I didn’t really understand what we were getting into.” He said that times when he was shown leaving parties, disappointing his wife, were in fact late at night.

He agreed that his decision to stay in the background of the show “backfired.”

“I’m going to be more engaging next season,” Armstrong said. In person, he appeared more at ease than he had on camera and seemed eager to show reporters speaking with him at a party that he was kinder than audiences had seen him being.

During the same interview with The Daily Beast, he cited financial pressures and working all the time as things that added to his stress. Armstrong had filed for bankruptcy in 2005, and recent reports indicated that he was again in financial trouble.

In a reunion special for the show, broadcast in early February, Armstrong responded to questions about what it was like watching his marital troubles on television. “It was difficult,” he said. “The last three years have been very challenging for the entire country. I, candidly, have been working 80-hour weeks. It’s very easy to get preoccupied with kids and business and the day-to-day grind.”

Video screenshot

Taylor Armstrong opens up about being physically abused by late husband Russell.

The show’s first season ended with Russell and Taylor Armstrong trying to reconcile. “We definitely agreed that we wanted to keep our family together,” she said during the reunion, which had been filmed in early January.

On the Beverly Hills reunion, Taylor’s cast mate Lisa Vanderpump said of Russell, “I have been quite honest that I don’t connect to him on any level at all. He seems quite cut off. And I think that must be very difficult to be married to.”

On Tuesday, Russell Armstrong’s attorney Ronald Richards said the marriage suffered damage at the hands of the TV production. Richards represented him in the divorce and in a $1.5-million lawsuit filed against the couple last month alleging they had bilked people in an Internet medical scam.

“People start making financial decisions based upon what’s best for the TV show instead of what’s best for them,” Richards told The Daily Beast. “So it creates a horrible cycle of bad decisions that start to pile upon one another. At this point, they were set on getting divorced.”

Richards recalled Russell Armstrong as “a very nice guy who was very compassionate about the support of Taylor’s career. He was instrumental in getting her a lot of the brand licensing deals that she’s currently dealing with.”

Richards talked to Russell Armstrong regularly and said that when he spoke to him two days ago he seemed depressed about his divorce and the pending lawsuit, but not at a level that worried Richards.

“He had the normal depression that you would expect based on being in a lawsuit and a divorce but nothing beyond the ordinary,” Richards said. “I was not concerned. This is very tough on all levels. He had a very good relationship with all of his kids.”

After the news of Armstrong’s death broke on Tuesday, Andy Cohen, Bravo’s executive vice president of original programming and development, who also hosts the channel’s talk show Watch What Happens: Live, tweeted, “I am so very sad about today’s news. My prayers and thoughts are with Taylor Armstrong and her family.” The network issued a similar statement.

Through her manager, Robert Thorne, Taylor Armstrong issued this statement: “Taylor Armstrong is devastated by the tragic events that have unfolded. She requests privacy at this time so that she may comfort her young daughter. Her thoughts and prayers are also with Russell’s 11- and 13-year-old sons.”

Bravo launched the successful Real Housewives franchise in 2006 with The Real Housewives of Orange County. In subsequent years, the show expanded to New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Beverly Hills. Before cameras, women in the casts have experienced divorce, problems with their children, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.

Off camera there have been two deaths as well: the fiancé of Gretchen Rossi and the ex-husband of Tammy Knickerbocker, both of Orange County, died of natural causes.

Thom Beers, executive producer of several testosterone-fueled documentary-style programs that follow men whose livelihoods force them to confront death on a regular basis, has dealt with the passing of three cast members over the course of his career. The death that garnered the most attention was the sudden passing of Capt. Phil Harris on Discovery’s Deadliest Catch in 2010, who appeared to be recovering from a stroke he suffered while filming. Harris asked for production to continue, which allowed the cameras to capture his unexpected death and earned the series an Emmy nomination.

“What happened on Housewives is a tragedy,” Beers said Tuesday. “The challenge is that when it happens, the shows are already in the can. It casts a pall over the whole production because the shows start airing, and there’s nothing you can do. This thing has happened that you’re not addressing because the show was in the can already, and it just becomes very weird. It really affects the spirit of the entire production.”

Season 2 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was scheduled to premiere on Sept. 5. In a trailer for the upcoming episodes, Taylor Armstrong appears several times, at one point tearfully saying to cast mate Adrienne Maloof, “I feel like I’m breaking.” Maloof responds: “You are. You’re having a nervous breakdown.”

The Daily Beast emailed Bravo for a response to Russell Armstrong’s attorney’s accusation that being on the show created undue financial pressure on the couple, and to ask whether the season premiere will air as planned, how much the dissolution of the Armstrong marriage would be featured during the season, and whether the show would be changed or reedited at all because of the news. A network spokesperson said no decisions have been made as of yet.

Nicole LaPorte and Isabel Wilkinson contributed to this report.