Taylor Armstrong, one of TV’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, has been busy making the talk-show rounds this week promoting her new autobiography, entitled Hiding From Reality—My Story of Love, Loss and Finding the Courage Within.” In it, she describes in graphic detail the violent domestic abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her late husband, Russell Armstrong.
“I was left here on this earth when, statistically, I shouldn’t have been,” Taylor told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “The fact that Russell didn’t choose to take my life when he took his is a blessing.” (Russell, 47, had been living apart from his estranged 40-year-old wife and young daughter when he was found last August hanging in a friend’s guest room with an orange extension cord around his neck; the L.A. Coroner’s office quickly ruled it was a suicide.) “Now, I really want to find a way for people to stop hurting one another,” Taylor said.
But in a series of interviews with The Daily Beast, several of Russell’s family members and longtime friends say the Russell they knew was not the monster Taylor—and producers at The Real Housewives franchise—made him out to be. NBC/Bravo declined to comment on any aspect of this story.
“My brother was a wonderful guy!” Laurie Armstrong-Kelsoe, of Denton, Texas, said when asked about Taylor’s repeated claims that her husband was physically brutal. Laurie said she and her sons visited Russell and Taylor in California often, enjoying skiing and boating trips together, and never once saw any bruises on Taylor. “If she was really abused then I’m sorry. But there is not one police report, not one 911 call on record. And this is from a woman who brags that she worked for years with an abused women’s shelter! There is nothing that really supports her allegations.”
In her interview with The Daily Beast, conducted during the New York leg of her book-promotion tour, Taylor defended herself against skeptics—including some of her fellow cast members—who have questioned her assertions of physical abuse. In public appearances and on episodes of The Real Housewives, Taylor has repeatedly mentioned her long association with the 1736 Family Crisis Center of Los Angeles. Asked how she could work with battered women for so long yet never pick up the phone and call 911 herself, she tells The Daily Beast, “When you are stuck in this cycle it is so hard to understand! As long as [daughter Kennedy] was happy I wanted to keep it all together for her.”
At the mention of Taylor’s newly released book, Russell’s sister Laurie seethes. “It is not fair and not right,” she says. “Shame on her for using this kind of pathetic grab for money by smearing a dead man’s name. It’s the utmost worst thing she could have done for the sake of the children.”
Laurie Armstrong-Kelsoe says Taylor has never called any member of their family. She says they learned about Russell’s death 24 hours after the fact from a friend of Russell’s, and they learned about Taylor’s plan to write a book from a media report.
To which Taylor responded bluntly: “No one has reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, Taylor is there anything we can do for you and Kennedy? No one from his family has called,” Taylor said. “Besides, I am in contact with Russell’s dad. I talk with him every couple of weeks and we’ve sent letters back and forth.” Taylor says her lawyer has let the mothers of Russell’s two older children know that she is putting together photo scrapbooks for each boy, “And I kept a suit of their dad’s for each of them to have.”
Jim Phillips, a former pro-golfer and businessman in Dallas, was best buddies with Russell Armstrong since their days at a Texas junior college. Phillips says he remains close to this day with Russell’s parents (who live separate from each other), Russell’s first wife, Barbara, and their son, Aiden, and with former girlfriend Milette Fields and their son, Griffin.
“I’m the only person who knows all the bodies, all the personalities surrounding Russell ... I knew Russ 30 years,” Phillips told The Daily Beast. “As he got older he did a much better job of not getting mad. He was volatile in the past and he was always attracted to women of a similar nature.”
As seen in various episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Taylor, who hails from Tulsa, seems prone to outbursts of temper and anxiety, like the time she promised to “go all Oklahoma” on one of her Housewives castmates, or the time she freaked out over a misplaced makeup bag.
Was the Russell/Taylor marriage strained to the breaking point? Yes, says Phillips. Russell felt trapped mostly because of “the way the television show painted Russell to be a man in great financial trouble.”
According to both Phillips and another longtime friend of Russell’s, named Randy Edwards, Russell was planning a fresh start with a move back to Dallas and away from Taylor. Phillips said he had already begun scouting office space for his friend’s anticipated return and new business startup. Phillips says he had put Russell together with a top-level image consultant, and over the course of several meetings they had begun to fashion a plan to slough off the taint that Taylor’s TV career had exposed him to, according to Phillips and Edwards.
Taylor seemed dumbfounded at this revelation. “No,” she said quietly and paused, she had no idea her husband was planning a move away. “We had talked about so many different options for him,” she said but not one that involved him moving back—alone—to Texas.
Laurie confirmed that her brother had texted their father to tell him about his plans to “come home” in the weeks before he died. She also says her brother had given up drinking four months before he died because he realized booze was at the core of his problems with his wife. [Armstrong’s autopsy concluded there were no drugs or alcohol in his system.]
“Yes,” Taylor told The Daily Beast when asked if alcohol was a problem in their relationship. “Booze always exacerbated things.”
One of Taylor’s most graphic stories of abuse is the one she recounted during an appearance with television’s Dr. Phil last September. As the program displayed a shocking close-up photo of Taylor with a black eye, she tearfully told the TV host about a fight she and Russell had after celebrating her 40th birthday at the Four Seasons Hotel with a group of friends. She says her husband confronted her about his suspicions that she’d cheated on him and punched her in the eye. he injury was so bad, Taylor told the audience, that she immediately saw black and nearly lost her eye.
Taylor told Dr. Phil the injury happened after the couple “got home.” However, in her interview with The Daily Beast, Taylor said, “It happened on June 11 … in our hotel room at the Four Seasons.” Asked to explain the discrepancy, Taylor said, “I just meant when we got home to the hotel.”
On June 12, 2011, Taylor tweeted to followers: “@TaylorArmstrong Now we’re pool side at the 4 seasons and i am thinking of never leaving … i had the BEST birthday party ever! thank you Russell and all my crazy pals who joined in on the mayhem.” Asked if that upbeat tweet wasn’t out of character for a woman who had been assaulted just hours earlier, Taylor said that Russell always “sat next to me and told me what to tweet.” Asked why she would stay the next day and party at the pool with a black eye, Taylor said, “No, no. I had orbital floor blowout—never a black eye from the punch.” But if Taylor didn’t have a black eye, then what was the photograph shown on Dr. Phil? “That,” she told The Daily Beast, was a picture taken after her July 5, 2011, reconstructive surgery, which included inserting titanium mesh inside her orbital floor to, literally, keep her eyeball in the socket.
According to Taylor’s account, more than 25 days passed between the injury and Taylor’s July 5 reconstructive surgery. During that time, Taylor made public appearances at events in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and on the set of The Real Housewives. Asked why several contemporaneous photographs taken of her showed no sign of any eye injury, Taylor said it was because Russell’s half-open handed jab had caught his knuckle in her eye socket in such a way as to cause only internal injuries, not external injuries. She said the whole thing was made worse because she’d had Lasik surgery shortly before the punch, and the force of the blow had dislodged and wrinkled the (cornea) flap that had been cut during surgery.
But several people who saw Taylor in the weeks before her reconstructive surgery say her injuries weren’t visible. On June 16, Taylor and Russell were guests at a reception in Dallas attended by Russell’s buddy Phillips and his girlfriend Katrina, as well as Edwards. All three say Taylor looked fine and expressed no complaint about her eye. “My girlfriend was with me, and a bunch of people saw her [Taylor], tons of people, there were no bruises,” Edward said. “I’m not saying Russ (was) a saint. I know he wasn’t perfect … but he was not the person Taylor says. She is a liar.” On June 18, Taylor and Russell attended another birthday celebration for her in Las Vegas and then rushed back to California to attended “The White Party” thrown annually by Housewife Kyle Richards. Video from the program shows a beautifully put-together Taylor whose eye does not appear injured.
The lack of physical evidence resulting from domestic abuse does not mean there was none. And emotional abuse can be just as devastating. In the book Taylor describes how an angry Russell would slam her head against the car window while driving because “it left no bruises.”
The book reveals another major injury Taylor says she received at the hands of her husband. During a trip to Dallas for Super Bowl 2011 festivities, she writes that Russell “knocked her jaw out of the socket.” [On The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills program this incident was cryptically mentioned by Housewife Camille Grammer as the time “he broke your jaw.”]
Taylor recounts that while staying with friends in Dallas for the weekend, the host wife and her 20-something daughter spoke with her about Russell’s abusive behavior at a Mexican Restaurant. She writes that she tearfully admitted to the women that “we’ve got a lot of problems and he gets physical at times.” Russell witnessed the confab and later that evening in their guest room, he cornered her and began hitting her in the bathroom for embarrassing him in front of his friends, she writes. [Taylor declined to reveal the name of this family to verify her account.]
The description of the incident was repeated by Taylor during one of the recent Real Housewives reunion shows, when she described in detail how she stood over the guest-room toilet and painfully popped her jaw back in place. However, in her new book, and in the interview with The Daily Beast, Taylor puts herself in a bed when she massaged the jaw back into place.
It is these types of discrepancies that appear to cast doubt on Taylor’s version of events. And, again, there were many publically available photographs of Taylor taken right after she says the jaw dislocation occurred. A few days later the Armstrongs were seen at a Women of Music Celebration, Taylor seemed to display none of the ill effects that the National Institutes of Health reports occur after jaw dislocations: drooling, facial swelling and bruising, difficulty talking or smiling.
Taylor’s response was immediate when asked by The Daily Beast, “Did you maybe exaggerate the extent of your injuries?”
“No,” she said. “I mean the ‘dislocated ‘ word—I mean, I think I described it as ‘out of place’ and in the editing they thought it was confusing so they used ‘dislocation.’ There was no medical diagnosis for that. But it really hurt! It was more painful than my eye.”
Jim Phillips, still mourning the death of his friend, Russ, concludes by saying that Taylor “is just grasping at straws with this book. If she can’t get someone to marry her, I don’t know what else she can do. Her days in TV are over.”
There is rampant speculation about whether Taylor Armstrong will survive another season on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Besides the veil of sorrow her storyline brought to the series, there is a $1.5 million dollar lawsuit pending against Taylor brought by My Medical Records, a company Russell was once involved with. She is named as a codefendant. That suit has reportedly soured Bravo producers on keeping her. If Taylor were to stay, producers could be called to testify about how much money she makes and other embarrassing questions. In the end, it might be easier for Bravo to simply cut her loose and put the sad saga of the Armstrongs behind it.