Friday, August 19, 2011

When Does Reality TV Become Too Real?

I was shocked to see breaking local news that Taylor Armstrong’s husband, Russell Armstrong, had committed suicide on Monday night.
Taylor, a “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” personality, had filed for divorce in July citing her estranged husband with physical and verbal abuse.
Russell’s attorney, Ronald Richards, said the 47-year-old was upset over his wife’s divorce filing, living beyond his financial means, and running out of credit.  “He didn’t want his marriage to end,” Richards said. “They were raising [their daughter] together.  It came as a shock.”
The Los Angeles County Coroner had ruled Russell’s death a suicide by hanging after an autopsy on Wednesday.  He said Russell did not leave a note.
As a huge fan of RHBH, I was stunned that Russell committed suicide but I wasn’t surprised that Taylor, 40, had filed for divorce. 
Throughout Season 1, Russell certainly seemed controlling and demeaning to Taylor.  In one episode when the cast was in Las Vegas, Russell told Taylor they were leaving a party even though she didn’t want to leave; only to repeat the action a few months later, this time leaving Taylor at her co-star Kyle Richard's husband's 40th birthday party.
Other petty issues continued to rear ugly heads during the first season but, compared to Camille Grammar’s split from famous Kelsey, they certainly didn’t seem too prevalent.  Also, as a viewer, I don’t really know how much is editing and how much is reality; however, I can honestly say that I was not astonished when it was reported that the couple had split about a month ago.
What did surprise me were the allegations of physical and verbal abuse.  Taylor – who was very open about growing up in an abusive home – is a big advocate of the 1736 Family Crisis Center, which was located in my own town of Hermosa Beach at one time. 
The center has been responding to the growing needs of victims of domestic violence, runaway and homeless youth, the homeless, and other low-income community members in need of assistance for the last 38 years.
On one episode last season, several RHBH cast members attended a fund-raiser for the 1736 Family Crisis Center where Taylor gave a tearful speech revealing her troubled childhood.  Despite this admission and Taylor’s troubles with Russell, I never thought in a million years that it could have been so bad.
Richards, Russell’s attorney, told ABC News that financial woes could have added to the investment banker and venture capitalists demise.  “He didn’t have any extra assets,” he said.  “He was living month to month to support Taylor’s lifestyle.”
At the time of his death, Russell was $1.5 million in debt.
In an interview with People magazine that took place a few weeks before his death, Russell admitted that “Real Housewives” caused some angst in his actual reality.  “It got really overwhelming,” he told the magazine.  “When you get a TV show involved, and all the pressure – it just takes it to a whole new level…we were pushed to extremes.”
Actually, I get it.  I don’t live in Beverly Hills, but the cost of living in Los Angeles, in general, is pretty high.  Not to mention that the lifestyle my family and I have grown accustomed to certainly comes with a high price tag.
There is a lot of competition and most of the emphasis is put on wearing the “most fashionable” clothes to driving the “right” car to taking the “best” vacations.  Not to mention all the other nuances like private schools, fine dining, and botox.  Even in my non-Beverly Hills life, it is easy to get caught up and try to keep up with the “Jones.”
But I think it is a poor excuse to devastate the life of your family.  Especially when there is a 5-year-old child involved.  Russell made a selfish decision that will negatively affect all of his loved ones.  When times get tough, you just have to get tougher, even if you do lose face.  Who cares?  Look at Theresa and Joe Guidice on the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” as obtuse as they are, they have stood with their chins up and persevered through their tough times.
I believe that Russell took a coward's way out.
While researching this post, I also found reports from RadarOnline that members of Russell’s family are allegedly considering filing a lawsuit against Bravo for contributing to the emotional state that led to his suicide. 
Bravo has not commented on this allegation, which I think is ludicrous.  Taylor and Russell were both adults when they signed on to the reality television show.  If this is true, my opinion is that Russell’s family is just trying to blame someone.  How about Russell? He is the one that took his own life, leaving his wife and child to pick up the pieces. 
Bravo has not yet made a decision on the future of the show’s second season, which was scheduled to air Sept. 5. 
Personally, I think the show should go on, and producers should cut out Taylor and Russell’s personal woes leading up to the tragedy.  Trust me – with Camille, Kyle and Kim – there will be enough drama to keep it real.

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