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Jim Moret Headshot

Are Reality Shows Turning Deadly?

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Did the strain of appearing on a Bravo reality show destroy the marriage of one of its stars and lead to her husband taking his own life? The apparent suicide of Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of Taylor, one of the stars of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills undoubtedly came as a shock to the show's millions of fans. Should it really come as a surprise to learn that Russell Armstrong was despondent? From the launch of the series, Russell was portrayed as emotionally detached, unaffectionate toward his beautiful, albeit augmented, wife. He was clearly shown to be the bad guy in their struggling marriage and she came off more like the golden-haired damsel in distress. But it seems that it was Russell who was truly distressed, due in part to his impending divorce and his reportedly-serious financial troubles. Perhaps he was also depressed by his public persona which was unforgiving, negative and largely out of his control.

The trap viewers inevitably fall into, is believing what they are seeing. Fans, no doubt, had strong emotions toward Russell and his perceived treatment of his wife. He was the dour spouse, pulling her from dinner parties despite her objections, spoiling her evenings and straining her friendships. Russell's image took an even more sinister turn when in a recent interview for People Taylor claimed she suffered physical abuse during her marriage. Russell was not as "over-the-top" as the franchise's other "villains," including New Jersey's Danielle Staub, or D.C.'s alleged White House party-crasher Michaele Salahi. But those women were headliners on their respective shows. Russell was seen more as a dark figure lurking in the background. Those perceptions were skewed, if not manufactured, largely by the editing of the reality show, which did not necessarily mirror reality at all. Earlier this year, Russell was interviewed by The Daily Beast for an article on the husbands of the Real Housewives. He said, "I really didn't know what we were getting into." That, it seems, was an understatement.

Russell's attorney, Ronald Richards, was reported as saying the Armstrongs' marriage suffered damage at the hands of the TV production. It is clearly a stretch to claim the show killed him, or single-handedly led to his presumed suicide. Still, don't discount the impact that his negative portrayal, week after week, may have had on his ability to claim any normalcy or solace in the wake of his publicized split from his wife and his mounting money problems. The show, which brought fame to and perhaps even sympathy for his wife, may have given him only infamy and despair. I don't blame the Housewives franchise nor do I claim that reality shows are inherently dangerous. Still, I cannot imagine the Armstrongs' five-year-old daughter Kennedy, nor Russell's two older sons, will ever watch re-runs of the series to be reminded who their dad was. To them, the show must seem as far from reality as possible. I doubt they will see it as entertainment either. The question, now, is how the show's producers will deal with the tragedy on the eve of the new season's premiere. All the episodes have been shot and viewers are already painfully aware of how the story, at least for Russell Armstrong, comes to a sad and lonely conclusion.

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