Russell Armstrong Not the First: 5 Recent Real-Life Reality TV Tragedies
After learning of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member Russell Armstrong’s tragic suicide, former “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Danielle Staub told “Entertainment Tonight” that she had her own thoughts of suicide.
"I was very close to taking my own life -- not just on one occasion -- it's been several times, and what always saved me was the thought of my children living with that for the rest of their lives. I didn't want them to have that memory of me. I wanted them to remember me -- even if I'm going through my struggles -- alive."
Staub points to reality TV as the root of her distress.
"It's really hard to talk to people who are not in our genre about what really goes on when the lights go down. And maybe your family starts to break apart, and you get caught up in it. And I'm not blaming anybody for what I've been through, I'm just saying it's hard to explain to people who aren't doing this for a living."
While it would be easy to dismiss Staub as another me-too celebrity sadly seeking attention in the wake of a tragedy, there’s no question that becoming a reality show contestant has increasingly become a dangerous business.
We took a look back at some other recent reality TV tragedies, and frankly it was a little too easy to find other incidents where contestants had participated in a reality show and ended up literally destroying their lives as a result.
While it could be argued these contestants may have had serious issues before they went on TV, Russell Armstrong’s suicide is clearly part of an alarming trend.
Joe Cerniglia, “Kitchen Nightmares”
It’s mind-boggling that anyone would willingly put up with degrading masochist Godon Ramsay’s inhumane insults on a regular basis, but for some reason people line up for the chance to do it. Cerniglia, chef at Campania in Washington D.C. ended his life by jumping off the George Washington bridge after being relentlessly harangued and humiliated by Ramsay on the show.
"Your business is about to f***ing swim down the Hudson," Ramsay said. "Why did you become a chef-owner if you haven't a clue how to run a business?" Ouch.
Rachel Brown, “Hell’s Kitchen”
Another victim of public Gordon Ramsay humiliation, Rachel Brown shot herself in 2007 after losing on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
While she performed admirably on the show, finishing fifth, Ramsay said "Rachel clearly couldn't handle it. She buckled, panicked, and actually screwed the kitchen completely. You've got no chance of running a successful business if you can't handle one section."
Brown reportedly shot herself at her family's home in Dallas.
In Portwood’s case, participating in a reality TV literally resulted in her downfall. She pleaded guilty to two counts of felony assault on the father of her baby, 21-year-old Gary Shirley, and received two years of probation on Thursday of this week. An investigation into the attacks were launched after the series aired footage of Portwood punching Shirley repeatedly on "Teen Mom."
This comes after Portwood lost custody of her child back in May, after Child Protective Services gave Shirley full custody rights due to concerns over Portwood's living conditions.
Kellie McGee, “Extreme Makeover”
Kelli McGee was allegedly goaded by the producers of "Extreme Makeover," into saying mean things about her sister Deleese Williams. Williams was supposed to be given extensive plastic surgery on the show, but producers reneged on their offer, saying the recovery time would take too long.
According to a lawsuit filed by Williams, producers told her “You will not be getting an extreme makeover after all…Nothing. It doesn’t fit in our time frame. You will have to go back to Texas tomorrow." Williams went back to Texas, and a family feud between the sisters allegedly began. McGee killed herself in 2005, and the family blames the show-related drama for her death.
Ryan Jenkins, a 32-year-old contestant on “I Love Money” and “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” allegedly killed his wife Jasmine Fiore and went on the lam from the police.
Jenkins reportedly mutilated his wife’s body so bad that the only way she could be identified was by the serial numbers on her fake breasts (true story). Jenkins was eventually found by authorities in a hotel room in British Columbia, where he had reportedly hung himself by his belt. The third series of “I Love Money,” which Jenkins allegedly won, was never aired.
If you're thinking about suicide, please seek help. Call the National Suicide Hotline and talk to someone who will listen at 1-800-273-8255.