Real Housewives’ Russell Armstrong’s Suicide and the Pressure of Reality TV

Russell Armstrong in back seat of carI don’t watch reality TV. Well, that’s not exactly true. I do watch Intervention, Deadliest Catch, The Biggest Loser and I found myself surprisingly addicted to the televised trial of Casey Anthony. However, I have never been drawn to the over-the-top antics of reality television shows such as The Jersey Shore, Family Jewels, or, dare I say it, Keeping up with the Kardashians. As a matter of fact, they pretty much turn my stomach. And I’ve never watched an entire episode of The Real Housewives of (insert metropolitan area here). But the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong did catch my attention.

I don’t think the tragic death of yet another reality star came as any real surprise to the millions of people who are consumed with these programs. Rumors are swirling about the reasons why this seemingly successful, handsome, and now famous, man, decided he could no longer go on living the life of apparent glitz and glam. Some are saying the impending divorce from his bombshell wife Taylor is what drove him over the edge. Others are citing financial trouble. But come on, let’s call it what it really is. The scrutiny of a million judgmental viewers and the constant pressure to portray a persona that is just one carat better than the next has got to take its toll. No matter how big your house, how fast your car, or how expensive your vacation, it has got to be bigger, faster and pricier for season 2.

Is that what we really want our children and young adults to model successful lives after? Is being a Teen Mom what our daughters will think of as making it big, merely because they have a hit show and can afford expensive diaper bags? Instead of encouraging our boys to take their time courting and dating that special someone before they rush into marriage, should we thrust them into the audition line for the next airing of The Bachelor? Why should they have to pay for the dinner when they can get paid by the network to wine and dine the ladies?

I have a hard time letting my seven year old daughter watch even seemingly harmless channels, like Disney, because she believes that all little girls grow up to have their own show and a recording contract, before they crumble under the pressure of fame, get hooked on drugs, and enter celebrity rehab. It’s a vicious cycle for these stars, many of whom are only famous, because they are famous. Look at Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin and yes, even Bristol Palin. Okay, so some of acquired fame by taking their tops off or having sex, wonderful achievements our girls can aspire to. And others just had kids and chose to exploit their offspring for profit. Let’s look at Nadya Suleman, the woman who was artificially inseminated and gave birth to a litter of eight kids, bringing her brood to a grand total of 14. How does she make a living? She gives interviews, and invites cameras into her home and her children’s lives, for money. She even, believe it or not, has her own page on Wikipedia and she hopes to have a reality show eventually. Better make sure I TiVo that one!

This woman, who obviously has some serious attachment issues, is famous for nothing more than being a train wreck. And why do we watch? Because everybody loves a train wreck. But the loss of life is nothing to gawk at. Russell Armstrong left behind three children. He left behind family members and friends who never appeared on Real Housewives. He was a father, husband and son long before he signed a contract with Bravo. And he may have had some emotional issues way before the cameras started rolling.

The networks take little responsibility for the mental health of their actors. Some shows do make a psychologist available. But even when outright humiliation, devastation and character assassination occur, there is no set protocol in place to make sure that the victim is emotionally healthy. Most of the time, the networks prefer to have a star completely meltdown on camera because it only adds to their ratings.

So Russell Armstrong is just a statistic in this ever changing world of entertainment. Just writing that sentence makes me ill. A death should never be intertwined with entertainment. But it is. We want our heroes to fall, our divas to deteriorate and our icons to implode. It’s much more entertaining than watching the National Geographic channel. And sadly, it’s human nature. So, say goodbye to Russell Armstrong. Say goodbye to Happy Days and the Cosby Show. And sit back, pass the popcorn, and watch the psychological turmoil unfold on the latest episode of Hoarders.

© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dane

    August 24th, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    I am not sure that this was a case of the pressures of being on reality tv being too much.
    Maybe his financial situation led to it and he was just a guy who happened to have a lot of that broadcast on tv.
    But he chose that life, you know?
    He never had to agree to being a part of the show. I mean, I hate that he felt like the only way out was to end his life, I always hate suicide cases, but it always seems so selfish when you look at the family who is left behind to clean up the mess.

  • Andy

    August 24th, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    I jus dont understand why ppl are so crazy bout reality TV…I mean,whats so exciting bout peeping into somebody elses life?is your life so boring that u have to see somebody elses that is sprinkled with lies and set ups and is eventually (and sadly) called ‘reality) TV?!

  • c.a. wells

    September 2nd, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    You can’t class Paris Hilton as “being only famous for being famous” like her counterparts on that list: “Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin and yes, even Bristol Palin.”

    Paris Hilton is an heiress to the multibillion dollar Hilton empire built by her great-grandfather Conrad Hilton. Not exactly a nobody like Gosselin.

    I can’t stand reality shows. If I want to see a nobody I’ll go down the local mall and peoplewatch. There’s hundreds of ’em.

  • Isaac Zimmerman

    September 3rd, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Mark my words, the day will come when shows like those portrayed in scifi move The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger will be on your TV screens. Not seen it? It’s based around a TV show where criminals are being hunted down by trained assassins in the name of entertainment, with all the razzle dazzle of a game show.

    The hunters are reminiscent of WWF wrestlers, where the fans in audience go wild over them, cheering on their hero. The crowd is baying for blood of the running man who has to elude them or die. The criminal is made out to be a real bad guy (which he’s not) purely to help the network justify the show.

    It’s a great movie. And the more reality shows clips I catch, the more I see that day getting closer.

    Seriously. How much further can they go before we see that? Already we see meltdowns and punch ups, numerous “World’s Worst…” compilations of video footage that usually stomach churning stuff showing the worst of human nature at work. It’s a small step to go from seeing real footage of a crowd of thugs beating a man unconscious to there.

    Some day some state will come up with the idea as a way to reduce prison overcrowding, raise capital (think of the merchandising and syndication opportunities!) and decide a modern-day reality TV version of the gladiators vs. the Christians is a good idea.

    Of course the public will be horrified (honest we are!) and show it–by tuning in in record numbers. Mark my words.

  • NathanMcGillis

    September 3rd, 2011 at 9:41 PM

    How twisted are all these viewers that demand to watch these “train wrecks” as you put it? They need to look at their own lives and see why they want to see and relish seeing another person hurt, upset or in pain.

    The audiences are as sick as the networks and if they didn’t watch, the networks wouldn’t make these cheap nasty exploitative shows and would return us to the good old days of real programming.

  • v.n.

    September 4th, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    I have no sympathy for reality show “stars” and their so-called pressures. Boo hoo–not! They got a big fat check for letting the cameras in and they know exactly what it’s going to be like. Reality shows have been on the TV screens for a (too) long time now. It must be twenty years at least since that was an original concept.

    Their own greed and/or vanity is their downfall, not that they were wide-eyed innocents being taken advantage of by the big bad networks.

    The networks deliberately don’t choose people that are well balanced and “normal”, if such a thing exists. That would be far too boring to watch. Their viewing public wants to see that all the darkness inside them isn’t as bad as that girl or guy on the TV. That’s why they watch.

  • John Wise

    September 4th, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    @Andy-Reality TV is everywhere because it’s cheap to make. No need for studio extravaganzas, just a cameraman or two with a handheld and Bob’s your uncle. Alright, that simplifying it greatly but you get the point.

    Do you remember Don LaFontaine, the man who did the voiceovers for thousands of trailers and started with “In a world…”? He made millions from his iconic voice.

    The price of the average Joe on the street? Much cheaper. Find the most eccentric character you can, the more outrageous the better, toss him or her a couple of grand and you have a “star”.

  • jarvisryan

    September 6th, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    Little responsibility? That’s false. The networks don’t care at all about the health of their stars because all they do is bring in viewers and money. If a reality TV star dies, it’s a bonus for the networks! They get to make a freebie tribute show compiled of snippets from their show allegedly made in their honor. After that, we’ll never hear their name again.

  • Ian Thomas

    September 17th, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    I guess I’ve never really thought about what kind of effects these reality shows can have on an actor. Your post serves as a great wake up call. I think we should boycott some of these networks who push these actors to the edge and then show little signs of sympathy when they commit suicide, get hooked on drugs or whatever. It’s the networks fault that these things are happening and they need to confess and apologize for it. A better system needs to be in place for these actors. Maybe they need to better explain the psychological effects to actors. I’m not sure exactly but I am sure that they need to do something.

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