Suicide of ’Housewives’ Husband, Outed & Broke: Has Reality TV Gone Too Far?
The facts, as we now know them, are these: Russell Armstrong, the husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast member Taylor Armstrong, was found hanging by a rope in his bedroom on Aug. 15. A month before, Taylor had filed for divorce, citing physical abuse.
After the death, private details of Russell Armstrong's life began pouring out. He had had two restraining orders from two previous marriages -- both, again, citing physical abuse. He also had declared bankruptcy in 2005 and was undergoing severe financial stress.
Then there's the question of his sex life.
Rumors are rife on the Internet that Armstrong was gay. His wife has purportedly written a memoir in which she discovered an account on the gay hook-up site, Adam4Adam. The day after Armstrong hanged himself, Alan Schram, a close friend and business associate committed suicide by shooting himself in his car on Mulholland Drive.
Immediately, speculation began that Schram was Armstrong's lover. And, not to be outdone, the National Enquirer has published an interview with another of Armstrong's purported lovers. This one, a celebrity assistant; the Enquirer apparently gave a polygraph test to the man but won't name him.
Going one step further, the New York Post claims that Armstrong's on-air behavior toward his wife could be explained by the posthumous exhuming of his "kinky, gay sex life." Executives at Bravo, which cablecasts the reality show, "now believe his cold and callous demeanor can be traced to the fact that he was in the closet while playing the role of a ladies' man," according to the newspaper.
In the Closet, on a Reality Show
The Post continues: "'I'm constantly amazed at what people think they can hide. He was a fraud, and it was coming out,' the insider said of the facade Armstrong maintained as a married millionaire when he was secretly gay and possibly penniless."
The Post does bring up an interesting issue: How could someone who is in the closet believe that he (or she) could go through the kind of intense self-exposure that is the entire ethos of reality programs without being exposed? Maybe the answer lies in the deeply conflicted nature of someone who lives life in the closet.
Dr. Jack Drescher, a Manhattan psychiatrist, has chaired the American Psychiatric Association's committee on gay issues and edited "The Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy." He points to the "dissociation, the tuning out of certain things," when someone is closeted. "You have to tune out certain information," he adds.
"You wind up making bizarre decisions," Drescher said. One of those could be the push-pull of making oneself believe that you could appear on a reality show and still keep your biggest secret a secret.
For possible examples, I'd say, just look to the headlines: U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's "wide stance" in an airport restroom stall or former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's writing suggestive IMs to underage congressional pages.
"For somebody who does have something they are trying to hide, clearly going on a reality show is not a good idea, because your private life is not going to stay private for very long," added Jenny Pozner, a prominent critic of reality shows and author of "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV."