How will 'Real Housewives' handle Russell Armstrong's death? [Updated]
After the death Monday of cast member Taylor Armstrong's estranged husband in an apparent suicide, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" faces more than an emotional challenge: The team must decide what role, if any, the tragic real-life event will play in the second season of the reality series, which has been in production for a couple of months.
In the meantime, cast members were reportedly told Tuesday not to talk to the media about the death of Russell Armstrong -- whose body may have been discovered after Taylor could not get in touch with him.
The women of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" each received a keep-mum phone call and email from Bravo soon after news of the death broke, a source connected with the show told TMZ, which also reported that production planned for Wednesday had been canceled.
The Season 2 cast includes "Housewives" Armstrong, Camille Grammer, Adrienne Maloof, Kim Richards, Kyle Richards and Lisa Vanderpump, plus new faces Brandi Glanville and Dana Wilkey, announced in May as "friends of the returning cast."
"Taylor Armstrong is devastated by the tragic events that have unfolded," her rep said Tuesday in a statement. "She requests privacy at this time so that she may comfort her young daughter." In addition to Kennedy, his daughter with Taylor, Russell Armstrong was the father of two boys, ages 11 and 13.
Sources close to Taylor told TMZ that the couple had been in touch regularly and were supposed to meet Monday afternoon. She reportedly got worried after he didn't show and she couldn't get him by phone or text, and ultimately went with a friend to the house where Russell was staying. The homeowner made the 911 call after looking through a bedroom window, TMZ said.
Another person not keeping quiet: Family friend Lisa Gastineau, who last saw the Armstrongs about two months ago at a benefit hosted by Maloof and filmed for the show.
The intense "scrutiny of his business dealings and the financial hardships, and the dissolution of his marriage" was stressful for Russell Armstrong, Gastineau told HollywoodLife on Tuesday after describing a couple who "despite the fighting ... cared for each other. Their relationship was fragile, but Taylor was his love."
A death during reality-show production was previously handled deftly on Discovery's "Deadliest Catch," which lost Capt. Phil Harris, a fan favorite and father of two sons who also appeared on the series. Harris' illness and death were incorporated into the show's story line, with a large part of the audience well aware of the inevitable outcome by the time the season premiered.
But in dramatic contrast to Russell Armstrong's sudden death, possibly at his own hand, Harris died after suffering a stroke while on the job. Though no related "Catch" footage had aired at the time of his death, fans had been following Harris' condition in real time through updates on the Cornelia Marie's website.
"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" was, as of Tuesday, scheduled to premiere on Sept. 5. A season preview released in late July showed Taylor Armstrong visibly distressed over her marital problems, saying tearfully at a dinner party, "I feel like I'm breaking."
[Updated, 7:05 p.m. Aug. 16: At the time this post was written, the preview video for Season 2 of "RHOBH" was no longer available on Bravo's website. Readers were instead directed to an article about the upcoming season.]
"All of us at Bravo are deeply saddened by this tragic news," Bravo said in a statement Tuesday. "Our sympathy and thoughts are with the Armstrong family at this difficult time."
-- Christie D'Zurilla
Photo: Taylor Armstrong, left, with Russell Armstrong and fellow "Housewives" cast member Kim Richards at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in March. Credit: Casey Rodgers / Bravo