No official cause of death has yet been declared. The coroner is still conducting an investigation.
But that hasn't stopped the speculation that Armstrong's involvement in a reality TV show – ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,’ starring his estranged wife, Taylor Armstrong – may have somehow led to his death.
“He was down in the dumps over the latest allegations that he had abused Taylor. I told him people don’t believe everything they read and he told me, ‘It’s funny how a reality show can ruin your entire life,’” Armstrong’s friend Tom Vickers told RadarOnline.
The couple’s relationship has often been rocky, and, through it all, the cameras have been rollilng. Responding to Taylor’s claims that he had been an abusive husband while she was filing for divorce on July 15, Armstrong told People Magazine, “Did I push her? Yes, maybe things happened in the heat of the moment, but it was during a time in our lives that was not characteristic of who we were. This show has literally pushed us to the limit.”
Russell and Taylor are not the first reality TV couple whose marriage faltered on screen. Jon and Kate Gosselin, who starred together with their eight children in ‘Jon and Kate Plus 8’, ended their 10-year marriage in 2009. From then on, the show was called ‘Kate Plus 8.' It was just canceled.
Industry insiders say that "reality" TV is often far from an accurate presentation of events. Small slights are exaggerated, peacemaking is ignored or left on the cutting room floor in the pursuit of a dramatic narrative. So, it's not clear that what the audiences saw – or even what the "actors" said about the show – bears much resemblance to the truth.
Still, Mark Andrejevic, University of Iowa associate professor of communications studies, has said that keeping people on the threshold of mental breakdown is a tactic that has been used on some reality television shows. In a United Press International article on Aug. 2, 2009, Prof. Andrejevic said that “The bread and butter of reality television is to get people into a state where they are tired, stressed and emotionally vulnerable.”
He wasn't talking about ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,’ which only debuted in 2010. But one doesn't have to go far to find the destructive effects of living in a celebrity culture. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, who once counseled Michael Jackson, told the Monitor last summer:
"... [the] essentials for surviving celebrity are the same as for everyone else, he says: “You need a life to keep you grounded … someone to make you take out the garbage.”
Next, he says is spiritual values. He points to musician Bono, who he he says has been married for 27 years and is a devout Roman Catholic, as the “perfect” celebrity.
The Irish rocker also has a cause that is much higher than himself – Africa – and longtime friends, his band mates who will tell him when he’s being stupid – the last two tools for navigating fame.
“If you have these in place, as Bono does,” adds Boteach, “you have a chance at a real, meaningful life.”
Armstrong leaves behind a daughter, Kennedy, and two sons from previous relationships.