A friend of Russell Armstrong -- who was found dead Monday of an apparent suicide -- described the unwitting reality star as being overwhelmed by pressure to meet the demands of his wife, Taylor Armstrong, and Bravo executives -- who allegedly threatened to replace the reality TV couple if they did not meet certain expectations.
'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,' I think, was [Russell's] downfall. The TV show put a lot of pressure on him to produce financially. You're on a show with a couple like the Maloofs, who are verifiable billionaires, and you're not," William Ratner told The Los Angeles Times.
At least one of Taylor Armstrong's fellow housewives, Adrienne Maloof, is legimately very wealthy. Her family owns an NBA team and The Palms casino.
"He [Armstrong] said the producers at Bravo told Russell and Taylor that they picked them as the 'disaster couple,' and if they weren't going to have drama in the second season, they would cut them and replace them with someone else," Ratner continued.
The Los Angeles Times contacted a Bravo representative for clarification, and the rep denied the story, saying, "Production has assured us that there is no truth to these claims."
Teasers for the second season -- released before Russell's suicide -- indicate that Russell and Taylor Armstrong's marital difficulties will be a storyline. A conversation Ratner recounted with Russell Armstrong suggests that the Armstrongs disagreed about playing out their breakup on television.
"I...talked with him, and he said, 'I don't know why she's doing this. Why can't she do this off the show?'" Ratner said. "He said there were still two weeks left of shooting and he didn't want to be in it."
Two weeks before his death, Russell Armstrong spoke to People magazine about the toll reality TV took on real life.
"It got really overwhelming," Russell said. "When you get a TV show involved and all the pressure, it just takes it to a whole new level. ... We were pushed to extremes."
On top of their marriage difficulties, Russell and Taylor Armstrong were facing a lawsuit charging they used investor money to fund their lavish lifestyle. Russell denied the allegations through his attorney, Ronald Richards, who admitted that his client was overwhelmed by personal and financial struggles at the time of his death.
"I feel bad because his credit cards weren't working," said Richards. "He had tremendous financial problems.
"He was also extremely bummed out about the divorce with Taylor," Richards added. "As far as a will, even if he does have a will, they don't have any assets, so I'm not sure what there would be left to leave."
Taylor Armstrong filed for divorce in July after about six years of marriage, accusing Russell Armstrong of "ongoing physical and verbal abuse," the Huffington Post reported.
While the allegations of physical abuse took some of the reality show's viewers by surprise, Russell and Taylor's separation was far from a shock. Taylor Armstrong was open about her marital dissatisfactions, and towards the end of the season she questioned whether she should remain with her husband.
Although the marriage was portrayed as less than perfect, Taylor and Russell appeared to be doing fine financially: Well enough to spend $60,000 on a fourth birthday party for their daughter, Kennedy.
TMZ reported on Tuesday that Taylor hadn't yet broken the news to Kennedy, who is now five.
"She's not emotionally ready to do so just yet," a friend told TMZ.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Bravo has not yet decided whether the second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" will air as is. The season premiere was scheduled for Sept. 5, but it is now possible that the airing will be postponed, or the footage will be further edited.
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