Suicide rocks Beverly Hills "Real Housewives"

LOS ANGELES Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:10pm EDT

Taylor Armstrong, from the Bravo reality TV series 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills', arrives at the unveiling of artist Jack Armstrong's 'Cosmic Starship' Harley-Davidson motorcycle at Bartels Harley-Davidson in Marina Del Rey, California October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Taylor Armstrong, from the Bravo reality TV series 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills', arrives at the unveiling of artist Jack Armstrong's 'Cosmic Starship' Harley-Davidson motorcycle at Bartels Harley-Davidson in Marina Del Rey, California October 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The estranged husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Taylor Armstrong has been found dead in an apparent suicide, just three weeks before the reality show is scheduled to return to U.S. television.

In the most tragic event to befall a reality TV show, venture capitalist Russell Armstrong, 47, was found hanged in a bedroom on Monday evening at a house in Los Angeles, coroners officials and police said..

Armstrong's wife Taylor filed for divorce in July and her struggle to keep her six year marriage alive was expected to be a key theme in the second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills", which is due to be premiere on September 5.

Russell Armstrong was also hit in July by a $1.5 million breach of contract lawsuit, and had huge debt problems, his lawyer said.

Cable channel Bravo said on Tuesday it was "deeply saddened by this tragic news." But executives have not said whether they plan to go ahead with broadcasting the season, or how they plan to deal with Armstrong's death.

"Taylor Armstrong is devastated by the tragic events that have unfolded," her representative said in a statement. "She requests privacy at this time so that she may comfort her young daughter." The couple have a five year-old daughter, Kennedy, and Russell Armstrong has two sons from a previous relationship.

The popular reality show about six rich and pampered women in the Beverly Hills area was filmed over the summer. The first season of the show, which aired last spring, had brought some of the biggest audiences for the "Real Housewives" franchise, attracting an average 2.4 million viewers.

In the second season's opening episode that was recently sent to TV writers, Taylor Armstrong, 40, talks about the couple entering counseling and she shops for sexy underwear in a bid to spice up their love life.

But life overtook the upcoming on-screen drama before the second season hit the airwaves. Taylor Armstrong told People magazine after filing for divorce in July that the couple had explosive arguments, and she accused her husband of pushing and shoving her.

Russell Armstrong, who came across in the first season as a cold businessman with little enthusiasm for being on the show, admitted things had become heated. He told People magazine in July, "this show has literally pushed us to the limit."

Armstrong's lawyer Ronald Richards said on Tuesday that the couple were living beyond their means and that the divorce had also taken its toll on Russell.

"His credit cards weren't working...He had tremendous financial problems," Richards was quoted as telling celebrity news website TMZ.com.

Richards told People: "When his wife and him first started the show, I warned them that it would cause undue stress on their marriage. Being thrust in the spotlight didn't do any favors for Russell and Taylor."

Russell Armstrong was the target of a $1.5 million breach of contract lawsuit in July filed by a company that claimed it hired him to expand its business but alleged he had misused the funds, partly to redecorate the Los Angeles mansion he shared with his wife.

Fellow "Housewives" cast members were stunned by the death. Camille Grammer, whose divorce from "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer played out over the first season of the TV show, said in a Twitter message, "My sympathy and condolences go out to Taylor and Kennedy."

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)