Reality TV Tragedies: The Saddest and Most Shocking Deaths

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It’s hard to say goodbye. Reality stars are a special breed of celebrity. Fans grow to know and love them as real people, not as characters — which makes the loss hit even harder.

In recent years, stars from The Deadliest Catch, The Real World, Survivor, The Real Housewives, Buckwild, and The Bachelorette have passed away suddenly and tragically.

In some cases, the production of the show is massively impacted. In April 2013, MTV hit pause on the production of Buckwild‘s second season, a reality series that followed nine young adults in West Virginia, after the death of star Shain Gandee. Grief counseling was immediately made available on set for cast and crew.

The reality star, along with his uncle and friend, were found dead after an off-roading accident. Gandee was 21 years old. According to the West Virginia Sheriff’s Department, the group died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the vehicle got stuck in the mud.

West Virginia Mayor Danny Jones urged the network to cancel the series following the death, claiming “the show only enhanced the negative stereotype the Kanawha Valley already has.”

The show was canceled one week following the death and the first part of season 2 was never aired. Producer J.P. Williams attempted to shop the show around to other networks but claimed MTV would not let it happen.

“MTV is the most hypocritical network out there,” Williams told The Hollywood Reporter at the time. “Van [Toffler] and Susanne [Daniels] can keep promoting pre-martial sex and promoting leaving the baby after you have it [on Teen Mom]. I’m so glad they have found their moral bar.”

Scroll through the gallery below for more heartbreaking reality TV tragedies.

Ashley “Minnie” Ross

The Little Women: Atlanta star died on April 27, 2020, after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. The 34-year-old was driving alone on April 26 when another vehicle hit hers and left her unconscious, her publicist, Liz Dixson, told Us. Her condition was “touch and go on the scene, but she did make it to the hospital,” according to Dixson.

“They got a pulse and they did revive her. She was not DOA when it occurred,” the publicist added. “She was there basically 24 hours before she transitioned. They didn’t think she would make it to the morning, so we had a few more hours with her than could have happened. She passed away at 10:30 p.m. EST at Grady Memorial Hospital.”

Scott Gries

Tyler Gwozdz

The Bachelorette season 15 contestant was rushed to the hospital in Boca Raton, Florida, on January 13, 2020, after an apparent overdose. Following a week in the hospital, Gwozdz died at the age of 29.

 

Gwozdz made headlines in May 2019 after he mysteriously left the ABC dating series during the third episode. “Tyler G. had to leave, and that’s upsetting because I really enjoyed my date with him,” lead Hannah Brown said during the episode.

 

While a Reddit user accused Gwozdz of being an “extreme misogynist” who spit on an ex-girlfriend, he denied the claims in a statement to Refinery29.

 

“Addressing totally unsubstantiated rumors posted to Reddit from an anonymous account seems imprudent,” he said May 2019. “I feel that even addressing them gives them some sort attention and fuel but I continue to have faith in my journey and in a purpose for everything that’s happened to me in my life. Above everything else I am a son to my mother. She raised me to be better than these sort of baseless accusations. The rumors are so far out of the realm of my personality and values that it seems silly to waste time denying, but I suppose I will for the record.”

 

ABC/Ed Herrera

Alexis Eddy

The former Are You The One? star died in January 2020 at the age of 23. Police reportedly responded to Eddy’s West Virginia home after the former MTV reality TV contestant went into cardiac arrest.

 

Courtesy Alexis Eddy/Instagram

Beth Chapman

In June 2019, Beth Chapman, who had starred on both Dog the Bounty Hunter and Dog and Beth: On the Hunt, died following a battle with throat and lung cancer. She was 51.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Lisa Fleming

After appearing on season 6 of My 600-Lb. Life, Lisa Fleming died at the age of 50 on August 23, 2018.

TLC

James “L.B.” Bonner

At the young age of 30, the My 600-Lb. Life star was found dead on August 2, 2018. A coroner’s report later confirmed his cause of death was suicide.

TLC

Lyric McHenry

One of EJ Johnson’s best friends, Lyric McHenry, starred on and produced the E! reality show EJNYC. She was found dead in NYC on August 14, 2018, at age 26.

Courtesy of Lyric McHenry/Instagram

Christina Grimmie

The singer, who finished in third place during season 6 of The Voice, died on June 10, 2016, after being shot twice and killed during a meet and greet in Orlando, Florida. She was 22.

Angela Weiss/Getty Images for The Humane Society Of The United State

Dr. Brandon Rogers

A standout contestant on America’s Got Talent named Dr. Brandon Rogers died just weeks before his episode was scheduled to air in June 2017. The singer was so talented, Boyz II Men had him perform on stage with them in January 2016 prior to his death.

Courtesy of Dr. Brandon Rogers/Instagram

Danny Dias

The MTV reality star was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment at the age of 34 on June 3, 2017. He starred in season 13 of Road Rules in 2004 and later appeared on The Challenge in 2005.

Carley Margolis/FilmMagic

Clay Adler, Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County

The MTV reality star reportedly died after an apparent suicide at age 27. According to TMZ, he shot himself while in the desert with friends on March 25, 2017. 

Chris Polk/FilmMagic

Eric Hill, The Bachelorette

Hill died on April 23, 2014, after a paragliding accident in Utah. His death preceded the airing of his season of The Bachelorette; he was one of the men vying for Andi Dorfman’s affection but had already been eliminated at the time of his injury. Prior to joining the show, he had been on a quest to visit every U.N.-recognized country. “Eric shared his final journey with us this morning as all his immediate family were able to be at his side when he passed away,” his sister shared via Facebook.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Gia Allemand, The Bachelor

The model and Bachelor alum passed away at age 29 in New Orleans on Wednesday, Aug. 13; two days before, she was found unconscious at her home by her boyfriend, NBA star Ryan Anderson, “following an apparent suicide attempt,” her rep said in a statement. She appeared on season 14 of The Bachelor (starring Jake Pavelka) in 2010, and made it to the final three. She was “a caring woman who loved her family and was well-known or her compassion towards animals and mission to rescue homeless pets.”

Craig Sjodin/ABC

Shain Gandee, Buckwild

Gandee was just 21 when he and two others were discovered dead in his truck on April 1, 2013. According to the West Virginia Sheriff’s Department, the MTV star and his companions died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the vehicle — and its muffler — got stuck in the mud. “This is the emptiest I’ve ever felt,” costar Cara Parrish tweeted after his passing. She and hundreds of camo-wearing friends and fans paid tribute to Gandee a week later at his funeral.

MTV

Phil Harris, Deadliest Catch

The Discovery Channel star — captain of the crab-fishing vessel Cornelia Marie — died on Feb. 9, 2010, of an intracranial hemorrhage resulting from complications of a massive stroke he had suffered in late January. He was 53 years old. “Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end,” his sons Josh and Jake said in a statement. “We will remember and celebrate that strength.”

Blair Bunting/Discovery Channel

Justin Tennison, Deadliest Catch

On Feb. 22, 2011, a little more than a year after Captain Harris’ death, Cornelia Marie deckhand Tennison was found dead in an Alaska hotel room. An autopsy revealed that the 33-year-old star had passed away due to untreated complications related to sleep apnea.

Discovery Channel

Ashley “A.J.” Jewell, The Real Housewives of Atlanta

Kandi Burruss‘ ex-fiance died after suffering a head injury during a fight at an Atlanta strip club on Oct. 2, 2009. He was 34 years old. “I could never in a million years imagine this happening,” Burruss tweeted. “Please pray for A.J.’s children…that’s who I’m the most concerned for. I’m about to give my swollen eyes some rest now.” 

Prince Williams/Getty Images

Russell Armstrong, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Taylor Armstrong‘s estranged husband was found dead of an apparent suicide on Aug. 15, 2011. His family blamed the show for damaging the couple’s marriage beyond repair and told Us they suspected foul play in his death. (At the time, he had been accused of defrauding investors.) “Knowing him as a person and how he valued life,” his mother said, “I don’t think he would do this.” 

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter

The Australian adventurer was snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas, Queensland, on Sept. 4, 2006, when he was pierced in the chest by a stingray. His crew, with him to film a documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest, rushed him to the boat and administered CPR — but it was too late. He was 44.

ANIMAL PLANET

Ryan Dunn, Jackass

On June 20, 2011, the MTV daredevil was driving 130 miles per hour, with a blood alcohol level of .196 — twice the legal limit in Pennsylvania — when he crashed his Porsche 911 GT3 into a guardrail in West Goshen Township and was engulfed in flames. “He had so many things going for him,” Jackass costar Bam Margera said of his 34-year-old pal. “It’s just not right.”

Jon Furniss/WireImage.com

Jennifer Lyon, Survivor Palau

After finishing fourth in Survivor‘s 10th season, a then-33-year-old Lyon was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2005. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, but the cancer later metastasized, and she passed away at the age of 37 on Jan. 19, 2010. “Jenn did such a good job of showing me how to love someone who is dying,” Survivor host Jeff Probst told Us of the reality contestant.

Monty Brinton/CBS/Getty Images

Joey Kovar, The Real World: Hollywood

Kovar was 29 when he passed away of “opiate intoxication” on Aug. 17, 2012, in Chicago. His death followed a long struggle with substance abuse, which he revealed on The Real World: Hollywood in 2008. Two years later, in 2010, he sought treatment for cocaine and ecstasy addiction on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

Art Streiber/MTV

Julien Hug, The Bachelorette

Hug, a contestant on Jillian Harris‘ season of ABC’s Bachelorette, took his own life on Nov. 3, 2010, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “I’ve suffered from severe depression for years,” the 35-year-old restaurateur wrote in a suicide note to his parents. “I feel awful and don’t know how to cope. If life’s not enjoyable, why stick around?” 

Kevin Foley/ABC/Getty Images

Mike DeStefano, Last Comic Standing

DeStefano, one of the top five finalists on season seven of NBC’s stand-up comedy competition, died of a heart attack on March 6, 2011. He was 44 years old. “We will all miss his huge heart and incredibly loving and selfless passion for people,” his rep told Us Weekly in a statement after his death.

Chris Haston/NBC

Mindy McCready, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

The country singer had been struggling to cope with the January 2013 suicide of her boyfriend, David Wilson, when she took her own life on Feb. 17, 2013, leaving behind two young sons. Her death, the fifth in Celebrity Rehab history, rocked her former costars — in particular, America’s Next Top Model alum Lisa D’Amato. “All my friends from the show are dying,” D’Amato told Us. “I’m so shaken up right now.”

Randi Radcliff/Getty Images

Jeff Conaway, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

Three years after seeking treatment on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab in 2008 — for addictions to cocaine, painkillers, and alcohol — the Grease actor was hospitalized for what was initially believed to be a prescription drug overdose. It was later revealed that the cause of his May 27 death was pneumonia and sepsis, a dangerous blood infection. He was 60 years old.

Tiffany Rose/Getty Images

Rodney King, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

King, who was famously beaten by L.A. police in 1991 following a high-speed chase, sought treatment for alcohol addiction on season two of Celebrity Rehab. Four years later, on June 17, 2012, he was found dead in his pool. An autopsy report later revealed that he had marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol in his system.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Anna Nicole Smith, The Anna Nicole Show

The former Playboy model and star of her own self-titled reality show was 39 when she was found unconscious and unresponsive in a room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2007. The official cause of death was “combined drug intoxication.” She is survived by daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, her child with ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead

Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Daniel Smith, The Anna Nicole Show

Smith’s 20-year-old son died on Sept. 10, 2006, while visiting his famous mom in the hospital. Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht told Larry King that the autopsy indicated he had passed away due to a lethal combination of Zoloft, Lexapro, and methadone.

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage.com

Jenni Rivera, I Love Jenni

The Mexican-American singer and star of multiple reality shows died with six other passengers in a private jet crash on Dec. 9, 2012, just south of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, where the plane had departed earlier that morning. She was 42 at the time of her death and left behind five children.

Victor Chavez/WireImage.com

Leslie Carter, House of Carters

Once an aspiring young singer, Nick and Aaron Carter‘s 25-year-old sister had a long history of mental illness and was being treated for depression, according to a police report on her death. On Jan. 31, 2012, she overdosed on prescription medication at her home in Mayville, N.Y., leaving her husband Mike to care for their then-10-month-old daughter, Alyssa, alone. 

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Corey Haim, The Two Coreys

The former teen idol managed to get what he called an “addiction to pretty much everything” under control, only to die at the age of 38 on March 11, 2010, of pneumonia, damaged air sacs in his lungs, and plaque build-up in his blood vessels and heart. “This is a tragic loss of a wonderful, beautiful, tormented soul,” pal and costar Corey Feldman said of his death.

Chelsea Lauren/WireImage.com

Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, The Simple Life

Nicole Richie‘s ex-boyfriend appeared with her on the third season of The Simple Life in 2005 and 2006. Three years later, on Aug. 28, 2009, he died of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 36. In the months leading up to his death, Goldstein had struggled with mental anguish resulting from a plane crash he survived with Travis Barker in September 2008.

Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Jani Lane, Celebrity Fit Club 2

Former Warrant frontman Lane was 47 when he was found dead of alcohol poisoning at a Comfort Inn in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2011, six years after his stint on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club 2. He left behind four children — Taylar, Brittany, Madison, and Ryan — from two previous marriages.

Jesse Grant/WireImage.com

Frankie Abernathy, The Real World: San Diego

On June 9, 2007, three years after appearing on the 14th season of MTV’s The Real World, Abernathy died of complications from cystic fibrosis. She was 25 years old.

MTV

Sal Picinich, Cake Boss

The beloved baker, who worked for more than four decades at Carlo’s Bake Shop — where TLC’s Cake Boss series was set — died of cancer on Jan. 30, 2011. He was 63 years old.

TLC

Mike Starr, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

Starr’s death on March 8, 2011, was the first among Celebrity Rehab cast members. He sought treatment on the show in 2009 and joined the second season of VH1’s Sober House the next year. Unfortunately, his addiction proved too much for him to overcome, and he died at age 44 in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Devastating to hear of Mike Starr succumbing to his illness,” Dr. Drew Pinsky tweeted. “So very sad.”

Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage.com



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