buckwild

Reality TV's 9 biggest tragedies

April 2, 2013 at 6:22 PM ET

AP (2), Getty Images /
Anna Nicole Smith, Steve Irwin and Mindy McCready.

Almost since its inception, modern reality television has been plagued by tragedy.

In recent weeks, three people linked to hit series have died. "Buckwild" star Shain Gandee died April 1, the same day Thierry Costa, staff physician for the French version of "Survivor," killed himself. In his suicide note, Costa said "unjust accusations and assumptions" about his medical treatment of contestant Gerald Babin, who suffered a fatal heart attack on the first day of filming, harmed his reputation.

"Survivor" was haunted since its inception. The first contestant voted out of Sweden's "Expedition Robinson," which Mark Burnett adapted for his U.S. "Survivor" franchise, committed suicide weeks after returning home from the Malaysian shoot. 

Dozens of reality stars have passed away in the past few years, but here are nine of the most tragic deaths:

1. Shain Gandee, 'Buckwild'

MTV suspended production of the reality series hours after the body of its 21-year-old star was found, along with his uncle and another man, in his truck in Sissonville, W.Va, April 1. The men died from carbon monoxide poisoning when the Ford Bronco's exhaust pipe became submerged in mud during an off-roading excursion. Gandee and many of his spirited co-stars were filmed "mudding" -- racing and spinning their four-wheelers in the mud -- during the first season of the controversial series, decried by some critics as the "Redneck Jersey Shore."

2. Russell Armstrong, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

Star Taylor Armstrong discovered the body of her estranged husband, 47, hanging in the bedroom of his Los Angeles home Aug. 15, 2011 -- weeks before the Bravo series' second-season premiere. The couple's marital problems -- including allegations that Armstrong assaulted his wife -- featured prominently in the series.

3. Mindy McCready, 'Celebrity Rehab'

The troubled country-music singer, who committed suicide in early 2013, became the fifth cast member to die after participating in Dr. Drew Pinsky's VH1 series. But Pinsky, an addiction specialist, said the show is not to blame for the deaths of McCready, Rodney King, Jeff Conaway, Mike Starr and Joey Kovar. "These diseases -- advanced addictions -- have the same prognosis as cancer," he said on "The View." "If you don't participate in treatment in an ongoing fashion, the prognosis is really bad." 

4. Joey Kovar, 'The Real World: Hollywood'

The 29-year-old bodybuilder (who also appeared on "Celebrity Rehab") was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in August 2012. He memorably left the 20th season of MTV's reality hit in the middle of filming to enter a 30-day treatment program for substance abuse and alcoholism.

5. Steve Irwin, 'Crocodile Hunter'

The beloved Australian wildlife expert was fatally wounded in 2006 while swimming with a stingray during filming in the Great Barrier Reef for another TV show. After the creature pierced him in the chest with its barbed spine, the 44-year-old Australian icon was pronounced dead at the scene.

6. Phil Harris, 'Deadliest Catch'

The 53-year-old salty sea captain suffered a massive stroke aboard his boat, the Cornelia Marie, Jan. 29, 2010, and died on Feb. 9. The Discovery Channel's hit series, which followed the dangerous exploits of crab fishermen, chronicled Harris' last days during its sixth season. The show suffered a second loss a year later when the body of deckhand Justin Tennison, 34, was found in his Alaska hotel room.

7. Rachel Brown, 'Hell's Kitchen'

The 41-year-old aspiring chef died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2007 after appearing on the second season of Gordon Ramsay's cooking contest. Three years later, Joseph Cerniglia, 39, who appeared on the harshly critical celebrity chef's "Kitchen Nightmares," leapt to his death from New York City's George Washington Bridge.

8. Paula Goodspeed, 'American Idol'

The Paula Abdul fan, who performed during "Idol's" Texas auditions in 2005, was found dead in her car from a suspected drug overdose near Abdul's home in November 2008. Goodspeed had legally changed her first name as a tribute to the judge. In addition to personalized license plates reading "ABL LV," a photo of Abdul was found hanging from her car's rearview mirror.

9. Anna Nicole Smith, 'The Anna Nicole Show'

The former Playboy Playmate and octogenarian billionaire's widow died at age 39 on Feb. 8, 2007, from a prescription drug overdose. Just five months earlier, her 20-year-old son, Daniel, died from an accidental overdose -- just days after Smith gave birth to daughter Dannielynn. Her E! reality series, which aired for two seasons in 2002-2003, also featured her attorney boyfriend Howard K. Stern, who lost a paternity dispute with Larry Birkhead over Dannielynn and was prosecuted for conspiracy in obtaining illegal prescriptions for Smith. (His conviction was overturned.)

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