Desperate Housewife: Is Bravo's Kim Richards An Addict?
Desperate Housewife: Is Bravo's Kim Richards An Addict?
Before reclaiming fame as one of the Beverly Hills Housewives, Kim Richards was a 1970s child star, playing the telepathic sister in Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain and even getting an early taste of controversy when she appeared as the little girl in John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 who was graphically gunned down next to an ice cream truck.
The only acting Richards does these days, however, is acting bizarre as one of the main cast members on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Sharing screen time with the ex-wife of Kelsey Grammer and a cast member whose husband tragically committed suicide this year, the Beverly Hills version of Housewives was making a lot of headlines as the show entered its second season.
And yet, in spite of the saddening swirl of events, the biggest news since the show premiered on September 5th has been about Kim—who, thus far, has been fodder for bloggers with her nonsensical rants about, among other topics, her power being out, her love for certain private airports, and other castmates’ not pretty mouths.
Last season ended with Kyle screaming, "You are an alcoholic—that's right, I said it and everybody knows!" at the culmination of a big fight in a limo. The episode wrapped with a card telling us, "Kim's family checked her into rehab…a week later, she checked herself out."
Networks are simply employers and shouldn't be held accountable for cast members' problems—unless, of course, that person asks for help.
And since then the issue has been a (pink) elephant in the room. Kim and her sister are speaking again—in fact, they're as tight as ever—but Kim appears to still drink and although the issue pops up often, it remains unresolved. When asked for a comment on the subject, a representative for Bravo declined our request.
Entertainment Weekly TV columnist and Housewives expert Jessica Shaw marvels at Kim's behavior but points out that ultimately there's no way for us to know. "She's denied she has a problem, she's checked herself out of rehab," Shaw says. "Do all signs point to one thing? Sure. But is that necessarily the only reason she acts that way? No." After all, "Kim being Kim, she's loopy with or without the help of alcohol."
Kim's mercurial behavior clearly threw off newcomer Brandi Glanville—the wife Eddie Cibrian left for LeAnn Rimes—during their first encounter. During a heated argument, Brandi spat out, "At least I don't do crystal meth in the bathroom all night long."
The accusation came out of left field and remained unanswered. Yes, Kim spent an irregular amount of time in the bathroom that night, and she did act bizarrely—but she often does. Kim and her sister denied the accusation and Brandi apologized later under pressure, but the viewer was left totally in the dark, wondering why something like that would be included without any context before or after.
"The show isn't willing to come down and say [her behavior] is because of drinking or medication or whatever, so they leave it at that and the viewer is left to throw out soft allegations," Shaw reasons.
But at what point should the network or production company get involved? Bravo declined to comment, but the former producer of several hit reality shows on network television—who wished to remain anonymous and is not affiliated with the Housewives—spoke candidly about the relationship between networks and their reality cast members.
"Legally shows have to respond if someone asks for help," the former producer said. "But of course [some shows] enable. Unfortunately we've been told that stable, well-adjusted people doing interesting things are boring on television. So you have to make these people more and more horrible each season to make the 'hit' stronger for the audience. In that sense it's the audience who are the junkies…If a Real Housewife is an alcoholic mess, people watch."
Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist on the fifth season of Celebrity Rehab and a faculty member at Harvard Medical, thinks there is a "good case" that networks should be somewhat responsible for the mental and physical health of their reality stars. "If you're gonna spend a lot of your life—for a period of time—in that [reality TV] setting, and if your behavior seems to suggest that you have a medical problem, I think your employer does have some moral, ethical responsibility to point that out," Dr. Sharp says. “That's a little ideal world-ish but that's the high ground for sure. And I doubt that happens as much as we'd like to see."
Patty Powers, a greatly sought-after sober coach who was recently part of A&E's series Relapse, looks at the issue a bit differently. Pointing out that no one goes on Real Housewives for addiction treatment, she argues that the networks are simply employers and shouldn't be held accountable for cast members' problems—unless, of course, that person asks for help.
"These Housewives are paid for services rendered: in this case, for allowing their private lives to become public spectacle," Powers says. "I am sure those involved with the show have discussed with Kim what she wants to do about her drinking and offered her options. Really, that is all anyone can do for her—ultimately, the decision will be hers."
"Most likely, if her drinking becomes problematic, she will be given a choice to get sober or be fired—like any employee whose addiction interferes with their job performance," Powers speculates. "But the network's responsibility is to entertain the audience."
The aforementioned anonymous producer echoed that sentiment, adding, "The honest answer is that TV cares about ratings and money." He revealed that one of the shows he produced had "full psych profiles on everyone—theoretically for their safety, but all the producers used them to push certain buttons to keep people out of their comfort zones."
And on Celebrity Rehab, according to Dr. Sharp, there was a desire for sensationalism from the camera crew, but he said that they had no influence on the actual treatment process.
Sharp describes an on-camera session with a celebrity patient who described, in tears, a recent dream that had led her to suddenly believe she had been molested as a child. "I looked up and I could see a twinkle in the eyes of some of the guys behind the camera, but I told her, 'You know what, in psychiatry we don't believe you can suddenly get in touch with a memory like that. If you had been molested, you would have known it,'" he recalls. Although he could tell people behind the camera "realized [he] wasn't going in the most dramatically interesting direction," no one intervened, complained to him afterward or tried to elicit further confession from the patient.
Sharp says the fear of being involved in an exploitative venture kept him from joining the show's fourth season, but when he signed on for season five, he was impressed with the strictly enforced separation between treatment and production crew, who never made requests or commented on the proceedings to the treatment center's staff.
"That's an example of a network taking responsibility," Sharp says of VH1. "But [those celebrities] were coming for treatment and in Real Housewives they aren't."
And ultimately, there's no way of saying if Kim has a problem, if she's just strange or if she's playing up the whole thing for the camera.
"I would hope that the producers, if they knew Kim was in trouble, would try to help her, step in and offer her some resources," says EW's Shaw. "We just don't know what goes on behind the scenes."
Even if the world of TV is all about dollars and viewership numbers, Powers sees a clear upside to the prevalence of addiction-related programming and the fact that these discussions are even happening. "In 2011, the general public—partly because of television—is beginning to grasp that alcoholism and addiction is a disease and not a moral deficiency,” she says. “Now rather than abandon them, people generally have hope the addicts they know can recover."
Joe Lynch grew up in Saint Paul, MN, and is now yet another writer living in Brooklyn. You can find his writing in Entertainment Weekly, Yahoo TV and New York Magazine's Vulture. He previously wrote about Intervention for The Fix.