Exclusive: Russell Armstrong's Last Interview - Page 2

By Maer Roshan 08/22/11

The Real HousewivesThe Fix.

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Reality Bites: Russell Armstrong and wifeTaylor in happier times. Photo via

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The last email I received from Armstrong arrived on July 26, less than three weeks before his death. It contained a single terse line: "What is the objective here?"  On August 12th, the mutual friend who'd first introduced us sent a grim message via Facebook. "Haven't spoken to you in a while," it read. "Russell's been in a bad place. I haven't even spoken to him. Nasty divorce. I guess timing was off over here." A few days later, Armstrong was dead.

Since his suicide, thousands of blogs and tabloids have rushed to dig up smarmy tidbits about Armstrong's secret life: His alleged bisexual hook-ups, his penchant for violence, his long history of shady business dealings.Despite his family's history with addiction, his first exposure to the twelve steps was probably involuntary. In December of 1997 he was arrested in West Hollywood and  charged with spousal battery after an altercation with his then-wife Barbara Ann. Freed on $15,000 bail, he was ordered to attend at least two AA meetings a week, and to abstain from all alcohol and drug use. A few years later he was arrested again following another fight with Barbara. This time he plead no contest to misdemeanor battery and the spousal charges were dropped.Russell was sentenced to three days in L.A. County Jail, and placed on three years' probation.

But while his professional ethics and personal habits may have been suspect, his interest in recovery appears to have been genuine. On Friday, we contacted Joan Borsten, the CEO of Malibu Beach Recovery Center, the pricey neurobiological-based rehab where Armstrong's sister had finally gotten herself together. Borsten said she first met Armstrong in 2004, when he approached her about investing in her rehab. After talking business for a couple of hours, he started to open up about his meth-addicted sister, Laurie Kelsoe, who had become addicted to crystal meth at the age of 40, following the death of her stepfather and a divorce from her husband of many years. Borsten convinced Armstrong that her facility could offer Laurie the treatment she needed.

"Russell called her and ordered her to immediately fly in," Borsten recalled. "Laurie stayed here for several months. Russell paid every cent for her care. He also paid for three or four other addicts to complete our program. Even after Kelsoe left, he’d drop by to see how people were doing, or to hear lectures by visiting experts." She last saw him a few days before his death, but noted nothing out of the ordinary in his behavior or mood. She added that he and Taylor had spent weeks visiting a marriage counselor, Charles Sophy, who was assigned to them by Bravo. Their sessions were taped to be aired in season two.

A board-certified psychiatrist with a degree in osteopathic medicine, Sophy achieved a small measure of notoriety as Paris Hilton's personal shrink—spiriting the sobbing socialite out of jail after her arrest in 2009. He went on to make the rounds as a talking head on dozens of cable news shows, bouncing back and forth as a guest star on Celebrity Rehab and Real Housewives. But his on-camera counseling failed to save the Armstrongs’ marriage or Russell’s life. 

Since they first met at a party six years ago, both Taylor and Russell Armstrong assiduously cultivated a reputation as a high-flying power couple. But days after Russell's suicide, their carefully crafted facade fell apart. According to Laurie Kelsoe, Taylor, an Oklahoma cheerleader whose original name was Shana Hughes, had changed her name to Taylor Ford and allegedly claimed to be claimed to be a member of the famous Ford family. “But we had a friend who knew the Fords in Detroit, and they didn’t know anything about her. We knew she was a phony from the beginning, but Russell wouldn’t hear of it,” Laurie said.

After Armstrong’s death, Taylor was pilloried as a venal social climber who tried in vain to keep up with her much wealthier fellow cast members. When Kelsoe first visited the couple’s lavish new mansion, she remarked how beautiful it was. “It’s nice,” Taylor reportedly replied, “but it’s not $40-million-dollars nice.” Kelsoe claimed that Russell had reluctantly agreed to appear on the show to satisfy his wife's social ambitions. "He spent all his savings to maintain Taylor's illusion that they were wealthier than they were,” she said, “He did anything to make sure she was happy, but nothing was ever enough.”

Even so, after his death it was Russell who bore the brunt of the media’s assault. Last Thursday, TMZ reported that Armstrong had beaten his wife so badly that she had stayed out of public view for weeks. The New York Post reported that he was a regular visitor to gay porn sites and had a proclivity for  S&M. Back in Texas, Russell's distraught sister, one year sober, read these revelations about her brother with horror. She had returned to the small town of Denton with her two sons to build a new life. But last week she broke her anonymity to speak out in Russell's defense. "He's not the man they're saying he is," she said, speaking from her ranch north of Dallas. She tearfully recalled her brother's support at a time when other friends and family members had given her up for dead. "I was badly hooked on meth," she said. "Russell visited me in rehab very week I was there. He paid for my care there and looked after my children. He called me every single day. He made sure I had everything I needed. I don't recognize this man they're talking about in the papers. I honestly would not be alive today if Russell had not been there for me."

Disgusted with the media’s lurid rumors about Armstrong, she’s eager to set the record straight. “My brother is not gay. He’s not into S&M. His biggest mistake was falling in love with Taylor,” she said, adding with a note of irony: “Which is a form of masochism, I guess.” She noted that neither Taylor nor Bravo have bothered to contact her or her family since Russell’s death. “Not even a bouquet of flowers—only lawyers.”

She then wnet on to make some stunning accusations about Taylor—claiming that she stole watches, car keys and thousands of dollars from Russell’s bedroom soon after she discovered his body. Kelsoe said that her brother had been saving the cash to pay the college funds for his two teenage children from a previous marriage.  “Taylor is a liar and a thief,” says said. “Her entire life’s ambition was to become a Housewife—you know, she was pregnant when they got married. She wanted a man, she wanted tons of money. and she wanted to be in the limelight. She's just a gold-digger who reinvented herself and dragged my brother down in the process." She was especially disgusted by the notorious $65,000 birthday party that Taylor threw for her five-year-old daughter at the former Harry Houdini estate: “That party was a complete embarrassment to everyone," she says. "We don't behave that way around here."

Soon after Armstrong's death, sources say, Bravo briefly considered canceling the top-rated show. But they quickly decided to carry on. The season premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is set to debut on September 5. The conflict between Russell and Taylor was to be a key storyline of the new season. Armstrong’s family has demanded that Russell be excised completely from the show. “If they have a shred of decency, they won’t make us live through this,” Kelsoe said.

She alleges that Bravo execs, unhappy with early footage of the latest season, had informed Taylor that she would be fired if she didn’t amp up the drama. “Well, they got what they wanted,” she said. “Russell only did this to please his wife. Bravo never told him, 'We are going to torment you, destroy your marriage, empty your life and rip you apart. Now will you please sign on the dotted line?'”

While Taylor has since petitioned the network to excise certain "sensitive" scenes featuring her and Russell, a well-placed network source says that Bravo retains final rights over anything that goes on the the show. “Everyone knew what they were getting into when they signed up for this,” he explains, adding that Armstrong’s suicide will be handled with "utmost delicacy." But it's likely that the premiere will rank as one of the most-watched episodes in the network's history.

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Maer Roshan is an American writer, editor and entrepreneur who has launched and edited a series of prominent magazines and websites, including FourTwoNine.com, TheFix.com, NYQ, Punch!, Radar Magazine and Radaronline.com. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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