The weeks leading up the shocking apparent suicide of Taylor Armstrong’s estranged husband were about as tumultuous as their relationship.
Russell Armstrong was going through not only a divorce with claims of physical abuse, but facing mounting financial problems, including a $1.5 million lawsuit, all while in the spotlight of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
“It got really overwhelming,” Russell told PEOPLE in an interview just weeks before his death. “When you get a TV show involved and all the pressure, it just takes it to a whole new level. We were pushed to extremes.”
Taylor wasn’t the first person close to Russell who experienced his temper, and the divorce filing served to bare secrets from Russell’s past.
In 1997, he was arrested for getting into a physical altercation with his then-wife Barbara, according to court documents.
Barbara filed the first of two restraining orders, and Russell was placed on probation for three years, ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and attend anger management sessions once a week for a year.
Barbara claimed in her in 2004 divorce that Armstrong also committed acts of violence against their son Aiden, who was 6 at the time, by slapping him across the face, spanking him and twisting his ears.
And court documents allege Russell spanked his other son Griffen (from another relationship), who was 4 at the time.
Barbara then filed another restraining order, claiming she was hit, grabbed and punched.
The abuse allegedly continued into Russell’s next marriage with Taylor, who claimed Russell grabbed her, threw objects at her, shoved her and pulled her hair.
Russell responded in a PEOPLE interview: “Did I push her? Yes, maybe things happened in the heat of the moment,” but he said the intense fights were “during a time in our lives that was not characteristic of who were.”
The marital problems took place as the couple’s financial picture darkened. Russell filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after he couldn’t pay the $48,000 balance on his American Express card.
“Russell was a guy who always had multiple business deals going at all times,” his attorney, Ronald Richards, told PEOPLE after learning of his suicide. “He was a good networker. But as a couple, they lived way beyond their means.”
“Each month was a challenge for him to cover their lifestyle,” Richards continued. “Russell was in a lot of debt and he had legal problems. His credit cards were used up.”
Then, just weeks before his death, he got another financial blow: MyMedicalRecords.com sued the Armstrongs for more than $1.5 million, alleging they misled people into thinking they were investing in the company. The company accused them of misusing funds to “live a lavish lifestyle.” Through his attorney, Russell had denied the allegations.
Difficulty Dealing with Reality Fame
None of this – the fights and the financial woes – would have been known outside their circle of friends and family had it not been for their appearance on Real Housewives.
While Taylor seemed to have basked in the attention and the posh lifestyle that accompanied starring on a hit reality show, her husband cringed at having his crumbling home life being put on public display.
Taylor, herself, said that filming the show under stress only magnified problems that were already present.
Using the night of Kyle Richards’s husband’s birthday party as an example, Taylor wrote on her Bravo blog, “Russell was dealing with a heavy load at the office and we had been managing some emotional challenges at home with our extended family.”
“I thought we could spend the evening with our friends and forget about all the stress,” she wrote, “but not necessarily on the night of our friend’s birthday party with TV cameras rolling.”
• Reporting by KEN LEE and ULRICA WIHLBORG