Fame doesn’t always bring you money and success, and celebrity doesn't guarantee you’ll have a long, worry-free life. Hollywood’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams is peppered with tombstones belonging to reality stars who died tragically. Cancer, suicide and tragic accidents claimed the lives of these 30 personalities too early.
The death of Shain Gandee didn’t just end the 21-year-old’s life; it halted the hit MTV show he appeared on. Gandee died while doing one of the risky activities that categorized the hit show Buckwild. In 2013, he died alongside his uncle, David Dwight Gandee, and his friend Donald Robert Myers, after their 1984 Ford Bronco got stuck in the mud. The trio – who were “off-roading” – died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the SUV’s tailpipe was submerged.
In 2013, country singer Mindy McCready became the fifth former Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew cast member to die in two years. The 37-year-old, who burst on the music scene in the 1990s, had a troubled life marred by drugs, alcohol abuse and multiple suicide attempts. Unfortunately in 2013 she succumbed to her demons and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound a month after her boyfriend David Wilson killed himself.
Long before he appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Rodney King was known as the man whose arrest and beating sparked the LA riots. But in June 2012 – four years after he starred in the reality TV show – his fiancée found him dead , at the bottom of his swimming pool. His death was ruled an accidental drowning and autopsy results revealed he had cocaine, PCP, marijuana and alcohol in his system at the time.
Jeff Conaway – another Celebrity Rehab star – died in 2011. The Grease actor’s death was ruled accidental, and not the result of pneumonia as was initially thought. Conaway had been addicted to painkillers for years. At the time of the star’s death Dr. Drew Pinksy said, “Jeff was a severe, severe opiate addict with chronic pain, one of the most serious and dangerous combination of problems you could possibly interact with.”
Months before Jeff Conaway’s death, former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr died of a drug overdose. Like the Grease actor, Mindy McCready and Rodney King, he had appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. The rocker had been battling heroin addiction.
In November 2014 fans were saddened by the news that former reality star Diem Brown had lost her battle with cancer at the age of 34. Diem became famous after appearing on MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Brown beat ovarian cancer twice (in her early 20s and again in 2012) but eventually succumbed to colon cancer, months after she collapsed while filming another reality TV series.
Aussie daredevil and animal lover Steve Irwin died while filming a wildlife TV show. The Crocodile Hunter was filming a documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest in 2006 when a stingray hit stabbed him in the chest. Cameraman Justin Lyons – who was with the 44-year-old at the time – told the Australian TV show Studio 10, “He just sort of calmly looked at me and said, ‘I’m dying.’”
In 2010, Deadliest Catch star Phil Harris died days after he collapsed while off-loading crab in Alaska. The 53-year-old fisherman was in the middle of filming the Discovery show when he had a stroke that ultimately led to his death. His death was covered in the show and, in an interview with Fox News, his son Josh Harris said, "I think they did a really tasteful job on it."
"I have a business to run. Everything that happened back then was a big mistake. I don't do drugs." That’s what Storage Wars star Mark Balelo told RadarOnline.com in February 2013. The Ventura County medical examiner’s office later ruled that he died after inhaling carbon monoxide and car exhaust fumes.
Suicide also took the life of X Factor finalist Simone Battle in 2014. The 25-year-old – who was a member of the girl group G.R.L., hung herself. Band member Lauren Bennett told People magazine, “You can never prepare yourself for something like this, ever.”
Former Biggest Loser contestant Damien Gurganious was just 38 when he died in November 2014. The father-of-one, who competed on the show with his future wife Nicole Brewer Gurganious in 2009, died of a rare autoimmune disorder that caused bleeding his brain. At the time of her husband’s death she tweeted, “All of you who knew Damien can attest to his generous and loving spirit, his outgoing and gregarious personality, and his caring and compassionate nature.”
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Like Joseph Cerniglia, Rachel Brown was a chef who appeared on a reality TV show with Gordon Ramsay. And like the New Jersey cook the 41-year-old also killed herself. Brown shot herself in 2007, a year after competing on the Brit’s show Hell’s Kitchen.
Singer, mom and reality TV star Jenni Rivera died suddenly – and tragically – in a December 2012 plane crash. The 43-year-old Mexican-American was the star of her own show, I Love Jenni. At the time of her passing, Eva Longoria tweeted, “My heart breaks for the loss of Jenni Rivera & everyone on the plane.”
Cancer took the life of American Idol contestant and model Joanne Borgella in 2014. The 32-year-old competed on the show in 2008, three years after winning Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance. Borgella – who had been battling endometrial cancer – had been open with her fans posting messages on her Facebook page just weeks before her death.
In 2014, another former American Idol contestant passed away at a tragically young age. Michael John died in August that year at just 35. According to a spokesman for the Orange County Coroner in California, the singer died of an enlarged heart. He was found dead on a friend’s sofa in the middle of the day. The reality show’s producers paid tribute to the musician saying, “He was a part of our American Idol family and he will be truly missed.”
Joey Kovar is another Celebrity Rehab star to die after appearing on the show. According to Us Weekly, the 29-year-old died in 2012 of opiate intoxication. The reality TV star – who initially found fame on The Real World: Hollywood in 2008 – had always been open about his substance abuse battle.
“Our son meant the world to us and this came as a complete shock.” That was the statement released by Bertrand and Denise Hug in November 2010 after their son – former Bachelorette contestant– Julien Hug killed himself. Jennifer Bell was his live-in girlfriend at the time of his death. She told RadarOnline.com, “The whole TV stuff he did... that was a small part of him...he went on that show to travel and explore adventure.”
Pedro Zamora captured the hearts of MTV viewers when he starred in the Real World: San Francisco back in the 1990s. Openly gay, the Cuban-American was just 22 when he lost his life to AIDS in 1994. In a November 2014 op-ed piece for The Advocate Zamora’s friend Eric Ciasullo wrote, “Into this new medium stepped a clean-cut, crazy handsome, young Cuban immigrant from Miami, who was also unapologetically gay and openly living with HIV.”
Jackass star Ryan Dunn embodied the cliché “live fast, die young.” According to cops he was drunk and speeding up to 140mph when he smashed his Porsche 911 GT3 in 2011 on a Pennsylvania highway. The prank-loving 34-year-old had just left a local bar before he killed himself and his 30-year-old passenger Zachary Hartwell in the car that burst into flames.
When Ryan Jenkins killed himself in 2009 he wasn’t just a reality TV star; he was also a murder suspect. The Megan Wants a Millionaire contestant was at the center of a manhunt following the murder of bikini model Jasmine Fiore whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase in a Buena Park, Calif. garbage bin. Jenkins, 32, was the victim’s estranged husband.
“My heart hurts.” That’s what Real World: New Orleans’ Ryan Knight tweeted in November 2014 following news that Diem Brown had died. Two weeks later, on Thanksgiving morning, the fellow MTV star was found dead at his friend’s Wisconsin home. Police say the 29-year-old had been complaining of stomach pains before his death. To date no cause of death has been found.
Former Survivor contestant Caleb Bankston died suddenly in June 2014 after falling off of a loaded freight train and on to some railway tracks. The 26-year-old had competed on Survivor: Blood vs. Water just a year earlier.
Four years before Bankston’s tragic passing former Survivor: Palau contestant Jennifer Lyon died of breast cancer at the age of 37. The blonde – who competed in the 2005 season of the show – told People that the competition was her inspiration. Lyon told the magazine, “Survivor taught me there’s an end in sight. As hard as it is, it will be over and you have to appreciate every day.”
In 2013, MasterChef runner up Joshua Marks committed suicide. The 26-year-old – who had bipolar disorder – shot himself in the head according to a CNN report. His family released a statement saying the reality star was in “the battle of his life fighting mental illness” at the time of his death. His lawyer, Lisa Butler, said, “It is overwhelming to think that with proper, intensive treatment, Joshua may still be with us.”
The genetic lung disease cystic fibrosis took the life of Real World: San Diego cast member Frankie Abernathy in 2007. “It was very sudden,” her mother Abbie Hunter told MTV News. “It wasn’t something that was expected.” At one point during her stint on the 2004 series, Abernathy said, “Tomorrow is a privilege, so live today like tomorrow isn’t happening.”