With their winning smiles and out-sized personalities, the stars of reality television entertain us and make us laugh. Sometimes they shock us – and we love every minute of it. We love to root for our favorite reality TV stars, and boo the dastardly villains of reality TV. Along the way, some reality TV shows and characters become the stuff of pop culture legend. Today we remember reality television celebrities who have died.
Beth Chapman (2019)
Beth Chapman (2019) starred with her husband Duane on “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
Richard Harrison (1941 – 2017)
Richard Harrison (1941 – 2017) provided the comic relief as “The Old Man” on the popular reality series “Pawn Stars.” Harrison was on the show with his son Rick, his grandson Corey, and Corey’s friend “Chumlee.” The show featured the colorful characters at their pawn shop in Las Vegas.
LEAH LABELLE (1986 – 2018)
Singer LEAH LABELLE (1986 – 2018) was a finalist on season three of “American Idol.” She and her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler, were killed in a car accident in Studio City, California in January 2018.
JOEL TAYLOR (1980 – 2018)
Oklahoma native JOEL TAYLOR (1980 – 2018) was one of the stars of “Storm Chasers” on the Discovery Channel.
CHRISTOPHER “BIG BLACK” BOYKIN (1972 – 2017)
Musician and Navy veteran CHRISTOPHER “BIG BLACK” BOYKIN (1972 – 2017) co-starred with professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek on the MTV reality television series “Rob & Big” from 2006 to 2008. Despite his towering 6-foot-6 frame, Boykin was known for his kind and gentle demeanor.
AMOS ABPLANALP (1975 – 2017)
AMOS ABPLANALP (1975 – 2017), the father of “America’s Got Talent” contestant Evie Clair, died of colon cancer just two days after his daughter became one of five finalists on season 12 of the show.
BRANDON ROGERS (1988 – 2017)
BRANDON ROGERS (1988 – 2017), the singing doctor of Riverside hospital in Newport News, Virginia, was a YouTube sensation for his cover of Boyz II Men song “On Bended Knee.” He was set to be a contestant on “America’s Got Talent” when he died suddenly in a car accident.
DANNY DIAS (1983 – 2017)
DANNY DIAS (1983 – 2017) was featured on the 13th season of the popular MTV series “Road Rules.” Filmed in Argentina and Chile, “Road Rules: X-Treme” aired in 2004. Dias, who was openly gay, was also an AIDS activist and co-founded the research charity, Generation Cure.
MYCHAEL KNIGHT (1978 – 2017)
Georgia fashion designer MYCHAEL KNIGHT (1978 – 2017) was a finalist and fan favorite on season three of the popular TV competition show “Project Runway” and returned for “Project Runway All Stars” in 2013. He died at 39 after several years of suffering with irritable bowel syndrome.
MIKE AKTARI (1988 – 2017)
MIKE AKTARI (1988 – 2017) was known for “Jerseylicious,” a reality show that ran on the Style Network from 2010 to 2013 and focused on the employees and relationships at the Gatsby Salon in Green Brook, New Jersey. Aktari appeared on the show as the boyfriend of Olivia Blois Sharpe, a makeup artist at the salon, as well as the ex-boyfriend of Tracy DiMarco, one of the stylists at the salon.
CLAY ADLER (1989 – 2017)
CLAY ADLER (1989 – 2017) starred on two seasons of the MTV reality show “Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County.” He died a day after deliberately shooting himself during a trip to the desert with friends.
PAUL GIGANTI (1980 – 2017)
PAUL GIGANTI (1980 – 2017), aka Chef Paulie G, reached the top five on season 16 of “Hell’s Kitchen” before his death in April 2017.
CHRISTINA GRIMMIE (1994 – 2016)
Singer CHRISTINA GRIMMIE (1994 – 2016) was a YouTube sensation who came in third on season six of NBC’s “The Voice.” In June 2016, she was signing autographs for fans after a concert in Orlando, Florida, when she was shot by a gunman. She died a few hours later.
RICKEY SMITH (1979 – 2016)
Though he finished in 8th place, singer RICKEY SMITH (1979 – 2016) helped make for a memorable second season of “American Idol.”
AHMAD “REAL” GIVENS (1982 – 2015)
VH1 reality star AHMAD “REAL” GIVENS (1982 – 2015) died at 33 after battling colon cancer. Real and his brother, Kamal “Chance” Givens, appeared on VH1’s dating show “I Love New York” before starring in their own dating show, “Real Chance of Love.”
KERRY SIMON (1955 – 2015)
When “rock ‘n’ roll chef” KERRY SIMON (1955 – 2015) appeared on “Iron Chef USA” in 2001, things didn’t go well. He challenged Iron Chef American Todd English in Battle Dungeness Crab and lost. Simon had more success in 2005 when he challenged Cat Cora on “Iron Chef America” and won Battle Hamburger.
CALEB BANKSTON (1987 – 2014)
CALEB BANKSTON (1987 – 2014) appeared on “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” in 2013 competing with his fiancé, Colton Cumbie. He placed 9th in the competition. A train conductor, Bankston died after a train he was working on derailed.
DIEM BROWN (1980 – 2014)
DIEM BROWN (1980 – 2014), who starred in MTV reality show “The Challenge,” and founded MedGift, an online gift registry and support pages for people who are ill and their caregivers. Brown died of ovarian cancer after battling the disease for nearly a decade.
JOANNE BORGELLA (1982 – 2014)
JOANNE BORGELLA (1982 – 2014) was a contestant on season seven of “American Idol” and was the first winner of “Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance,” a reality show beauty pageant. Borgella died at 32 of a rare form of cancer.
SIMONE BATTLE (1989 – 2014)
SIMONE BATTLE (1989 – 2014), a singer with pop group G.R.L., was a finalist on “The X Factor” in 2011.
MICHAEL JOHNS (1978 – 2014)
Australian singer MICHAEL JOHNS (1978 – 2014) was a hit on season 7 of “American Idol” before his shocking elimination.
ERIC HILL (1983 – 2014)
ERIC HILL (1983 – 2014) was set to be a contestant on “The Bachelorette” before his death from injuries sustained while paragliding.
GIA ALLEMAND (1983 – 2013)
GIA ALLEMAND (1983 – 2013) appeared on ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “Bachelor Pad” and was the girlfriend of NBA Pelicans player Ryan Anderson. She died following a suicide attempt.
JOSHUA MARKS (1987 – 2013)
Chicago native JOSHUA MARKS (1987 – 2013) was the breakout star of season three of “Master Chef.” Though he didn’t win, the 7-foot-2 gentle giant won over his fellow contestants and even host Gordon Ramsay. The same month Marks was runner up on “Master Chef,” he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He began suffering from panic attacks soon thereafter. After months of deteriorating mental health, Marks died by suicide in October 2013.
SHAIN GANDEE (1991 – 2013)
SHAIN GANDEE (1991 – 2013) was one of the stars of MTV’s “Buckwild,” a reality show that followed the lives of nine young adults in rural West Virginia. Gandee and two friends died of carbon monoxide poisoning after the SUV they were in became partially submerged in mud.
JENNI RIVERA (1969 – 2012)
Mexican-American singer JENNI RIVERA (1969 – 2012) turned public struggles to her advantage producing and starring in a string of reality shows: “Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis & Raq-C,” “I Love Jenni,” and “Chiquis ‘n Control.” She died in a plane crash in Mexico.
LESLIE CARTER (1986 – 2012)
LESLIE CARTER (1986 – 2012) appeared with her famous brothers, former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and tween heartthrob Aaron Carter, on their reality show “House of Carters.” She was a singer as well and had a song appear on the “Shrek” soundtrack before her death from a drug overdose.
JOEY KOVAR (1983 – 2012)
Hard-partying model and bodybuilder JOEY KOVAR (1983 – 2012) appeared on “The Real World: Hollywood” in 2008. After increasingly erratic behavior, he was dismissed from the show to pursue treatment. He then appeared on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2009. Three years later he died of an opiate overdose.
MITCHELL GUIST (1964 – 2012)
MITCHELL GUIST (1964 – 2012) and his brother starred together in the hit show “Swamp People” on the History Channel. The show followed their adventures hunting numerous swamp creatures, including alligators. Guist died of a heart attack while loading his boat.
RYAN DUNN (1977 – 2011)
Actor and stunt man RYAN DUNN (1977 – 2011) came to national attention as part of MTV’s “Jackass” stunt and prank show. He appeared in other TV shows as well as three “Jackass” movies before his death in a drunk driving accident.
MIKE DESTEFANO (1966 – 2011)
Professional stand-up comedian MIKE DESTEFANO (1966 – 2011) had his reality TV moment in 2010 when he placed fourth on “Last Comic Standing.” Much of his humor came from frank descriptions of his drug addiction and subsequent recovery. DeStefano died of a heart attack in 2011.
SAL PICINICH (1947 – 2011)
SAL PICINICH (1947 – 2011) was a veteran baker at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, made famous as the setting of TLC’s “Cake Boss.” Picinich had worked there since 1964 and in 2010 accepted the Employee of the Century Award on the bakery’s 100th anniversary. He died of cancer in 2011.
JENNIFER LYON (1972 – 2010)
JENNIFER LYON (1972 – 2010) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, the same year she finished fourth on the CBS reality show “Survivor: Palau.”
COREY HAIM (1971 – 2010)
In 2007 COREY HAIM (1971 – 2010), the 1980s teen heartthrob known for his roles in “Lucas” and “The Lost Boys,” reunited with friend and frequent costar Corey Feldman (left) in the reality TV series “The Two Coreys.” Three years later Haim died of a drug overdose after a long struggle with substance abuse.
PHIL HARRIS (1956 – 2010)
Fishing boat captain PHIL HARRIS (1956 – 2010) became an unlikely TV star when his adventures off the Alaska coast were captured on the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.” Harris died of a massive stroke while his ship was in port.
BUTCH LUPINETTI (1941 – 2010)
BUTCH LUPINETTI (1941 – 2010), the owner of Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ, is best remembered for beating celebrity chef Bobby Flay (right) on a 2006 episode of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” The secret to barbecue perfection, according to Lupinetti: “Cook it low, cook it slow, serve no swine before its time.”
JADE GOODY (1981 – 2009)
JADE GOODY (1981 – 2009) was a dental assistant turned reality-TV star whose whirlwind journey from poverty to celebrity to tragedy became a national soap opera and morality tale in Britain. She first gained fame at 21 in 2002, when she joined the reality television show “Big Brother” and later appeared in a celebrity version of the show before her death from cancer in 2009.
BOYD CODDINGTON (1944 – 2008)
BOYD CODDINGTON (1944 – 2008) was already well-known in custom car circles when his show “American Hot Rod” began airing in 2004. The show revolved around the drama inside his shop as the workers built hot rods and custom cars. The show ran for five seasons until his death in 2008.
ANNA NICOLE SMITH (1967 – 2007)
When ANNA NICOLE SMITH (1967 – 2007) debuted her eponymous reality show on E! in 2002, the “ditzy” former model and actress was suddenly at the center of pop culture. The ratings, however, were never as large as the buzz and the “reality sitcom” was canceled after two seasons. Smith continued to make tabloid headlines until her death following a drug overdose.
TAMMY FAYE MESSNER (1942 – 2007)
The colorful TAMMY FAYE MESSNER (1942 – 2007) participated in the 2004 reality show “The Surreal Life,” spending two weeks living with Ron Jeremy, Vanilla Ice, Traci Bingham, Erik Estrada, and Trishelle Cannatella. She bonded with the younger B-listers, stating that she came to think of Vanilla Ice like a son. She died in 2007 after a long battle with cancer.
STEVE IRWIN (1962 – 2006)
If there’s anyone who truly lived their dream to the fullest, it’s got to be STEVE IRWIN (1962 – 2006), who starred for more than a decade as “The Crocodile Hunter.” The Animal Planet series followed the zookeeper-conservationist and his wife Terri on adventures with some of nature’s most exotic and dangerous creatures. Irwin died as he lived: he was filming an underwater documentary “Ocean’s Deadliest” when he was pierced in the heart by a stingray barb.
PEDRO ZAMORA (1972 – 1994)
As one of the stars of “The Real World: San Francisco” in 1994, PEDRO ZAMORA (1972 – 1994), right, became one of the first openly gay men on television. He was also one of the first people with AIDS on TV and used the show’s popular to educate about HIV and AIDS. Zamora died of AIDS-related complications a few months after the season wrapped. His boyfriend Sean Sasser (1968 – 2013), left, appeared in many episodes.