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TV and Tragedy: The Most Unexpected and Shocking Reality TV Star Deaths ⁠— Steve Irwin and More

Gone too soon. Reality TV stars are unlike the typical celebrity. They amass fans for being themselves, gaining an audience from their larger-than-life personalities. But reality just isn’t only as dramatic as scripted television — it can be just as sad. 

Some of the most shocking deaths of beloved reality TV stars happened years ago, but fans remain affected by the sudden losses. Steve Irwin, best known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” put himself in harm’s way countless times, only to be tragically killed by a typically docile fish, a stingray, while he was filming a special. Although his passing occurred in 2006, fans continue to think of him fondly and even celebrate Steve Irwin Day on November 15. 

It’s hard to accept those accidental deaths, such was the case for Irwin, but many other deaths have taken fans (as well as friends and family) by surprise. Celebrities like Top Chef favorite Fatima Ali passed away at just 29 after a battle with cancer; Diem Brown, best known for appearing on MTV’s Real World, had beaten cancer twice but succumbed to the disease when it returned for the third time when she was 34. They both helped shed light on young adults fighting cancer. Both spoke candidly about their time left and outlined the importance of enjoying every day.

Reality TV has always been at the forefront of entertainment. The first aired game show, Queen for a Day, aired in 1945; for context, the first U.S. sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny, aired in 1947. By 1948, humans already wanted to see more unscripted television and Candid Camera was turned from a radio show to a TV show and the first TV talent shows hit the airwaves the same year, long before American Idol.

While some may roll their eyes at reality TV, there’s no doubt that the shows and their stars have touched so many people — either through making viewers think more deeply about the world around them, teaching fans how to be more open with others or just simply giving someone who needs it a really good laugh.

Reality TV, unlike scripted entertainment, is unique in the sense that the stars feel like someone fans know in real life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To honor those we lost, keep scrolling to see the most heartbreaking reality TV celebrity deaths. 

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