Laurie Armstrong Kelsoe: Battling Meth
Russell was a venture capitalist, originally from Dallas with plush office in Beverly Hills. On behalf of a wealthy client he had been learning the ins-and-outs of the addiction business. The client hoped to invest in a tony Los Angeles alcohol and drug treatment center. When that investment opportunity did not materialize Russell began looking at other alcohol and drug treatment centers.
On our third or fourth meeting he mentioned that he had a younger sister in Texas. Laurie, he said, “truly a wonderful person” was behaving “not unlike some of your clients.”
We asked a staff member to call her. Almost immediately, Laurie admitted she had been using methamphetamine for almost four years. Russell was floored. His sister was a beautiful, smart divorced mother of two fine sons, not an addict. But truth was Laurie, who started using meth at age 41, had managed to keep her addiction a secret from him and almost everyone else, for more than three years. Russell ordered Laurie to take the next plane to Los Angeles. She missed the first, caught the next and checked into treatment.
Laurie spent 35 days at Malibu Beach Recovery Center and then several months at our sober living house in West Los Angeles. While she was with us, Russell and his wife Taylor got the news that they had made the cut and had been cast as a couple on the new reality series “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Russell was very excited. He saw it as a business opportunity that would drive new clients to his offices and set the stage for Taylor to endorse products.
While Laurie was at the sober living she spent time at their home and attended the lavish $40,000 birthday party Taylor and Russell threw for her four year old niece – one of the first Season’s most controversial episodes.
Once back in Texas, Laurie had a hard time re-establishing her life until she landed an interior decorator job. Then, while helping a friend at his ranch, a thousand pound cargo trailer back fell on her leg. By the time the paramedics arrived, she was bleeding internally. Her femur bone was broken. The doctors predicted she would never walk again,
She spent a month on pain pills, but had her mom dole them out so she would have no way to abuse them. As it turned out, pills were not her drug of choice. Nonetheless it was decided because of what she had been through, she should return to Malibu Beach Recovery Center for what we call a “tune up.”
“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” was now about to begin filming their second season; Russell proposed an episode centered around Laurie’s return to Los Angeles. Laurie was very eager to become a role model for other successful PTA moms who were struggling with a secret addiction. Russell got written confirmation from the Real Housewives producers at Evolution Media that they would be putting a “positive spin” on her story.
But the trip to LA never happened. Russell became more and more convinced that Season Two of the Real Housewives show was going to be about him, and that he would never survive what he called the “lynching campaign.” He committed suicide on August 14, 2011.
Laurie called sobbing as soon as she heard the news a day later. It was she who had to tell her parents and sons. She was devastated and hard pressed to believe Russell, the father of three young children, would have taken his own life. She has never changed her mind.
For the last eight months Laurie has appeared on television many times, and also given interviews to newspaper reporters about Russell, defending a man who can no longer defend himself, against charges that he was a grifter, prone to violence and physically abusive.
Recently her credibility has been challenged on the grounds that she was once a meth addict. We received phone calls and emails from members of the recovery community who thought those charges, and those making them, were inappropriate. Two weeks ago we sent our favorite reporter, Seth Isler, to Texas to check in with Laurie and hear her story.