The death of country singer Mindy McCready once again casts VH1’s former reality series Celebrity Rehab in a tragic light.
The 37-year-old McCready died Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound following the recent death of her boyfriend David Wilson under similar circumstances. This marks the fifth participant on the show to die in the past two years.
Celebrity Rehab host Dr. Drew Pinsky issued this statement: “I am deeply saddened by this awful news. My heart goes out to Mindy’s family and children. She is a lovely woman who will be missed by many. Although I have not treated her for a few years, I had reached out to her recently upon hearing about the apparent suicide of her boyfriend and father of her younger children. She was devastated. Although she was fearful of stigma and ridicule she agreed with me that she needed to make her health and safety a priority. Unfortunately it seems that Mindy did not sustain her treatment.”
McCready appeared during the show’s third season (seeking treatment for alcohol and prescription drug abuse) along with former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr (who died of a prescription drug overdose two years ago) and Real World castmate Joey Kovar (who died of an opiate overdose last year). Three deaths out of nine cast members from a single season of TV is a disturbing statistic. Yet it’s difficult to know what meaning to draw from it. Having a serious substance addiction problem is inherently a life-threatening issue and often has mental health complications. If 43 addicts appeared on a TV show and all of them recovered and lived happily ever after — wouldn’t that be more shocking?
“Mental health issues can be life threatening and need to be treated with the same intensity and resources as any other dangerous potentially life threatening medical condition,” Drew’s statement added. “Treatment is effective. If someone you know is suffering please be sure he or she gets help and maintains treatment.”
VH1 had no comment on McCready’s passing. The network quietly benched Celebrity Rehab after the show’s fifth season following critical headlines about the rising body count of its former cast members (while insisting the show has not been cancelled). The network then launched Rehab with Dr. Drew last year featuring non-celebrity participants.
One could try judging Celebrity Rehab for its questionable entertainment value instead of its questionable therapeutic value. As Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur pointed out, “If you watched the show as a serious documentary, it had a lot to offer, and was unsparing and often moving. If you watched it as a hilarious spectacle, then — well, it’s hard to figure out how to end this sentence, because I think you’re awful. But reality TV sends these things out into the world, and there’s no controlling what a viewer’s reaction is going to be.”
No way to control a reaction, but you could probably predict it. Dr. Drew once defended the show as “progress, not perfection.” But the very concept of Celebrity Rehab undermined itself. The series seemingly wanted to demonstrate the serious consequences of addiction and the importance of seeking treatment. Yet putting any topic into the VH1 reality machine makes it harder to take seriously — it’s now entertainment. And if some viewers couldn’t watch Dr. Drew’s show with straight face, you have to wonder whether the celebrities seeking treatment could take it seriously either.