Times Reality Stars Died Very Young

Reality tv stars that died young came from The Real World, The Bachelor, and Buckwild.

By Kevin C. Neece | Published

Reality TV is not known for its actual reality. But real events don’t wait to be scripted, and sometimes they’re tragic. Here are some notable reality TV stars who died young.

Ryan Dunn – Jackass

Dunn was known for his work on the long-running MTV series Jackass and its subsequent movies, featuring insane, dangerous stunts. In fact, it was the stunts shot on video by himself and his friend Bam Margera that gave birth to the whole thing. Sadly, around 3:30 a.m. on June 20, 2011, Dunn was driving his Porsche 911 GT3 with his assistant Zachary Hartwell when he left the road and crashed into a tree, causing the vehicle to become engulfed in flames.

Dunn was 34 at the time, and his assistant was 30. His blood alcohol level was several times over the legal limit, and it was estimated he had been driving between 132 and 140 miles per hour in a 55-MPH zone

Gia Allemand (The Bachelor and Bachelor Pad)

Allemand had been a model for years before competing on Season 14 of The Bachelor in 2010. She had previously been a professional dancer, but an Achilles tendon injury ended her ballet career. In her appearance on Bachelor Pad, she was cut after the third episode because she refused to participate in a kissing game, citing an existing committed relationship. 

On August 12, 2013, she attempted suicide, later attributed to the pressures of fame and finding love and happiness, but survived. Two days later, however, on August 14, 2013, she made another attempt and died at the age of 29. 

Ashley “A.J.” Jewell – The Real Housewives Of Atlanta

Known as A.J., Jewell was engaged to Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss, the two dated for several months in 2008, leading to his appearances on the show. In January 2009, the couple were engaged.

However, in October of 2009, Jewell became involved in an altercation outside an Atlanta strip club, Body Tap Club, of which he was an owner. The fight was with an employee, Frederick Richardson, who allegedly beat Jewell severely, inflicting major head wounds. Jewell died from his injuries at the age of 34. In a statement, Burruss said Jewell’s death, coming just after the death of her beloved uncle, had left her “devastated.”

Diem Brown – The Challenge

Danielle Michelle “Diem” Brown was a philanthropist and entertainment reporter in addition to being a recurring member of the cast of MTV’s The Challenge. She was also the founder of an online service known as MedGift, which offers support pages and a gift registry for people with illnesses and their caregivers. She appeared on several seasons of The Challenge, beginning in 2006, during the 2005 filming of which she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

After years of treatment, remission, and resurgence, her ovarian cancer eventually metastasized in her colon and stomach, leading to her death on November 14, 2014 at the age of 34.

Frankie Abernathy – The Real World: San Diego

Appearing on The Real World: San Diego in 2004, Abernathy was a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who liked punk rock and Hello Kitty. In her time after the show, she worked tattoo conventions and was even featured in a tattoo magazine. Later, she designed purses made from old vinyl records.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 3, Abernathy knew she would not have a long life, as fewer than half of those with the disease live past the age of 37. She died in Shorewood, Wisconsin, where she lived with her family, on June 9, 2007. She was 25 years old.

Shain Gandee

The MTV reality show Buckwild followed nine young adults in Charleston and Sissonville, West Virginia, as they found fun things to do in their rural environment. Described as having a Jackass-like element, the series featured activities like squirrel hunting and mud racing. Unfortunately, one of the show’s biggest stars, Shain Gandee, did not survive one of his adventures.

Last seen alive leaving a bar at 3 a.m., Gandee, 21, went four-wheeling with his uncle and another person on April 1, 2013. All three were later found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning inside a Ford Bronco that was partially submerged in mud. Production on the series was immediately halted, and the show was canceled on April 9, 2013.

Pedro Zamora – The Real World: San Francisco

A Cuban-American AIDS educator, Zamora starred on the MTV reality series The Real World: San Francisco in 1994, becoming one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be seen in popular media. His appearance on the show helped bring visibility and awareness, not only to the disease but to the humanity of those who live with it. This was especially important during an era when there was still a great deal of stigma and fear attached to HIV/AIDS.

Zamora was visibly ill on the reunion show and died on November 11, 1994, at the age of 22, just a few hours after the final episode of his season aired. MTV later broadcast a memorial program, A Tribute to Pedro Zamora, in his honor.

Ben Watkins – MasterChef Junior

Watkins competed on the kids’ cooking show when he was 10, appearing in the 2018 season and ranking 19th in the competition. The year before, he had lost both of his parents but continued to move forward courageously in his life. At 13, he was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a rare brain tumor.

He and his late parents had opened Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen in Gary, Indiana, and he looked forward to a career as a chef and an engineer. He died on November 16, 2020, at the age of 14. On the GoFundMe page established to cover his medical costs, his family said he had a love for life and “never, ever complained.”