Caesars Palace/Kabik Photo Group
How a Year of Unspeakable Tragedy Changed Everything for Lisa Vanderpump and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
“Opening a new restaurant and dealing with personal feelings and then this complete f–k-up with all my friends, it’s been a lot to actually deal with. But I feel I’m in a different place now. Things are turning around. Out with the old, in with the new.”
Succinct as they may be, those four sentences uttered by Lisa Vanderpump during last night’s season finale mark the last words we’ll ever hear the restaurateur utter on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. As we watched her arrange her trademark pink roses and survey the land at her hilltop Hollywood Hills oasis, Villa Rosa, in the episode’s final moments, we witnessed the last act of an OG Housewife, one who, amid said “complete f–k-up” with each and every one of her co-stars, opted to skip out on the contractually-obligated three-part reunion special, beginning Tuesday, July 16, and put down her diamond—permanently.
While the move doesn’t sever LVP’s ties to Bravo entirely—she is still the star and executive producer of spinoff series Vanderpump Rules, currently filming its eight season, after all—it does mark the end of an era. And it comes at the end of what’s proven to be, perhaps, one of the most difficult years in the British socialite’s life.
Bravoholics were first clued in that things wouldn’t be all diamonds and rosé as usual mere weeks before the most recent seasons of RHOBH and Pump Rules were to go into production as news broke that the reality star’s beloved brother Mark Vanderpump had died on April 30 at the age of 59 in a suspected overdose, a tragedy she confirmed to herself to the Daily Mail two weeks later.
“This has come as a shock to us all. My brother and I had connected the day before this tragedy and I was completely unprepared for this,” her statement read. “He was my only sibling and I am shocked and saddened by his passing. I am trying to be supportive to his two young sons that he has left behind, and help them get through this tragedy. We appreciate your consideration in this private and extremely difficult family time.”
Two days after the news broke, Vanderpump took to social media to pay tribute to her brother and give fans a little insight into her mental state, writing on Instagram, “It’s been a devastating couple of weeks… one day at a time… I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all your love and support. Love Lisa xo.”
It wasn’t until Pump Rules premiered months later, in December, that we learned both the true nature of Mark’s passing and how it rattled LVP. “It’s been five weeks since my only sibling, my brother who was 16 months older than me, passed away through suicide,” she told the camera. “And for five weeks, I stayed home. Obviously it just being the two of us, we were more like twins. It’s been incredibly difficult, but we have to keep moving forward and make the people that were so important in our lives proud as they watch down over us.”
So, move forward she did. After all, not only did she have two reality show to film, but she and husband Ken Todd were preparing to open Tom Tom, their third bar and restaurant in West Hollywood, while still running the ship at their existing properties Pump, SUR, and Villa Blanca (located in the neighboring city of Beverly Hills) as well as their philanthropic endeavor, Vanderpump Dogs. That’s a lot for any person to handle, let alone one in the throes of extreme grief. Under the best of circumstances, it would’ve been understandable for her to struggle with filming.
And then Puppygate happened.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to this season of RHOBH, the crux of this season’s drama centered around Vanderpump and a convoluted story placed in the press about co-star and now-former friend Dorit Kemsley‘s handling of a dog adopted from LVP’s center. To make an incredibly long and confusing story short, LVP (or someone in her camp) was accused of leaking a version of events surrounding Kemsley’s decision to find a new home for a dog that had bitten her children—a version of events that, it should be noted, made the situation look more more negligent than Kemsley claims it ever was. It’s an accusation that Vanderpump has weathered multiple times during her tenure on RHOBH—planting stories with the press—and one that, as ever, she vehemently denied.
But by the time longtime friend and fellow OG co-star Kyle Richards arrived as Villa Rosa, at, as viewers would soon see, the urging of the rest of their cast, to reveal that no one believed her and many, including Kyle, suspected she cared more about her image than her relationships, she’d had enough. She threw her now-former friend out of her home and stopped filming with any of the other women altogether.
Before the season even began to air, rumors were already swirling regarding Vanderpump’s future on the series. And while she and Bravo were cagey about her status until very recently, it was clear something was up. She missed out on Friend of the Housewives Camille Grammers October nuptials to beau David C. Meyer, held in Hawaii, as a source told People, “Lisa’s choosing not to film during any of the group activities. Lisa doesn’t want to be around the women as a group, so she’s getting less filming time. But nobody has quit. She’s definitely still on the show.”
That same month, she told E! News that she still wasn’t in a good place following Mark’s death “because I have been more emotional than I normally am.”
“It’s not about putting on anybody else. I don’t need support. I don’t need sympathy. I just need to process it myself. It’s been hard. Yes, I am a strong woman but I’m still emotionally vulnerable,” she said. “I think A lot of people who follow me and know me know that this year has been much more challenging for me than a normal year,” she continued. “I have done 320 episodes of reality television. This year, there were certain things that felt very different to me. I’m not having a go at anybody, I never do, because it’s not who I want to be, it’s not who I want to be. I want to focus on things for the greater good and carry on doing what we’re doing and try to enjoy my life.”
While she continued to rack up business opportunities—November saw the announcement of a partnership with Caesars Palace for Vanderpump Cocktail Garden, which opened in the Las Vegas resort this April—she was conspicuously steering clear of her co-stars. And by the time the show was due to premiere in February, she admitted during a sit down with E! News’ Melanie Bromley that, despite having faced these sort of accusations from her co-stars before, something in her was different this time around.
“Obviously I wasn’t as strong as I am normally,” she said. “I mean, I’ve sat at reunions and final parties and been ganged up on before, but obviously I wasn’t strong personally this year. But you know, I got through Vanderpump Rules.”
As the season unfolded and Puppygate came to dominate everything, eventually forcing LVP out of the spotlight (though, it should be noted, absolutely of her own volition), she admitted that she hadn’t been watching the show because, as she said on the official RHOBH after show in April, “it’s no fun being the recipient of everyone ganging up on you.”
Sitting down with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live that month, she admitted that she wasn’t sure what the future held for her and Richards, whom she’d set out on this grand adventure with all those years ago. “I don’t know,” she said as conversation turned to the brutal fight between the two in Villa Rosa. “I’ve just seen that scene, obviously it was a long time ago, it was seven months ago, but clearly she’s not mourning the friendship because of this whole kind of nonsense that was on social media about ‘Goodbye, Kyle!’ It would’ve been funny, maybe—I mean, it wasn’t that smart—it would’ve been funny, maybe if the friendship had been salvaged, but it hasn’t. It’s been very sad.”
By June, it was becoming clear that she was ready to walk away for good. “I’ve always said I’m not just a Housewife, I didn’t make a career out of being a Housewife. Housewives has documented my life. I don’t have time for bulls—t negative minutiae, I don’t,” she said in an interview for the after show. “I will continue to run my businesses, five restaurants, the dog center, dog center in China, my political kind of activity in fighting for many things, LGBTQ, humane treatment for dogs, working with Trevor Project, the suicide prevention, Vegas, there’s only one of me. My Housewives will probably say thank God.”
During an appearance on RuPaul, RuPaul Charles‘ new daytime talk show, she went so far as to admit that she wish she’d taken the entire year off. “It was such a brutal season for me, and it was at a time where I was floundering,” she said. “Everybody always says, ‘Oh, you look like you’ve got your life together,’ but I started that show this season like, two or three months after my brother passed. I just wasn’t in the right space.”
“I actually did say, and we talked about it with Andy [Cohen] on Watch What Happens Live—he said: ‘I wish I’d given you the year off,'” she continued. “I just wasn’t as prepared. I found that I couldn’t deal with something that I could normally deal with. So then it just went on and it was accumulative and in the end I just said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.'”
Courtesy of Caesars Palace
By the time she committed the cardinal Real Housewives sin—skipping out on the reunion—it was clear: She was no longer a Real Housewife. Speaking with fans on Twitter, Vanderpump opened up about her decision to stay home, telling them she had no intention of showing up. After alluding to the previous seasons in which she’d found herself in the hot seat, she wrote, “This year again it was 5 against 1. I was done, it was just too vicious this time, I wasn’t in the same place emotionally. #BULLIES. There was no chance of reuniting.”
When another fan suggested that her former co-stars hadn’t been sensitive enough to all that LVP was going through following the death of her brother, she replied, “Exactly, it was overwhelming, but I got thru it, unfortunately now have to make sure don’t regress.”
Unfortunately, she would be dealt another yet another blow and an opportunity to regress as the world learned that her mother Jean had passed away at the age of 84 in mid-June. Vanderpump was understandably “shocked and devastated.”
“Lisa is heartbroken over this loss,” a source said. “The last several months have been very challenging for Lisa. Lisa has been going through grieving process for her brother and was just starting to feel like herself again for the first time when she received the unexpected news that her mother died.”
As the reality star’s rep confirmed to E! News, she had made the decision to temporarily step away from filming on Vanderpump Rules‘ upcoming season, even if it meant she might miss Jax Taylor and Brittany Cartwright‘s Kentucky wedding that she was due to officiate. (She eventually made it to the wedding, though Lance Bass presided over the ceremony in her stead.)
“Lisa is an incredibly strong woman, and she will return to Vanderpump Rules, her businesses and her charity work, but she knows she needs to take a step back for the moment and mourn,” the source told us.
While it remains to be seen what a LVP-free Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will actually look like—sure, she was absent for much of this season, but her specter hung over the proceedings as the ladies continued to deal with and discuss the fallout from their feud with her—it’s abundantly clear that this year of tragedy has left Vanderpump irrevocably changed.
“I don’t want to be a victim, I’m just talking about my emotional feelings,” she admitted on the RHOBH after show in April. “When you go through a really kind of desperate time yourself, the people that are there next to you, holding your hand and supporting you, I think will forever kind of be etched in your mind as the people that got you through something. I think the people that maybe aren’t there, you suddenly realize that you could possibly do without.”
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills‘ three-part season nine reunion begins, sans LVP, on Tuesday, July 16 at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Vanderpump Rules returns soon.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)