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James Harness: ‘Gold Rush’ star’s death at age 57 reveals truth about reality TV

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James Harness of “Gold Rush” died at the age of 57 after having suffered a stroke a week before his death, according to his children. James Harness is one of the original stars of the Discovery Channel reality TV series “Gold Rush.” He is survived by his two children, a son and a daughter, reports TheCelebrityCafe on July 6. Harness was divorced.

James Harness was laid to rest on Saturday in Oregon, and his children confirmed that their dad had died the week before and just one week after his stroke. As the news of Harness’ death reached members of the “Gold Rush” reality TV show, the creator of the show, Todd Hoffman, wrote on Twitter on July 4 the following words: "None of us know the time of our passing but we are called today to Iive and glorify Him through that life we have.” On July 5, Hoffman also expressed his grief: “Remembering the good times I had with a friend.”

On James Harness’ Twitter page, friends and fans, including “Gold Rush” producer Christo Doyle and Harness' fellow miner David Turin, also wrote about their fond memories of the Oregon man who had been part of the reality TV show for the first two seasons. While some fans call Harness the show’s “Mechanic/Fabricator” and “a legend,” others, however, are recalling that there was much more reality to the so-called reality TV show.

As one James Harness fan wrote:

“Everytime some equipment breaks, I get fearful that #JamesHarness will be too strung out on morphine to fix it.”

When the reality TV show “Gold Rush” began in 2010, Harness was one of six featured men from Sandy in Oregon who lost their jobs during the economic downturn and decided to travel to Porcupine Creek in Alaska in order to search for gold. The show was originally called “Gold Rush: Alaska,” but as it moved from Alaska to Canada (and eventually other parts of the world), the show was renamed to just “Gold Rush” during season two.

Unlike the expansion of the show, James Harness’ own reality remained stuck in a car accident during which he had injured his back and sustained a severe spinal injury. The crippling pain in his back led Harness to turn to addictive pain killers. Harness’ addiction triggered problems on the reality TV show in which he played a mechanic. After failing to show up for work and becoming unreliable, he was let go during season 2.

According to US Weekly, “it's been reported that the star was fired at the time of his exit in season 2,” and that James Harness later confirmed that the reality TV show was “partly scripted.”

James Harness is not the first (nor the last) celebrity who had to deal with the reality of appearing on a reality TV show. US Weekly calls it the “Reality Curse” and features Hulk Hogan with wife Linda whose marriage was displayed on-camera and ended in divorce. Other examples of the reality curse mentioned by US Weekly include "Britney Spears and Kevin Federline turned home videos of their courtship into this UPN reality series. The couple divorced in November 2006 after two years of marriage.” In regard to "Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica (2003-2005)," US Weekly wrote, "the popular reality show chronicled the marriage of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson from their post-wedding honeymoon phase to squabbling as her success eclipsed his own. The couple have blamed the intensity of the show, in part, for their divorce in November 2005.”

James Harness’ own reality was not that he was looking for gold, but that he was looking for a life without pain. “Gold Rush” creator Todd Hoffman writes on his Todd Hoffman from Gold Rush Alaska Facebook page the following memories of James:

“James Harness has passed away from what I'm hearing. He was a great guy and mechanic. Thankful to have gotten to know him for the short time that I did. I took James to church and I know he had a faith. We were not that close at the end and lost touch for the last couple years but I think we will meet again. James fought some hard things in his life. He had so many plates and screws in his body from serious car accidents. He loved to Rock and he loved the ladies. He was a character. Never a dull moment. His back pain was hard to watch.”


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