Heather Armstrong, ‘Queen of the Mommy Bloggers,’ Is Dead at 47
Heather Armstrong, the breakout star behind the website Dooce, who was hailed as the queen of the so-called mommy bloggers for giving millions of readers intimate daily glimpses of her odyssey through parenthood and marriage, as well as her harrowing struggles with depression, died on Tuesday at her home in Salt Lake City. She was 47.
Pete Ashdown, her longtime partner, who found her body in the home, said the cause was suicide.
Ms. Armstrong, who was born Heather Brooke Hamilton, was a lapsed Mormon raised in Bartlett, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis, and later based in Salt Lake City. She rose to prominence at the dawn of the personal blog craze of the early 2000s; her baptism in the field came after she graduated from Brigham Young University in 1997 and moved to Los Angeles, where she taught herself HTML code and took a job at a tech company.
She started Dooce in 2001, christening it, according to one version of the story, with the nickname she had earned after committing a typo writing the word “dude” in an AOL Instant Messenger chat with friends.
Early on, she mined her experiences as a tech drone for material — firing off tart salvos about the absurdities of start-up culture in the swelling dot-com bubble, publishing, say, bro-ish pronouncements overheard at a company Christmas party. (“Ruben, dude, you can’t stand on the table. Or on the bar.”)
A year later, her blog candor got her fired, an experience that inspired a popular internet phrase, “Dooced,” referring to people who find themselves scanning job listings after posting ill-advised comments online. The term even found its way onto “Jeopardy!”
She felt guilty about the experience. “I cried in my exit interview,” she recalled. “My boss, who served as the subject of some of my more vicious posts, sat across the table from me unable to look me in the face, she was so hurt. I had never felt like such a horrible human being, even though in my mind I thought that I was just being creative and funny.”
But that career setback opened up vast opportunities for fortune and fame. In an era when countless people, women in particular, were starting personal blogs — often just for the pleasure of friends and family — Ms. Armstrong glimpsed commercial possibilities.
As the blogging boom approached its zenith in 2009, Ms. Armstrong was a blog powerhouse, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and attracting some 8.5 million readers a month, according to a 2019 article in Vox, while tapping a gusher of income off banner ads, sponsored posts, books, speaking fees and other sources. The news media christened her “the queen of the mommy bloggers.”
Along the way, the six-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac in Salt Lake City that she shared with her husband and business partner at the time, Jon Armstrong, and her two children functioned as a fishbowl for her cultishly devoted readers.
As noted in a 2011 profile by Lisa Belkin in The New York Times Magazine, Ms. Armstrong was the lone blogger featured that year on the Forbes list of the most influential women in media; she was ranked No. 26, one slot behind Tina Brown of The Daily Beast. The article quoted a sales representative for Federated Media, the company that sold ads on her site, who called Ms. Armstrong “one of our most successful bloggers,” adding, “Our most successful bloggers can gross $1 million.”
As Ms. Armstrong said in the Vox interview, “I looked at myself as someone who happened to be able to talk about parenthood in a way many women wanted to be able to but were afraid to.”
Nothing seemed off limits, as she regaled readers about “poop and spit-up,” Ms. Belkin wrote. “And stomach viruses and washing-machine repairs. And home design, and high-strung dogs, and reality television, and sewer-line disasters, and chiropractor visits.”
But Ms. Armstrong did not shy away from thornier topics, including her tangled breakup with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a 2017 post detailing why she left the church, she recalled, with some horror, a blog diatribe she wrote two days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, comparing Mormons, in their devotion to authority, to the Islamist terrorists who flew the jetliners into buildings.
“I’m not particularly proud about it,” she added. “I’d had a few or several martinis when I wrote it, but my dad was just a tiny bit upset and told me that I was ‘a disgusting creature who had succumbed to the dark side.’”
The topics grew darker still. In 2009, Ms. Armstrong chronicled her struggle with postpartum depression, after the birth of her first child, in a best-selling memoir titled, “It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita.”
Few readers were ready, however, when she and her husband, who also had a blog, broke the news in 2012 that they were splitting. The breakup of the family outraged many Dooce loyalists, who had come to cherish her portrayal of a charmed marriage and family life. It also seemed to embolden the anonymous critics on internet forums who had long spewed hateful resentment over her seemingly idyllic life and financial success.
Feeling pressure from all sides, she scaled back her blogging efforts and put more focus on her mental health.
In 2019, she published “The Valedictorian of Being Dead,” a haunting recollection of her many attempted therapies for depression, including one in which she was repeatedly given propofol (which she called “the Michael Jackson drug”) to induce a coma. “I felt fantastic!” she wrote. “When you want to be dead, there’s nothing quite like being dead.”
In addition to Mr. Ashdown, her survivors include her two children.
Ms. Armstrong’s efforts to find peace continued. In a post on Dooce last month, she recounted her turn to sobriety in recent years, writing that “22 years of agony I had numbed with alcohol had come alive and transformed itself into an almost alien life form.”
Comparing the experience to shock from electrocution, she wrote, “I was forced to stare this wild-eyed savage straight in the face, and now I look around and think, ‘Oh, this. This is just life. All of this is just a physical reaction to psychological pain.’”
“Sobriety was not some mystery I had to solve,” she added. “It was simply looking at all my wounds and learning how to live with them.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
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