Wednesday morning, Lamar Odom was found unconscious at a brothel in Crystal, Nevada. Although unverified reports say Odom is “fighting for his life,” officials have yet to comment on his condition or its cause. In the wake of his hospitalization, rumors have flown that Odom, ex-husband of Khloe Kardashian, was unhappy with his portrayal on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It’s hard to know whether this is actually true, and if so, whether it had anything to do with his spiral. But for devoted KUWTW viewers, it may come as a bit of a surprise. In the world of this show—in which everyone places a type, and embraces that type with enthusiastic shamelessness—Odom has actually been one of of the few people on Kardashians (and later on Khloe and Lamar, which ran for two seasons) who has been portrayed with nuance and sensitivity: as someone complicated and frustrating but surprisingly sympathetic, too.
Odom has had a rough few years. After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Khloe in 2009, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and promptly benched. He and Khloe finalized their divorce this year. He’s also had issues involving his estranged father, an addict who hits him up for cash, and his best friend Jamie, who died in June from a disease related to drug use. On top of that, his other best friend, writer/producer Bobby Heyward, died later in June of a presumed drug overdose.
He’s a sympathetic figure, but he’s clearly not blameless—rumors of his drug use and multiple mistresses began to circulate long before Khloe admitted their marriage had problems, and his promiscuity was allegedly the reason they divorced (he even rapped about cheating on Khloe). But considering all this, the Kardashians treated him remarkably well on their show.
Khloe in particular has kept Odom out of the spotlight. While the two were together, she repeatedly shut down criticism from Kim about Odom, telling Kim that it was none of her business. “‘There are some things that not everybody knows, and me and Lamar are the only people who do need to know [when it comes to getting pregnant],” she said. A year later, Khloe revealed that she hadn’t wanted kids with Lamar because their marriage was on the rocks—which she explicitly didn’t mention when Kim pressed her on the air. Even when she explicitly discussed Odom’s cheating, her anger was directed at herself, for “lying to everyone.” And in the same episode, Kris Jenner expressed her concern for Odom: “I love him very much and I want him to be OK.”
It seemed like a marked difference from the way Kris treated Kim’s confession that she wasn’t enthused about her then-husband Kris Humphries—she took her daughter’s side without question. (Of course there are rumors that this scene was staged, but by staging it, the Kardashians only further demonstrate how easy it is to win sympathy with their audience and drag someone else’s name through the mud.) Odom’s depiction is also markedly different from, say, Scott Disick’s; multiple scenes show Disick shouting or deliriously drunk. Surely it would’ve been easy to film the same types of scenes with Odom, but they don’t appear in the show.
The cringiest moment in the show’s depiction of Odom was the episode that aired two weeks ago, in which Odom called Khloe to tell her that a friend of his had died, and Khloe’s response was cavalier. But still, the show made it clear that Odom was struggling; Khloe confessed to being “on high alert” for her ex-husband. Kardashians hasn’t glossed over Odom’s issues, but it hasn’t demonized him, either. Overall, in a series that has no shortage of scoundrels and scumbags orbiting the show’s central women, Odom comes off less as a dirty cheating ex-husband than a decent, deeply troubled guy.