Kelly Dooley: My Manhattan Nightmare + The Reality of Reality Television

The Kelly Dooley Story

By Kelly Dooley

Life is a succession of lessons that must be lived in order to be understood. The objective of this article is to share my lessons so that you can hopefully learn from my mistakes. “The meaning of life,” Picasso said, “is to find your gift. The purpose is to give it away.” My gift is to empower women and my purpose is to do so on a global scale 24/7/365 and I will fight until the end by sharing my story until the very end.

In 2012, I wrote an article for The Huffington Post, “My Manhattan Fairytale,” about marrying who I thought was the man of my dreams.

As it turns out, this was, in fact, a fairytale.

Here’s the definition of fairytale: (1) a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and land;: (2) denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy; (3) a fabricated story, especially one intended to deceive.

Unfortunately, the article I wrote fits all three of those definitions.

Every single day of my life, someone comes up to me excitedly asking me if I am Kelly Dooley, often asking for autographs or to take a photo with me or to work for me or for me to mentor them. The number of requests I get on a daily basis truly boggles my mind.

So here’s the story of Kelly Dooley.

I was born August 2, 1982 to two wonderful parents in Fullerton, CA. My Dad named me. Kelly means “feminine warrior” and the name could not be more fitting. I was “Daddy’s Little Princess.” Unfortunately, my Dad died tragically on December 11, 1989, just two weeks before Christmas. He shot himself and my beautiful Mom found him in our garage. It was obviously the worst day of my life. I will never forget the sound of my Mom screaming when she discovered his body surrounded by blood on our garage floor. We found a suicide note a couple weeks later under the fruit bowl. It was a red heart that he made with construction paper that simply stated, “Jan, you were the love of my life. In love forever, Bill.” I always wondered if he kissed me before taking his last walk into the garage and I recently learned that a rocking chair was by my bed the morning he died, so he was definitely watching me and kissing me. The cops came. Our house became a crime scene.

It was no surprise to me that my Dad was dead. I watched him fall apart for over 6 months. My Dad was extremely depressed. He was a gorgeous man with jet-black hair, green eyes, very prominent features and he was built like an ox. He was only “5,” 5 but he was 180 pounds with 50-inch shoulders. He was an amazing Dad and a brilliant man. He manufactured oil pans and air scoops and completely revolutionized the industry. He is a legend in that world. He started this company when he was 23-year-old and worked constantly to design a wonderful life for my Mom and their children.

I am not sure why my Dad became depressed. From the outside looking in, he had it all, but like cancer, depression is not something that someone chooses. It just happens. He eventually stopped grooming himself. I vividly remember combing his hair for him; he wore it slicked back like Tom Cruise. My Mom worked part-time as a labor and delivery nurse, and whenever she was at work, he would cry.

Two Saturdays before he shot himself point blank in the roof of his mouth, I was watching the cartoon network and he had stopped eating at this point. A week later, my Mom made him go to a psychiatrist and he had to take a multiple choice psychiatric exam, which he completed while she was making mac ‘n’ cheese. I was sitting beside him at the kitchen table. There was a question asking if he’d ever kill himself, so he turned his head and asked my Mom, “Jan, would I ever kill myself?” She said, “I don’t know, Bill, would you?”

One week later, he was dead. And our lives were permanently changed. The kids at school were so mean to me after this, telling me that my Dad went to hell and so on. We became black sheep in a community concentrated with devout Catholics.

Now, before you go ahead and start judging him, silence your mind and listen to what I am telling you: suicide is not a cowardly act. He obviously thought that he was making the best decision for himself and for his family. And now he is my guardian angel.

When he died, I felt so bad for my Mom, who now had the burden of raising my brother and me all by herself, and my Mom did not have an easy life. Her mother, a gorgeous nurse, was brutally murdered when my Mom was 5-years-old. The story was hot news in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1956. Her Dad told her that she moved to Florida to model, so her Grandmother took her in for four years and saved her from a life of utter chaos.

So, now, here my Mom was, at the tender age of 38, all alone, having to care for her two children because her husband, the love of her life, decided to end his life.

I told my Mom that I understood what happened and that I wanted to learn how to cook and do the laundry so that I could help her until I went to college. And that is exactly what I did. At the age of 7, I became an adult. Because I was so attached to my Dad, once he died, I wanted to make him proud. Thus, I excelled at everything I did. I excelled in school, not only for my Dad, who I knew was watching me, but also because I wanted to make my Mom proud. My Mom has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen and when I make her happy, they twinkle in a special way. I live to make her eyes twinkle and I tried my best to be the peacemaker to make sure that my Mom never worried about me. At age 10, our babysitter molested me and I did not tell her until a few months ago because I did not want her to worry.

She is a wonderful Mom and exemplifies resilience. She grew up extremely poor and realized at a very young age that she did not want that life for her family, so she started working at the age of 10 by making cards and ironing for the neighbors. By the time she was 15, she had saved enough money to buy her own VW bug. And the rest is history. After my Dad died, my Mom, who is a retired Labor and Delivery nurse, ended up with a swimming pool company. It was a terrible situation but she was able to transform this company into something remarkable, turn ashes into diamonds.

She always pushed me to follow my dreams and provided me with the love, support, and funds needed to do so because she wanted me to have opportunities that she never got to experience growing up. I am forever grateful for the sacrifices she has made for me, for the push she gave me to fly as high I can go. People who do not know or acknowledge my history may think I am spoon fed, but that could not be further from the truth.

Since my Mom worked seven days a week to make ends meet, I spent a lot of time alone. I wrote constantly, created weird items, like homemade nail polish, and cleaned to ensure that our home was spotless when she got home from her 12-hour shifts at the hospital. I never complained about anything because she had enough on her plate.

I went to Boston University for undergrad to pursue my B.S. in Print Journalism with an emphasis in crime studies and also taught literacy at Rosie’s Place, a homeless shelter for women. I graduated early and moved home to California where I did sales for a swimming pool company before moving to New York to attend New York University and pursue my M.A. in Media, Culture and Communication Studies with an emphasis in social media and luxury consumption. After graduating a semester early I decided to work at Equinox Fitness, which was an intense job but I loved it until they would not give me two days off to run The Walt Disney Marathon, so I quit. When I was training for the marathon, I was searching for a fabulous sports bra that had a pocket. I could not find one. That was when I had the idea for BodyRock Sport. I wanted to create a line of sports bras for women like me who appreciate fitness, fashion, and function, who want to be able to wear their bras from day-to-night, from the gym to a hot date. As soon as I got back from the race, I went for it. (For more information about BodyRock Sport, you can watch my Tedx Talk here).

At the time, I was in a networking group and several of the people told me to go to a specific seminar. I did not look into the program extensively; I just signed up and went.

On the second day, I met the man that I wanted to marry. His eyes reminded me of my Mom’s, so he captivated me. We were smitten with each other from the get-go. He has had a hard life and I thought I could be his panacea, give him all the love in the world and piece him back together. Like my Mom, he was also raised by his Grandma. But I have learned that I am not a repairwoman; I am only human. He was not a very talkative person but I thought he was mysterious, like a complicated puzzle waiting to be solved.

The first time I slept with him, I fell asleep in his arms and awoke in his arms, and that was the first time that had ever happened. He then made me breakfast and I went home. At the instant, I knew he would be my boyfriend. On paper, we made no sense. But I had a soft spot for him and wanted to marry him. Neither my Mom nor my friends approved but they did not want to interfere in my pursuit of love, as they all knew how badly I craved real love. So I did not care about the asymmetrical backgrounds. I had a list of 100 qualities in my ideal man, and he had most of the qualities. But recently, I revisited the list and he lacked all of the most important characteristics.

I’ve learned that love is merely a word. You bring it definition. Hearts are wild creatures; that’s why they’re in cages.

He often complained about how much I worked, but unless you are a passionate entrepreneur, you cannot understand our mentality. I do not stare at my watch all day waiting to clock out at 5 pm. As BodyRock grew, so many incredible opportunities landed in my lap and I could not resist seizing them. Work does not feel like work to me; it’s not something that I need to escape from.

My entire life revolved around my company and my love. I was so devoted to him. I did not travel for pleasure without him because I always wanted to be with him but had so many work commitments that I had to balance work with my insatiable desire to make him feel loved 24/7/365. Other men were invisible to me. But he always had a wandering eye. He would always walk in front of me while we were out and hated any displays of public affection. He is the coach for a triathlon team, and this team is filled with adulterers, so I always worried that he’d end up being just like the rest of them, and much to my dismay, that is exactly what happened.

But I knew he was a cheater.

He told me stories that were unbelievable. His ex-girlfriend, who is still on the team, has no idea how bad he was when he was with her. It breaks my heart. I do not understand the point of being in a relationship if you are unable to be faithful. It makes more sense to just be single. I cried for nearly a year and wanted to die.

As Paolo Coelho said, “Beware when making a woman cry. God is counting her tears.”

He became abusive towards me in 2011. I do not want to go into detail but it was very bad and incredibly scary, and the worst part, is that he has no remorse and does not remember the details because he was inebriated. But he did say that I deserved it. That first instance was a couple months after my Mom and I bought my gorgeous wedding dress from Kleinfeld. Here, I had just bought this couture Pnina Tornai dress to marry who I thought was the love of my life and he was abusing me behind-the-scenes. I had started a company with the chief purpose of empowering women and here I was being abused. I felt like a hypocrite. But I did not want my Mom to worry about me. So I prayed that he would curb his drinking and get his act together and immersed myself in work as a distraction from what was shaping up to be the relationship from hell.

Within the same month, the producers from Say Yes to the Dress contacted me via email saying that everyone at Kleinfeld’s was ranting and raving about how gorgeous I looked in the dress and they wanted me to be on their show. I do not watch TV, so I was not familiar with the program, but I was interested, as I thought it would be a powerful form of exposure for BodyRock Sport. So we staged an episode and it ended up being one of the most popular episodes they have ever had.

A few months later, the producers contacted me again about a new series called The Big Day. Due to the popularity of the show, they wanted to follow me around as I planned my wedding. I was resistant but they made me an irresistible pitch. The episode was supposed to be about how I balanced running my company while planning my destination wedding. I viewed this as the perfect opportunity to publicize my company on a massive scale and to make my vendors famous. I am surrounded by so much talent and I genuinely wanted to unveil these incredible people to the world. These creative geniuses include the one-and-only Zuleika Acosta, who is an incredibly gifted hair and makeup artist, Leigha Fromm, a Chanel makeup artist, and, of course, Julie Mollo, a spunky Brooklyn-based designer who created the flower girl dress.

Our wedding did make me famous on a global scale but it also made me an easy target. The TLC producers cajoled me. The show was supposed to me about my business and planning a destination wedding. I quickly learned that reality TV is fiction. They literally print out lines that they want you to say and you have to say X line about 10 times and they edit based on the fictitious storyline they are developing behind your back. Because I liked the producer so much, I played along and the price of being the nice girl was incalculable.

A few months later, my manufacturer for BodyRock Sport, who I considered a dear friend, sent me a contract that I signed without getting reviewed. In so doing, I freed them from all responsibility and gave them all of my IP, designs, and patterns. Within a year, I lost everything. I had a mental breakdown and voluntarily went to a mental hospital in Long Island, where I spent a week, was put on meds that made me paranoid, suicidal, and even temporarily lose my vision. Once I got out of the hospital, the manufacturer came after me to pay for defective goods. I had to borrow loads of money from friends and family to pay them back and could not get out of bed for months.

Meanwhile, my husband starting having an affair with a girl on the team he coaches. I confronted him. He called me crazy. Turns out I was not crazy after all. Four days later, I found a photo of her vagina that she had sent him. So the cat was out of the bag.

Fast forward to December 2014. We decided to do a trial separation and on the night before his anticipated departure, he told me he has colon cancer. Of course, I did not believe him, but it was true. I offered to take care of him and was hopeful that this was the silver lining, that perhaps he would finally understand the importance of family and loyalty. I got our home prepared for his surgery and recovery.

The morning of his surgery, we made love and sobbed. He told me how much he loves me and we went to the hospital. I was there for 16 hours, came home to sleep in my own bed, and the next morning someone from his triathlon team reached out to me because I had posted a photo on my Instagram account saying, “My Heart.”

The person told me that he was lying to me and that his mistress was visiting him in the hospital. Within 48 hours, seven different people from the team reached out to me about their affair. Apparently he thought I loved him so much that I would let him do whatever whenever. I am not The W Hotel. I am human and I have a heart and I deserve respect and love.

I did not allow him to come home from the hospital. I told him that I would leave his belongings with the doorman and that he could get everything else once he told me the truth. Instead of honoring my request, he sent the police, one of whom I knew from a previous domestic violence report that I had filed.

He completely extricated me from his life and I was left home crying and shaking. I threw up blood every day from the stress and now have a hole in my esophagus, which will now affect me for the rest of my life.

Then one of his exes contacted me. We started talking and met up for dinner. Turns out he abused her too.

So, what’s the silver lining?

The K-Do Alliance, an organization that I am in the midst of launching, with the mission to provide women with the financial resources and sources of empowerment needed to free themselves from abusive relationships of all kinds.

Most women are too afraid to speak up and I am here to help. I am collaborating with amazing designers from all over the world, who are creating exclusive designs for The K-Do Alliance, many of which will be in my signature Kelly Pink.. If you want to get involved, please email me at

Turn your ashes into diamonds and remember that it’s much better to be a diamond with a flaw than it is to be a pebble.

Much love to you all. Thank you for giving me wings. The lower you fall, the higher you fly.

Just call me K-Do. And click here if you’d like to donate to The K-Do Alliance.

Note: this article has been edited from its original version