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Heather Armstrong, an influential writer whose blog Dooce helped popularize mommy blogging, has died, her partner, Pete Ashdown, confirmed to CNN. She was 47.
Ashdown told the Associated Press that Armstrong, who also used her maiden name, Hamilton, died by suicide.
“Heather B. Hamilton (Armstrong) was a brilliant, funny, compassionate writer who struggled with mental-health and alcoholism,” Ashdown said in a statement to CNN. “She saved many lives through her authorship on depression, but in the end could not save herself.”
“She was a loving companion and mother who was always open for a new adventure or concert. Heather believed that ending her life was wrong, but in the end, her judgment was clouded by alcohol. She was loved and will be deeply missed.”
Armstrong founded Dooce (named for an inside joke related to the word “dude,” per the New York Times) in the early 2000s. First it was a container for complaints about work, her life after leaving the Mormon church and other daily musings, until she was fired from her job in 2002 for writing about her coworkers using nicknames.
The firing incident went viral – which, at the time, meant Dooce was getting around 25,000 hits a day, per the Times – and Dooce was on its way to becoming a digital phenomenon. The word “dooce” even made it into several digital dictionaries – per Cambridge, being “dooced” means “to lose your job because you have written something bad about it on a blog.”
Armstrong’s blog’s popularity spiked again after she began writing about her children, Leta and Marlo, documenting the trials of young motherhood and raising two kids. In 2004, Dooce became the first personal website to start accepting a notable number of paid ads, the New York Times said. And by 2009, Armstrong was seeing 8.5 million readers a month, Vox reported in 2019. (She appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2009, too; both women were named two of Forbes’ 30 most influential women in media that year.)
Armstrong never shied from sharing hard truths with her readers, whether it was about her children’s temper tantrums or her mental health challenges. She was open about her experiences with postpartum depression after the birth of her eldest child, even penning a memoir on the subject in 2009 called “It Sucked and Then I Cried,” one of four books she published.
Her honesty was part of the appeal – even seemingly trivial snapshots of her daily life could rivet readers.
“She has the ability to take a single episode and turn it into an epic, and then, if you go word by word and ask, ‘What did she reveal?’ it’s really not very much,” her former husband, Jon Armstrong, who helped run Dooce in its early days, told the Times in 2011.
The couple announced their divorce in 2012 in separate blog posts.
After her depression worsened, Armstrong quit blogging from 2015 until 2017. She met and moved in with Ashdown, a former Democratic candidate for US Senate who was also namechecked on Dooce.
Toward the end of her life, Armstrong was characteristically frank with readers about her struggles with alcoholism. Her candor inspired her readers and fellow writers, who remembered her influence on their work and her complicated persona.
“Calling Dooce a mommy blogger was always an inadequate description of her breadth, her style and her early influence on blogging,” New York Times reporter Katie Rogers tweeted.
The author Lyz Lenz called Armstrong’s writing “raw, revelatory and so transcendently real” and said that reading Dooce gave her the confidence to launch her own writing career.
“Heather Armstrong was one of the first writers who showed me that I didn’t have to wait around to be published,” Lenz wrote. “That I could be funny fierce and free and write on my own terms. What a loss this is.”