‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ Stars, Twin Brothers Bill & Joe Smith, Dead In Apparent Double Suicide

They were 32.

a rose on railroad tracks, metaphorically representing suicide
GoranH / Pixabay

They were 32.

Bill and Joe Smith, two men who appeared on TLC‘s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, both died in what appears to have been a double suicide, TMZ reports.

The 32-year-old twin brothers were found hanging from a tree in Sevenoaks, England, law enforcement confirms.

The brothers appeared on Season 3 of the popular TLC show, which ran from 2011 to 2015. At the time, the men were both gardeners.

Though they appeared on a show with the word “Gypsy” in the name, the men weren’t Gypsies in the strictest sense. Traditionally, the word “Gypsy” has been used to refer to the Romani, or Roma, people, an ethnic group with origins in India.

However, the word “Gypsy” has since come to be used colloquially to refer to any ethnic group that consists of itinerant and close-knit family members. There are several such groups throughout Europe (and indeed, in the United States as well).

One such group is the Irish Travellers, or “Minkiers” or “Pavees,” or in Irish as Lucht Siúil (“the walking people”); or referred to pejoratively as “pikeys.” The Smith brothers were from the Irish Traveller community, which has no ethnic connection to the Roma.

Indeed, the ethnic roots of the Irish Travellers remain murky and the subject of academic debate.

an irish traveler woman
  Photobymack / Wikimedia Commons (GPL)

However, like the Roma, Irish Travellers were known for their itinerant lifestyle, their tight-knit communities, and their intense devotion to family.

Though the show presented the joyful side of life within the community, including their extravagant wedding customs, the reality of life for the Irish Travellers, and indeed other itinerant ethnic communities in Europe, is considerably more grim.

Beset by economic and social marginalization, lack of access to education, persecution from majority ethnic groups, and lack of government aid or intervention, many Travellers live in poverty. What’s more, centuries of marrying within the community have left its members prone to genetic diseases.

A 2007 report in The Irish Times noted that 50 percent of Travellers don’t live past their 39th birthday. Female Travellers have an even lower life expectancy than their male counterparts.

Similarly, the community is plagued by depression and suicide, according to a 2017 Irish Times report. The rate of suicide among Travellers is six times that of the rate of the general Irish population, and among young Travellers, it’s seven times that of the general Irish population.

“It’s no longer a shock to me any more, which is absolutely scary, and that’s what’s sad. Mental health issues are severe in the Traveller community,” said Bridgie Casey, a Traveller who lost four relatives to suicide in the course of four years.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.