With stardom and the highlife of Hollywood come certain vices. To date, drugs have claimed the lives of Heath Ledger, Chris Farley, River Phoenix and Anna Nicole Smith. And, in July, Glee’s Cory Monteith became another celebrity statistic. Debashine Thangevelo looks at how his death affected the cast, including co-star and girlfriend Lea Michele, and how co-creator Ryan Murphy chose to deal with the tragedy on screen…
HOLLYWOOD mourned Cory Monteith’s untimely death on July 13 – and the grief was felt by fans around the world. Jane Lynch paid a very moving tribute at the Emmys, where she called him a “beautiful soul”, while girlfriend Lea Michele also honoured him at the Teen Choice Awards.
His role as Finn Hudson on Glee turned him into a TV sex symbol and opened the gateway to other opportunities such as movie roles in Monte Carlo and All the Wrong Reasons as well as guest appearances on The Cleveland Show and MasterChef.
His magazine cover good looks underscored with his magnetism were also put to good use when he co-hosted several award ceremonies (23rd Glaad Media Awards in New York City, 2010 Teen Choice Awards and Gemini Awards in Toronto).
He was to be found everywhere – in a good way. The media swooned over Michele and the actor as the new darling TV couple.
At 31, he was on the cusp of great things. Sadly, his journey was always weighed down by his substance abuse – something that had plagued him since he was 12. And, in July, everything was snatched away when he died from a cocktail of heroin and alcohol in his hotel room in Vancouver.
The news sent shockwaves through the industry with Michele and his family taking it very hard. Also, it happened just before they were about to go into the fifth instalment of Glee, so Monteith’s tragic death had a ripple-effect in many ways: personally and professionally.
Sending the Glee writing team into a bit of a tailspin, co-creator Ryan Murphy found himself hounded by the media wanting to gain insight into how this would impact on the Emmy award-winning musical comedy.
In an interview with tvline.com, Murphy opened up about how they decided on the best way forward with everyone reeling from the tragedy.
He said: “Well, it’s such uncharted water for me, personally. We had several options. We could delay shooting until November, we could delay shooting until January. But, ultimately, what we decided to do for the cast and crew was start shooting with something we had already written.
“We had written two Beatles episodes in May and had been working on that tribute for four years. We just decided it would probably be the best for everybody to get back together and be working and have grief counsellors on set for two weeks. But, ultimately, we made no decision without consulting Lea.
“Brad Falchuk (executive producer) and I talked to Lea and asked her what she wanted to do. We laid out every possible option. And she was very adamant that she thought it would be best for the cast and crew to get back together sooner (rather) than later so that mortgages could be paid and people could take care of their families.
“Cory was so beloved that she felt people really needed to be together. So we sort of followed her lead.”
With those two episodes in the bag, Murphy says it gave them time to work on episode three, which would deal with Finn’s death. However, he was clear that they wanted to pay homage to the actor and ensured that it was tastefully handled and remained unblemished by the real-life events.
As for how Michele was holding up, at the time (although, recent reports indicate she is doing much better), Murphy revealed: “It’s just a very tragic thing. It’s been very difficult for all of us, including Lea, to love someone who is an addict. It’s something all of us have been dealing with for many months. It’s a disease and, unfortunately, the disease flared up.
“As soon as we found out, we staged an intervention with Cory that Lea was 100 percent running, out of love and trying to get him better, saying ‘Look, don’t worry about your job; you will always have a job. Don’t worry about fear. Don’t worry about shame. Just worry about getting better and getting stronger’. He was like a son to me. He was both very loving and very sweet… and also very stubborn.
“He wanted to finish those last two episodes of season four, and that’s when we found out that the addiction was flaring up again and I said: ‘F**k no. We’re writing you out of these episodes. Your life is more important than any stupid TV show. You’re not going to film. You’re going to get in a car right now and get help that I, Brad and Lea have arranged’.
“I thought he was going to fight me. He said: ‘Okay, I’m glad it’s over’. He embraced it and got into a car and went to rehab.”
Sadly, that was his last time in front of the camera. His addiction consumed him and his future.
As fans get swept up in the intense emotions of this season’s Glee, especially episode three, there are some new additions too: Ruby, a new African-American student; Ryan who sings and plays the guitar; a very eccentric Julie (also referred to as Jenny), and not forgetting the pleasantly surprising cameos by Demi Lovato and Adam Lambert.
Aside from the Beatlemania introduction, Sue Sylvester is now the interim principal of McKinley High. And don’t miss Katy Perry versus Lady Gaga as musical inspirations in episode four.
A bittersweet season for the cast of Glee, but they eventually find their rhythm.
• Season five of Glee airs on M-Net Showcase (DStv channel 113) on Wednesdays at 8.30pm. It has been renewed for a sixth instalment, but that will be the final season.