Glee’s Tribute to Cory Monteith Will Surely Gloss Over Addiction

The upcoming episode may help Monteith fans grieve, but it won't help them understand why they would never want to be like him

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Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic / Gety Images

Cory Monteith at the 12th annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball on June 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, a month before he died of a heroin overdose.

Last week, Fox released a promo for this Thursday’s episode of Glee, which will be a farewell to the character Finn and tribute to the actor who played him, Cory Monteith, who died in July of an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Reports had initially suggested that Glee producers might try to write in an addiction plot line that would mirror the actor’s real life, but they now seem to have abandoned that idea, although their PR rep won’t reveal details until air time. Either way, we know that the show won’t come close to portraying the ugliness of Monteith’s death, which almost certainly occurred in one of two ways. Heroin users who die from overdose either asphyxiate on their own vomit–triggered when the body attempts to repel the toxic substance–or, because heroin suppresses respiration, their breathing slows and eventually stops and they basically suffocate. It’s a ghastly, lonely death.

(MORE: Glee‘s Cory Monteith Gets Tear-Jerking Farewell Episode)

At the Emmy Awards last month, Glee costar Jane Lynch, a recovering alcoholic, described Monteith’s death as “a tragic reminder of the rapacious, senseless destruction that is brought on by addiction.” But Monteith’s other colleagues have mostly glossed over the fact that the beloved star was suffering a disease that causes unrelenting physical and psychic pain and ugly, senseless death. I frequently receive letters from the parents of kids who’ve died of overdoses, and one mother wrote,  “Her lips were blue. I tried to perform mouth to mouth on my own daughter, but she was already cold and dead. The drugs won in the end.” Another wrote, “I went to the apartment and found him dead, curled in a ball, on the floor. There was blood and excrement. My baby died alone in hell.”

In an interview, Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy admitted that the star struggled, “but never on the surface, and I think that’s why everybody loved him.” Addiction isn’t clean, pretty, charming, or lovable. Addicts are shunned. They lose their jobs. Some lose their families, all of which is why they hide their affliction, often even from those closest to them. They present a sunny façade as their problem worsens until they can no longer hide it because they’re arrested, rushed to an emergency room, or die.

In America, we still view addicts as the other: those on the streets huddled in alleyways or doorways, unkempt, uncouth, possibly dangerous. We walk around them, averting our eyes. Or we follow their antics on TMZ— Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen, the brunt of jokes about their attempts at recovery followed by relapse. Monteith was a fresh faced, clean-cut heartthrob. When he died, a radio interviewer called and asked me to explain what happened. He said, “But Cory seemed so normal.” He was so normal even in his drug addiction, a condition he shared with 23 million Americans.

If it’s addressed at all, the Glee creators will almost surely sanitize the real cause of Monteith’s death. Hollywood isn’t obliged to portray reality—indeed, authenticity is anathema to feel-good shows like Glee– but by whitewashing addiction, the producers are failing its audience of young people, the group most vulnerable to overdose. A tribute replete with sad songs will make the audience cry, but it could also wind up romanticizing the star’s death. So while the episode may help Monteith’s fans grieve the loss of their idol, it won’t help them to understand why they would never want to be like him. This is a disease that needs to be shown with such ugliness that even a face as beautiful as Monteith’s will make the millions of young people who watch the show recoil in horror.

28 comments
LeannaHarrow
LeannaHarrow

Addiction is a choice. We all make choices both good and bad. They should have portrayed his addiction and the fact that it killed him even though addiction is neither clean, pretty, charming, or lovable. With the network reaching MILLIONS of people, especially impressionable young people, there is no telling the number of people the true portrayal of how Mr. Monteith died, could have slapped directly in the face and perhaps saved. He made a choice, he didn't have the willpower to beat it and it's heartbreaking. He was, from what I've read, a good man. Too bad the "powers at be" couldn't show that if, someone that had everything going for him, could die by his own bad choices, it could and does happen to millions of other people all the time. I am extremely disappointed that we can have shows like Honey Boo Boo and The Real House Wives but we can't have truth in non "reality" shows.

emilybrownell1
emilybrownell1

I'm glad this piece was written. I have a similar feeling and I find it especially hard to fight the way on drugs when many mothers and fathers are burying their children and saying it was "cardiac arrest" or some other ailment when it was actually overdose. If we keep covering it up like its not a problem for sake of a memory how can a community ever come together to help fight the way on drugs? http://thefrugalouslife.com/2013/10/09/my-cory-monteith-tribute-is-a-call-to-arms/

mongrainmarieeve
mongrainmarieeve

Finn never took drugs. His dad died from a drug overdose and he did not want to die like that and would not have taken drugs. The episode dealing with how his dad died also said that Finn's dad was a lot more than the last months of his life as was Cory. While I would not want to have the same demons as Cory, and he was quite upfront about his demons because he wanted to make sure none of his fans followed the same path, I would very much like to be more like Cory. Kind, generous, sweet. full of life and talent, always there for those he loved and never having a bad word to say about anyone. The kind of guy who would go to a fan meeting when he was feeling sick because he did not want to let them down. We all know drugs are terrible. We saw that it killed this amazing man that was loved by so many. We don't need Finn's death to be by drugs to know about the demons of drugs. Cory himself made it clear by being so open about how once you took drugs for the first time it was a battle who you had to fight your whole life.

Rory46
Rory46

While I agree wholeheartedly about the ravages of drug abuse/use, this is an episode of a show that is featuring the death of a character who was NEVER shown with any drugs and whose father had previously died of an overdose. The character wasn't shown drinking and was a clean cut kid. Wow...that's perfect...you say, because THOSE are the kids who this impacts and clean cut kids can be abusers of drugs as well. No! To write Finn's exit like this as simply out of character is lazy. Glee cannot cure all of society's ills, and it should not try to. In the end, Finn is dying. In real life, Cory died horribly, but Finn, the character in the Glee universe, has to exit the canvas. It would be highly inappropriate to try to make any more of an impact on viewers who lost an idol to them. They know why Cory died. Cory is simply not Finn. Don't confuse the two.

Js2012
Js2012

In my opinion, the tribute was necessary in regards to the actor and the story. But I also think having drug use play a part would take away from what I think is what we all want as fans, to honor cory and Finn. The biggest problem with this show, among other things, is that after that first season, they became arrogant and preachy as if it was their responsibility to deliver every nightmare of humanity to its viewers, no matter the sensitive nature. Which caused a huge tonal problem where everything they wrote came off as exploitative, offensive, disrespectful, etc. Glee began as a pleasantly absurd tv show about an underdog who just wanted friends to sing with her, and a teacher who brought a bunch of diverse kids together to form this group and it was great. Now, They've lost one of their friends. So, let them remember him in true glee fashion. Cory and Finn. And hope that in this case, they don't tell us what we already know.

Samon
Samon

The biggest problem with Glee  (producers,cast and everyone involved in it) is that they glorify him. 1st with Rehab telling how they never saw that coming, how he never showed he was using again. They addressed his addiction, like it wasn't a big deal, it was a small thing and tried to paint him as hero for going to Rehab (that was short, especially because it wasn't his 1st time). But after his death they maintained the same speech, but now they did an intervention,they saw it, But he still was charming and lovable. They still try to give him an hero image (for what? Going to Rehab?).They say the ep is for Finn, but they're selling it as the actors true pain.They're talking about how it was hard and they all cried...because of Cory. Because it's what the fans want, and how they'll connect to the episode and the actors. They're selling Finn and Cory was the same person and with that they're giving both glorious deaths, so maybe in the end people will forget how Cory really die, or will stop wondering how he got to that point. It's not hard to find fans that don't believe he was using again, or think it was an one time thing, or that someone pushed him to do relapse, they don't see how ugly and serious was it, they don't see that was Cory's actions and choices that brought him to that moment. And Glee is only help them to think like that.

icebergslim1047
icebergslim1047

Look, heroine addicts are coming from affluent neighborhoods, middle class neighborhoods.  In the Chicago Northern suburbs (affluent areas like Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Vernon Hills, etc) high schools students who look  like CORY MONTEITH are overdosing all over the place.  Parents are fighting school districts to have DRUG COUNSELING in the schools, DRUG classes with the school board.  This is serious.  I-90 of Chicago highway is Heroine Highway and most are white teens, young ppl with heroine addictions.  So, Glee will SANITIZE his death when in reality it was a HORRIBLE death.  And obviously GLEE and its producers don't understand heroine addiction because it is the hardest addiction to kick.  Overall, I think Monteith has been sanitized and if GLEE wanted to send a real message it would show a hard hitting segment about the ravages of drug addiction.  But it won't.

davidhoffman
davidhoffman

Glee, like Friday Night Lights,  is a ridiculous show about a small segment of the high school population. People do not break out in dance numbers in the hallway of the typical high school on a typical day.  Football is unimportant to most real high school students who are there to learn academics. The shows are idiotic fantasy.  If Glee fails to address drug use and death, that is no worse than the rest of the make believe world it inhabits.

ukcat1
ukcat1

Glee is saying farewell to Finn Hudson, one of its primary characters.  Finn Hudson was not Cory Monteith.  Making Finn Hudson a drug addict when there had been no sign of that over 4 seasons would not fit the story line.   If Glee wants to point out the tragedy of drug abuse, then have one of the characters develop the disease and show the progression and struggles over several episodes.  Finn Hudson was an example of an all American boy who was portrayed very well by Cory Monteith. Monteith's public relations staff did a great job of making him the seem this same.   I will watch Thursday and mourn the passing of Finn and feel sympathy for Monteith's family and friends who lost a loved one.  I will only hope that the Glee fan base will have read enough about CM's real life struggles that they learn from it. 

ShowThemWhat
ShowThemWhat

I disagree.  The fans -- particularly the young ones -- are still reeling from the fact that Monteith died as a result of an addiction he could not overcome.  They knew he was an addict struggling to recover -- he spoke about that directly, and frequently -- and they know that losing the struggle killed him.  His death, in and of itself, is already an immensely powerful lesson to them.  

Parents, teachers, and other adults who are actually present in the lives of kids can use his death as a way of talking to children about what happened and about the dangers of drug use -- something that began to be a problem for Monteith at the age of 13, unlike the fictional character he played who never struggled with any sort of substances.  (In fact, the character of Finn was the one character on the show who did not get drunk in the Season 2 episode about alcohol abuse.)  

Instead of relying on one episode of a TV show to teach a life lesson in 43 minutes, adults in the lives of children can take on the responsibility of engaging in ongoing, lengthy conversations with them about what happened and why an actor they so loved and admired -- someone who had a very different life story than the fictional character on the television show Glee -- lost his life-long struggle with addiction and died from an overdose.  


Jones_20906
Jones_20906

I agree, David.  I was equally disappointed when I read that Glee would not be mirroring Cory Monteith's death with the reality of it.  The death of one addict is one death too many.  This disease demands immediate attention because it is treatable and recovery is possible!!  Your books and your plight to educate our society and eliminate the almost universal negative public stigma associated with addiction is an inspiration.  Thank you for the difference you make in the lives of addicts and their loved ones.

M.S.
M.S.

Excellent article, David.  Great points and very eloquent.  You just need to fix one little fact.  I think he died in June, rather than July.  Regards.

mes
mes

Just because Cory Monteith was an addict doesn't mean he wasn't a real person - with family and friends who loved him and fans who supported his work. By all accounts, he was a good man who was kind to everyone he met and worked hard to better charitable causes he believed in. I think the episode sets out to honor who he was as a person. As one of the songs in the upcoming episode asks, "[do you measure a person's life] by the way that [he] died?" His death doesn't deserve glorification, but who he was as a person and what he meant to the people whose lives he shared deserve recognition. I see nothing wrong with the show's tribute episode - it's not a tribute to Monteith's death, but to his life. I think the genuine sadness of the people he worked with and was friends with is more than enough of a deterrent to young people. Everyone knows his death wasn't great - it was a tragic event for a young person suffering from an illness that devastated many people around him. That's enough.

PattiDavid
PattiDavid

That is very disappointing to hear, our young people need to know the realities of that first choice to use heroin, opiates, meth, bath salts, etc. After that first use they lose the ability to choose with every following use, why would you not take this huge opportunity to be one of the first primetime programs to tackle this epidemic in this country???  This is no tribute to Corey, but a cover up, honor him, tell it like it was and will be for so many addicts who don't snap out of it and get help. Be part of the solution GLEE grow some balls and be Corey's voice from the grave!!!!!

sgsmom3
sgsmom3

I thought that I read that Glee cast members would be doing PSA's regarding the perils of addiction and suggesting helplines and talking to counselors or people that they trust to help them fight their addiction.

graceU2
graceU2

While it is important to educate young people on the dangers of addiction and overdose, I do not believe that creating a tribute episode to allow fans (as well as cast/crew) to grieve romanticizes addiction.  Cory Monteith was a human being with family and loved ones, who tried to recover from his addiction, and who--by many diverse accounts--made a positive difference in people's lives.  His life is equally worthy of being celebrated, as anyone else's would be, regardless of how he died.  

eagle11772
eagle11772

Another dead junkie.  So what ?  People have known about the dangers of illegal (they're illegal for a reason) drugs for many decades, if not longer.  Why should I have sympathy for him ?  I say: "Give him a Darwin Award".  Now that Kurt Hummel.  HE'S a cutie ! :)

Vu
Vu

I'm very disappointed when I read that Murphy will gloss over Monteith's death and avoid a very real issue for Americans, particularly young Americans.  Drug use and death are real issues that people have to face.  Death is one of those seminal moments in the growth of an individual.

Murphy is a hypocrite for covering homosexuality over many episodes including teenagers getting married but will instead have a celebration episode regarding death?

I'm in the health profession and I find it appalling that many teenagers don't believe that you could die from trying drugs one time.  For that reason alone, Murphy could've made a difference and showed how life can be fleeting.  He could've done a story where Finn was pressured into trying it at a college party, mixed drugs and alcohol, and died.

Trebor
Trebor

Also, this article just makes The Onion article, "Internet Not Quite Done Milking Cory Monteith's Death" seem more legitimate. 

Trebor
Trebor

Really? This is an article written by a media professional accusing Glee of glossing over the realities of drug addiction and death on their popular and primetime television show?

Regardless of what the episode shows (which, I might add, is currently all speculative) as Finn's cause of death, it seems far-fetched to desire a bloody, cold, drug-induced death of Finn's character, not only because a) Finn didn't do drugs and there was never a suggestion that he did, so having him die of an overdose would be lazy writing and untrue to character and b) on a show so dedicated to helping youths who feel different become empowered, I'm not sure a ghastly death would be either tonally consistent nor particularly appropriate. Try to get that past the Fox sensors.

David Sheff's point on not underplaying the role addiction plays in America is a good one, but this article is lazy, as the argument that "addiction is an important topic that affects million of Americans" means "Glee has the responsibility to show Finn dying from a drug overdose" is flimsy and nonsensical. 

Hermione
Hermione

I read this article twice before deciding to respond in comment.

Yes, I absolutely agree that heroin addiction is a terrible thing. But I fail to see why this author is singling out a TV show and it's producers for whatever went wrong in that young man's life. We may never know exactly why Cory chose to use drugs - that is very unfortunate.  Yet there are other actors and contributors to this show that have chosen to make better decisions in their lives, and their contributions do not need to be ignored.

I fully agree that drug addiction is something that should not be glamorized. However, I do not feel that shows like GLEE or Breaking Bad are forcing anyone to turn to drugs. "Blaming the media" is just getting really old - should we just do away with TV, just because everyone can not be pacified?  What next, burn books?

ChrisSmith215
ChrisSmith215

@LeannaHarrow I'm glad I could get past your first comment.  Everything that you wrote after "addiction is a choice" is poignant and smacks of honesty in the face of people trying to make sense of someone dying from drugs.  Addiction is not a choice.  People choose to do drugs, but addiction is not something someone picks and chooses as if they are trying on an outfit. 

Luis9999
Luis9999

@LeannaHarrow Addiction begins with choice... that is true. But it is not only through choice that we can end it. There are several bio-genetic factors involved in its study. It's a disease we are still learning treat... 

mongrainmarieeve
mongrainmarieeve

@Samon How could we think it was a one time thing when Cory was quite open about fighting this since he was 12? He never hid it. Cory had a disease. A disease he fought successfully for years, he was clean for over 10 years, and who ended up having the upper end. Doesn't change the fact that he was a sweetheart of a guy, who was actively involved in charity and helping others and did a whole lot of good in his life. Being sick didn't change him being a good guy. And every real Cory fan knew just how serious his disease was. If they didn't, they weren't real Cory fans and knew nothing about him.

Nicoleptic
Nicoleptic

@Samon It's possible for someone to be beloved and still be caught in the grip of addiction. 

Woobie21
Woobie21

@ukcat1 They will be doing PSAs regarding substance abuse/addiction, from what I've heard (commercial breaks and the like).

tuckerphez
tuckerphez

@eagle11772 A) Cory had been struggling with addiction since the age of 13, and he had gone to rehab before he was on Glee. It's not like he started doing drugs out of nowhere. He had this disease (and addiction is a disease) for well over half of his life. Don't act like drug addiction is something that's easy to fall in and out of.

B)If you were a real Kurt fan, you'd remember that Finn's his stepbrother. Kurt Hummel is going to be crying his little heart out this week because not only is his stepbrother dead, Chris Colfer (the guy that plays Kurt) gets to remember that Cory Monteith, a dear friend of his, IS DEAD IN REAL LIFE.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@Trebor One of the problems with a heroin addiction is that often, there is little or no indication that it's happening until it's too late.  People can seem to be doing all right, and can be using heroin nonetheless.  Many people who use never tell their "straight" friends about it.  If they haven't progressed to the point of being symptomatic, who can tell?  There could always be the idea of, "But we didn't know!  We couldn't tell!  And now, he's dead."