Published July 19, 2013
He made us believe in "Glee" with "Don't Stop Believin" and for four glorious seasons, sang his way into our hearts. Cory Monteith, starring as Finn Hudson, was that guy. The one every girl falls in love with in high school. The one who lights up a room, fits in with all the different cliques, and is as vulnerable as he is strong.
Sadly, but not surprising, we now know he was also that other guy. A drug addict.
Unable to quit the deadly pull of heroin, even with the help of family and friends. Cory's real life eighteen year struggle with substance abuse is a story tailor made for an "after school special," or for a plotline in its primetime 21st Century incarnation in "Glee," the show he brilliantly brought to life for millions of so-called "Gleeks" across the country.
In the days since the sad news of his death all eyes have been on producers of the hit musical comedy drama with a penchant for tackling social issues facing American teens.
How will they handle Cory's death? Will they kill off Finn or just have him fade away at college, with a touching silent tribute on a title card at the end of the first episode in the fall?
After losing a member of their family, the premiere of the show's Season 5 has been delayed until November. Though tough to digest, "Glee's" declining ratings will be tremendously bolstered -- at least for the first episode -- as America waits to see Rachel without Finn, Mr. Shue without his best man, and the show we sing along to without its leading man.
There are those who advocate not killing Finn off for reasons ranging from the belief that "Glee's" writers lack the skill to appropriately and effectively address a death in its plot and the unbearable pain of having to act and sing about the loss of a "family member" for a "plot point."
While the pain of reliving the death of a loved one is hard, and the timing may be fresh, actors rely on their past joys and more importantly, pain each time they step on a stage or in front of a camera.
While our hearts ache for Cory's girlfriend/fiancee Lea Michele, I suspect someone with her high level of talent could tackle the challenge of Rachel losing Finn expertly and poignantly. In the same way recording stars have paid tribute to lost icons -- Whitney Houston, Biggie Smalls -- in live award shows like the Grammy's.
Presenting a nuanced story about Finn losing his life while away at college provides not only the opportunity for "Glee's" cast and crew to work through their grief but also offers a unique and powerful moment for young Americans who are struggling with the same demon Cory faced in his hotel room -- heroin, specifically and its prescription cousin, Oxycontin.
Cory is not alone. Alarming and increasing numbers of young people are being initiated to heroin.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration, since 2002, there has been an 80 percent increase in the number of 12-17 year olds using the drug. Consequently, they are dying in higher numbers as well.
The writers and producers of "Glee" do not shy away from taking on issues facing teens and Americans of all ages. Sometime with powerfully tear-jerking results, and other times (last season's school shooting episode) disastrous.
Having incorporated teen pregnancy, bullying, abuse of over-the-counter medication, texting while driving, gay marriage, sexting, alcoholism, OCD, and numerous other social issues, though brilliantly campy, the show is a reflection of the lives of its youngest fans.
However, in Gleedom teenagers don't die. They are tormented by the normal teenage angst from relationships to catfishing, but they live to sing another day.
"Very special episodes," may have become frequent fodder for comedy writers and TV critics, but when "Growing Pains" killed off guest star Matthew Perry in a drunk driving accident, it stuck with me and helped to focus my teenage activism with Students Against Drunk Drivers.
The last song Cory gifted Gleeks with before leaving for a rehab facility was the iconic "Fight for Your Right (To Party)." Thirty days later, he left rehab, stayed clean while in the company of his girlfriend, and then traveled to his native Canada where he won his right to party and tragically lost his life.
Hollywood writers are experts at making us think by making us feel. Perhaps, if Finn suffered a similar fate as the actor who flawlessly portrayed the guy we love to love, the lives of some of our real-life loved ones can be saved.