To find your place in the world

The first things I wrote about Cory Monteith when news of his death broke out over the weekend revolved not around his role on Glee - the way he brought a naïve charm to what should be a one-dimensional character - but around his struggles with drugs.

It's the first thing you think of, inevitably. When someone is found dead in a hotel room, it's the first thing you think of. "Is it an overdose?" It seems that's the only way celebrities could die if they're found alone and lifeless in a hotel room. It doesn't help that Cory's been pretty open about his struggles with drugs. When I still wrote about Glee, when I still watched it for a living - when the show was genuinely fresh, and thus, good - I read everything I could, to the point of buying the magazines where the cast were on the cover.

Okay, I only bought two. And I only bought them because Dianna Agron looks so freaking beautiful. But in the stories in there - the crappy one on Rolling Stone, and the better one on GQ - you had Cory talk about his difficult teenage years. He had trouble fitting in, he told the latter, and thus ended up doing things you wouldn't exactly be proud of.

"You have to really look to get into trouble in Victoria," he said. "But I was industrious. Skipping school. Drinking. All that kind of crap. Things started off innocent like that. I definitely found myself in some places that I'm very fortunate I came back from." He was a good student, but began skipping classes to get high. He spiralled out of control until his loved ones staged an intervention when he was 19. He went to rehab, then moved towards acting, doing bit roles here and there, mostly in the many television productions taking advantage of the cheap prices in Vancouver, popping up for a recurring role in Kyle XY, and then, thanks to a couple of pencils and some Tupperware containers, he scored a lead role in Glee.

And you know how big Glee got. I thought it would be a cult show, the sort I had to convince people was good. (And that I did, to several people.) But from the moment the pilot aired in May 2009 - an unusual move for Fox, along the leagues of them ordering a half-season of the same show based on the script alone - people flocked to it. It was fresh and amazing and all kinds of feels. The first season picked up in September of that year and it was a phenomenon, of iTunes downloads and a little bit of camp and characters that spoke to you whether you're 16 or 60 or, in my case at the time, 20 and new to working and feeling isolated by your bitchy colleagues.

And part of that was down to Cory, he who, admittedly, cannot stand up to the rest of the original members of New Direction singing-wise - he only played drums in a band; Lea and Jenna were in theater, Kevin was in a boy band, Amber and Chris were plucked from obscurity but had the voices to boot - but brought to the show that intensity, that desire to do good, that sense that he has this one chance to make things right, or else he'll be a Lima loser forever.

Looking back - and I haven't finished Glee's fourth season, partly because of frustration at the show's direction, partly because I have since moved jobs and no longer had to watch television for a living - it seemed Cory's portrayal of Finn Hudson, your stereotypical football jock who worried about finding his place in the world, seemed to reflect what was happening in true life. He wanted to prove himself - to his mom (Finn revealing he got Quinn pregnant to his mom Carole is still one of my favorite scenes on the show), to his late dad, to his new dad, to Rachel, to his friends, to Shue, to everyone - and took pains when he realized he can't quite get there, that he didn't make it to New York, that he doesn't quite have Rachel...

Not that I know what he really felt. Maybe it's just Ryan Murphy's knack for taking things that just happened and turning them into episodes (and that includes the school shooting episode in season 4, which I haven't seen, but I know the producers went out to deny that it was inspired by Sandy Hook). But say what you want about the show losing its way - the cast did what they could under the circumstances. In Cory's case, it seemed he was taking inspiration from his troubles. He saw himself in Finn Hudson.

And the gleeks saw themselves in Finn Hudson, too. Perhaps not to that extreme, but we all have this part of us that are scared of not finding a way out, right? Of being scared that what we have now is all that we'll amount to be? We think we're doing the right thing but everybody else will say "no, it's definitely not the right thing!" We'll cry ugly tears (forgive me for using that term) when we realize we screwed up again. So they rooted when Finn and Rachel got together. And cried when they split up, and cheered when they got together again. Deep within Glee's knack for "reality" and gimmicks and emotional manipulation, the show's ultimate journey was just that - seeing two people who felt they didn't have anything find each other.

Cory found his place in the world thanks to Glee. He had adoring fans. He had fame. He was certainly in a better place than he was when he was 19 and in the depths of his troubles. He was, apparently, even set to marry Lea Michele. (In two weeks. I don't know what the gleeks know now.) But now he's dead, of what the coroner says is a fatal mix of heroin and alcohol in his system.

I won't try to gloss over his death. As much as we'll all say "what a waste of a young life" when Cory's death - at 31, with his career ahead of him - is mentioned, we all have to acknowledge that he ultimately broke, that despite his attempts to stay clean, especially with his most recent stint in rehab a few months back, he lapsed and screwed up, and now he's gone. He did something he shouldn't do. He took heroin. He died because of it. As a friend put it, "there's no sympathy for that."

But in the end, he tried. He really tried. And he got there. And he saw that he was slipping, and he tried to stop it. And he almost did. But he didn't quite do it. This brings to mind another similar death, a few years back, that of Amy Winehouse: promising talent wasted away by a destructive relationship and a drug habit that she kicked by getting into drinking, ultimately dying after another attempt to stop drinking led to a relapse. But look at her now, and look at Cory now. It's not as if they were, they will be, defined by a series of fatal decisions, right? Not when you have people basically treating you as god now that you've died, repurposing your dialogue as a sign of your eternal grace and love? My point is, he may have not kicked his addiction - it may not have been in the headlines - but he found his place. He did what he set out to do.

He initially was hesitant to detail his past in interviews - he recognized that being Finn Hudson made him a role model for so many kids. He eventually did in an interview with Parade in 2011. "I don’t want kids to think it’s okay to drop out of school and get high, and they’ll be famous actors, too," he said. "But for those people who might give up: Get real about what you want and go after it. If I can, anyone can."

He might have not succeeded entirely, but I honestly don't think he has anything to worry about.

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