Obituary: Cory Monteith, actor

Cory Monteith. Picture: Getty
Cory Monteith. Picture: Getty
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Born: 11 May, 1982, in Calgary, Alberta. Died: 13 July, 2013, in Vancouver, British Columbia, aged 31.

Four years ago, Cory Monteith was an unknown, a showbiz wannabe. He had had a few bit parts in films and television, a string of casual jobs and a history of personal problems – he reckoned he was lucky to still be alive at 20. By this time, he was 27 and auditioning for a role as a schoolboy in a new TV show called Glee.

He got the part. He was to be the traditional romantic lead, the star football player, one of the coolest kids in school, who risks his street cred by throwing in his lot with the social outcasts of the singing club.

Glee had already been turned down by every film company around, but on the small screen it proved a surprise hit. It was one of the most successful television series of recent times. Suddenly, Monteith was an international television and recording star. He and co-star Lea Michele became a couple on screen and off, living the American dream.

However, Monteith had a history of drink and drug problems, going back to his teenage years. He campaigned on the dangers of drugs, but he checked back into a rehabilitation centre earlier this year. At 31, he was found dead in a hotel room in Vancouver.

He was born Cory Allan Michael Monteith in Calgary, Alberta, in 1982. His father was in the army, his mother was an interior decorator. They split up when he was very young.

Initially, he had done well at school, but then came the drink and drugs – “anything and everything, as much as possible”. He stole money to buy them and dropped out of school for the final time at 16. In his late teens he was persuaded to attend a rehabilitation centre.

He went through a succession of odd jobs, including driving a school bus and greeting people on the door at Wal-Mart. He wound up working as a roofer in Nanaimo in British Columbia, living in a trailer. It was there that he met Andrew McIlroy, a drama coach who saw his potential and got him interested in acting.

McIlroy later told the American magazine Parade: “I understood where he’d come from, and I thought, ‘if this fish slips back into the sea, we may never see him again’… Cory was working from some very dark truths. I remember going, ‘OK, this is something you can reasonably think of doing as a career’.”

Monteith began getting bit parts on television series and films that were shooting near his home in British Columbia. He was in Stargate: Atlantis (2004), Supernatural (2005), Smallville (2005), Final Destination 3 (2006) and Deck the Halls (2006).

He had a recurring role on the ABC teen drama Kyle XY (2006-2007) and played one of the main characters in MTV’s Kaya (2007), though it was cancelled after a single series.

Glee was conceived as a feature film, revolving around a school glee club. A “glee” was a short song or excerpt, sung by three or four singers, and the concept of a glee club goes back to Harrow public school in the 18th century.

But the idea had drifted into obscurity long ago and there was no interest among the film studios in the idea of trying to bring it back into fashion. Its creators redeveloped it for television. In the meantime, Disney had a big hit with High School Musical, a television film that proved so popular that it spawned a cinema sequel. Fox Network had already tapped into the pop and youth scenes with American Idol and saw the potential in a show that would combine high school drama and ongoing storylines with new performances of pop standards and some lesser-known songs.

Monteith put together a tape of himself singing REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling, went along to open auditions and ended up with a starring role as Finn Hudson.

He had a decent singing voice, though hardly exceptional. It was strong enough not just to sing on the show but also to go on tour in North America and Europe.

And although Glee itself was intended as light drama, Monteith was able to draw on his own troubled past to hint at inner conflicts. His character was torn between football and singing, between the head cheerleader and the uncool girl he meets at glee club, played by Lea Michele.

Glee turned out to be a genuine phenomenon. As well as being a huge hit on television around the world, cast recordings of pop standards sold tens of millions of copies. Twenty-five Glee songs made it into US Hot 100 in 2009, the year in which it first broadcast there.

The show premiered in the UK in January 2010 and a week later there were five Glee songs in the British charts. The Glee version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, on which Monteith sang, reached No2 in the UK. But Monteith’s stint as a major star was to end as suddenly and dramatically as it began.