Last Sunday, I was eating breakfast while my parents were watching the news (as they were keeping up with the Zimmerman trial) and suddenly I saw Cory Monteith’s face pop up on the screen. Since Glee is my favorite show and Finn Hudson was my favorite character, my ears perked up. And suddenly, I heard the news.
“Cory Monteith was found dead in a hotel room in Vancouver yesterday. He was 31 years old.”
My jaw dropped and my heart shot up into my throat. “WHAT?” I choked out? “Oh yeah, didn’t you hear about this?” my dad asked nonchalantly. “NO! I just woke up!” I croaked out, feeling tears welling in my eyes, not wanting to cry in front of my parents about some ‘random’ actor dying. But I was gutted.
I’d been using Glee as my weekly wind-down session during grad school, and it was one of the few things in my life for the past four years that was completely pointless and made me happy by letting me briefly escape from my own, often less-exciting reality. Cory was one of the major actors on that show who I particularly enjoyed watching; a guy who I saw as my ‘ideal man’, handsome, kind, and musically gifted. I hoped I’d one day meet a guy as impressive to me as Cory was. Now, he’s dead, and I still can’t believe it.
I’ve since been following Cory’s story all week, from his autopsy results, to reports on his past addiction struggles, to the Glee casts’ emotional responses to their good friend’s death. I grieved for Lea Michele, who I could only imagine felt like her whole world had imploded. She’s 26, like me, and I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating this situation is for her. (Some reports say she is inconsolable – of course she is, how on earth would anyone be consoled in this situation?)
I recently read an article suggesting that the show Glee address Cory’s death on the show, not by glossing over the loss and whitewashing what really happened, but by dealing with the topic of drug abuse head on, using Cory as an example to his younger fans who might consider trying drugs in the future, even if it’s just things like alcohol, marijuana, and other less lethal drugs than heroin.I truly hope they follow that recommendation. I think drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem in this country that isn’t being addressed, and it’s unfair to blame Cory for his supposed weakness instead of acknowledging addiction as a disease, and our culture as tolerating and even promoting drug abuse. Cory apparently has been addicted since he was a young teenager – would you blame your 15 year old son for being “weak” if you found out he had gotten into a bad crowd and was using dangerous, highly addictive drugs?
It’s such a sad situation, since if anyone should have been able to get past his addiction, it was Cory. He had a good job, a supportive cast, a loving girlfriend who tried her best to keep him clean, and he himself worked hard at being sober for years, which is a challenging thing to do for anyone. But in some ways, I wonder if the pressure of being a clean-cut Glee star made it even more difficult for him to deal with his addiction, since he couldn’t be 100% open about it. He opened up a little in past interviews, but even then people brushed it off as a “before Glee” situation. I know I did. As Ryan Murphy, Glee’s producer, said: “His last words to me were, ‘I want to get better,’ and I always felt and continue to feel even in his death that he did, that he really wanted to fight it and he was humiliated and shamed.” Cory wasn’t some over-privileged hard-partying star, he was fighting for his life after growing up in a harsh environment and getting involved in the wrong crowd.
People who don’t do drugs have negative attitudes towards people with addiction, myself included. I’ve had heroin addicts come into our hospital this summer, and I even had one man who had been readmitted after going through a rehab period. He recognized me from his last rehab stint and said he was “glad to see me”, which made me feel awkward since I didn’t think I should be glad to see him back in the hospital. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had a pretty negative attitude towards these people, believing it was their own fault they were in this situation and having little empathy for them. I was certainly pleasant in my interaction with them, but in my mind, I still saw them as being to blame for their condition.
Now, after reading more and more about what happened to Cory and how heroin addiction screws up your brain chemistry, I realized that drug addiction isn’t simply a matter of willpower and avoiding temptation, but a disease, one that certain people have the misfortune of developing due to where they were born, who they were friends with, and the power of good versus bad influences in their lives. It’s easy for me to say drug addiction is someone’s own fault when I grew up in a upper class, loving family with no exposure to illegal drugs and no temptation to do anything remotely dangerous. Heck, I didn’t even try alcohol until I was 18, which is pretty old for most people in my generation! God forbid I lived in a poor, urban neighborhood with divorced parents and shady friends offering alcohol and drugs when I was 13 – the exact situation Cory grew up in. It’s easy to get on your high horse when you’ve never had to deal with the kind of terrible circumstances that would lead to someone doing heroin in the first place. I don’t think I’ll ever judge a drug addict again after this.
Also, I feel like this situation can be applied to people who are obese – we love to play the blame game and point fingers at overweight and obese people for being “lazy gluttons”, but who’s to say that they had any control over their food quality and access, social influences, nutrition education, genetic tendencies, or epigenetic phenotype? Some people eat like pigs and stay skinny, and other people diet all their lives and still gain weight. Who are we to judge them for not being “strong” enough or “smart” enough to lose weight? Maybe food addiction is as real as drug addiction, especially in a food environment designed to make people addicted. Who are we to judge their struggles?
In this situation, I’m glad I have my Christian beliefs to fall back on, since Jesus teaches that we all are sinners in some way and have no right to judge others for their shortcomings, apparent immorality, or bad behavior. God loves all of us, even the heroin addicts. I’m also recognizing how worthless the feeling of jealousy is; for so long, I was extremely jealous of Lea Michele for having what I considered to be the ‘perfect’ life, and felt that she didn’t deserve who I thought was the ‘perfect’ boyfriend in Cory. Now I just feel grateful that I don’t have to go through what Lea has to, and realize that now, I wouldn’t change places with her in a million years. It’s weird to go from envying someone to praying for them and thanking God I’m not in their shoes. But it’s been a good lesson for me nonetheless – life cannot be taken for granted, the grass is not always greener, and the lure of a ‘perfect’ life is a fantasy that, in this case especially, has been shattered for me.
I know this post is totally off topic but I felt the need to write something about it since I’ve had a lump in my throat all week now trying to come to terms with the loss of someone I used to consider ‘the perfect guy’. This experience has driven home the fact to me that perfection does not exist, and in many ways I feel liberated from the pursuit of perfection in a way I never really grasped before. I felt like I needed to write something about my experience as a way to come to terms with all the unexpected emotions I’ve been having.
I’m just so sad for Cory, for Lea, for his family and friends, and for all the young fans who have had to deal with the tragic death of one of their idols. I’m going to miss tuning into Glee and hoping that Finn Hudson would perform another great song, or that Rachel and Finn would get back together finally. It’s a rough crash to reality, but it’s given me a lot to think about over the past week.
Rest in peace, Cory.