Grieving Cory Monteith and Why Celebrity Deaths Are So DevastatingMichelle Konstantinovsky

I know exactly where I was the moment I found out Heath Ledger had died.

Enough time has passed that I feel okay about confessing to having taken a mental health day from my then-job. And I know we’re all friends here at HelloGiggles, so you won’t judge me for admitting that I was bargain-hunting at Ross with my mom that day when my phone buzzed.

My stomach seized up into a tight knot and my vision blurred as I tried to make sense of the words in my friend Whitney‘s heavily punctuated text (had emojis existed in 2008, surely there would have been many). It was an eerie, out-of-body experience that I hadn’t expected to feel in the wake of a stranger’s death. But I couldn’t rationalize my way out of the visceral reaction. And in the ensuing days, weeks, and months of media coverage and speculation, I couldn’t logically explain away the distinct sense of mourning that consumed me.

Heath’s death wasn’t the first time I’d been so deeply affected by news of a celebrity’s passing, and it wouldn’t be the last. I was only nine when River Phoenix died, but hearing my sister and her friends discuss his death seemed surreal. It took a solid hour of obsessively scanning reports before I allowed myself to believe Michael Jackson had actually died. I was in Greece when my travel buddy read the news of Amy Winehouse’s death. I remember getting a slight case of tunnel vision and needing to sit down because the pins and needles in my limbs made it so uncomfortable to continue standing.

I was 17 when Aaliyah died, 18 for Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, 13 at the time of Princess Diana’s death and I was 11 when Selena passed. All of them felt oddly personal.

But somehow all of those emotionally-charged moments paled in comparison to what happened Saturday night when I came across the incomprehensible news that Glee star Cory Monteith was dead.

Even typing that sentence sends shivers down my spine, and I can’t help but feel ridiculous about it. Yes, I’m less ashamed to admit I played hooky in order to bargain shop with my mom than I am to acknowledge how profoundly this stranger’s sudden death is affecting me.

I didn’t know Cory. I met him once, but briefly. I had convinced my incredibly kind, exceptionally influential boss to let me cover the red carpet at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards (and somehow I’m not mortified to tell you that?). I sat alarmingly close to Zac Efron as he charmed the press room, and I caught a glimpse of Robert Pattinson‘s hair in all its Edward Cullen-esque glory from across the auditorium. But the event ended up being sort of a bust and the interviews I’d scored weren’t real scores.

As my friend Melissa and I left the venue tired, hungry, and dejected, we spotted Cory exiting another press tent nearby. FOX had just aired the Glee pilot, and while there was plenty of buzz surrounding him and the show, hardly anyone noticed him strolling sans-publicist through the back lot—even though he towered above most of us at six-foot-three.

In one of many completely unprofessional moves I’ve pulled throughout my short red carpet career, I tapped him on the arm and asked for a photo. He seemed genuinely flattered by the attention, and to this day, I owe Melissa many baked goods and cocktails for snapping the pic while I posed awkwardly with someone so unnervingly good-looking.

I’m not going to pretend the moment was any more intimate than it was, or that I somehow forged a connection to Cory that I can now conveniently exploit in the wake of his death. But he’s the only celebrity I’ve crossed paths with who has gone on to unexpectedly pass away, and I can’t help but think the fleeting interaction impacted my reaction to his death.

Is it stupid, or strange, or silly to mourn the loss of someone we never knew? Given last weekend’s overwhelming amount of newsworthy events, should we feel guilty dedicating headlines, Tweets, and status updates to an actor? Is it superficial? Trivial? Or are most of the heartfelt condolences coming from an insincere, bandwagon-like mentality anyway? When is it okay to admit feeling legitimately torn apart by a famous person’s death, or is it always something we ought to be ashamed about?

Inevitably,  people will argue over the triviality of our societal obsession with celebrity. But as tempting as some may find it to belittle the unrequited fascinations many of us have with famous faces, it’s impossible to deny anyone’s instinctual human response to death and loss. My bachelor’s degree in Psych definitely left me unprepared to present any theoretical explanations for why some of us feel so undeniably shaken by strangers’ deaths. But I have to believe the unexpectedness that accompanies so many celebrity passings coupled with the false intimacy we experience as a result of allowing them into our living rooms feeds into the phenomenon.

I don’t have any solid explanations for why Cory’s death hit me as hard as it did. But I also don’t think there’s an emotional rule book for coping with grief—especially when it occurs in the context of a one-sided relationship to a star. But I might finally be okay with accepting the devastation for what it is. And I hope anyone else finding themselves inexplicably heartbroken over the loss of a stranger can learn to ride the emotions out and withhold judgment or self-criticism. It might just mean we’re human.

Cory, you’ll be missed.

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  1. I finally found the strength to watch Glee after a self-imposed ban. It is so difficult to see this vivacious man on screen and know that he is no longer here. Tears are streaming down my face as I watch this. I am so glad I found this forum after weeks of going through this grieving process alone. I am embarrassed to tell people because I never met Cory and this is only a TV show (for God’s sake!). I can only explain my emotions as many of you have – I was deeply touched by his raw talent, his ability to reveal incredible depth of emotion on screen, and his dedication to the various charities to help the disenfranchised. His generous spirit and love of life is palpable; in interviews, it is evident that he was grateful for every opportunity afforded to him. It is just so heartbreaking to see someone my age, with so much love and talent to offer this world, die in such a manner. I guess what affects me most are the circumstances that started his addiction. His parents divorced at a young age and his life unraveled. My parents divorced under terrible circumstances at the same age, yet I did not go down the same plan. It is something that perplexes me and reminds me of how fragile and fleeting life is; how decisions made so early on in life can truly affect you many years down the line. Its a scary, sublime feeling. As a young(-ish) adult in love, my heart particularly goes out to Lea. On the show, in red carpet pictures, and candid paparazzi shots, their love radiates. I cannot imagine losing my own boyfriend; I would fall apart. She shows so much resolve and strength to get back to work. Don’t be fooled though; she is probably falling apart inside. His mother and Lea have an extremely long road of grief and guilt that will take many years to overcome. They need all our prayers right now.

    As a physician, I have seen my fair share of opiate addiction through the patients’ and family’s perspectives. It is a terrible disease that is given a bad stigma. It is so easy to blame Cory and call him irresponsible, ungrateful, stupid, etc. The only thing I can say to the critics is to please remember that he suffered an illness for many years and likely fought temptation time and time again. The road to recovery is paved with many detours and, unfortunately, many more dead ends. We do not know his reasons for his relapses in recent years, but he deserves respect for at least owning up to it and trying to get sober. He fought the good fight and, sadly, succumbed to his disease.

    I believe in the afterlife. My thoughts are that Cory is now free from that deeply rooted pain and torment. His spirit is soaring, and he is smiling down on his mother, Lea, and the rest of the Glee cast. His legacy will be in the multiple charities that he supported, that are now being aided by the millions who heard of them after his death, myself included.

    Thank you for hearing me out. My heart feels just a little bit lighter.
    V.

  2. I too feel such sadness over Cory’s death. From all accounts, Cory seemed like a thoroughly decent human being who was kind to those he encountered. Cory tried to make a difference in this world through his charity work. While he was not perfect (who of us are) he deserved to have a much longer life. It just makes me really sad to know that Cory is not out there living his life somewhere and all the experiences he will now miss. I feel great sadness for his family (particularly his mother) and Lea Michelle. The love Lea and Cory had is evident. I personally believe this type of connection with another person is not something that is easy to find in this lifetime. I hope Lea will find it again one day.

    I am not a starstruck teenager, so it’s been difficult for me to understand why I have found Cory’s death so heartbreaking. I have never been this upset over a celebrity death before. I am a mum who is very close in age to Cory. My husband and I love Glee and have watched it from the start. Finn has always been my favourite character. I am certain this is due to the way in which Cory bought him to life with his acting skills. It deeply saddens me that I wont get to see more of Cory’s work in the future. When I read that Cory had entered rehab I was hoping he would be successful in overcoming his addictions.

    The conclusion I have come to is this. Feeling sadness over someone you don’t personally know (celebrity or not) shows compassion and an understanding that we are all connected in some way. It demonstrates a love for humankind. We are all human. We will all die one day. It reminds me of how similar we all are and at the same time how different. I think this quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton is appropriate “Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another”. Rest in peace Cory.

    I loved your comments Sandy Bean.

  3. I totally understand what you mean, and feel the same way. When a celebrity dies, it’s sad and we mourn on so many levels. For the potential that a specific person had….to this day, I’m convinced Kurt Cobain could have cleaned himself up and become a true Rock Legend. For the families they leave behind, because even though they’re celebrities, they’re human as well. In one way or another, a singer, actor, sports figure, they choose their profession to share their gift with everyone else. Even if they’re not the same in their private life as they are in the spotlight, they want the public to like them, to connect with them, to feel *something* when they perform in their chosen field. It hurts us deeply when people we love, even if only through the TV or cinema screen pass away too soon. It’s human nature, and I’ll never be ashamed for grieving for death, celebrating birth and marriage and cheering successes of celebrities.

  4. Oh my gosh, I could have written this. I don’t know why, either, but I am so sad at Cory’s death. It causes me great pain as well. Maybe because he was such a good-guy with a checkered past trying to rise above and finally doing it? Maybe because it was such a stupid accident? I can’t put my finger on it. It’s a painful sense of wanting to rewind and smack some sense into someone who could have been alive if not for one weak moment, one stupid choice. We all make stupid choices. Surely he knew better?

    I don’t want to be so sad, but here I am. Poor guy. I am happy to hear I’m not the only one breaking down over Cory Monteith…I admit, it makes me feel a little strange. Yet, the heart and the mind are mysterious and wonderful things.

    I’d like to think of it like this: maybe he had so much love and so much light, that when his energy dissipated into the universe to move on to where we will all go, someday, that is had an affect on everyone open to it. Like a beautiful star, in supernova. What an amazing gift, to be loved.

  5. I still am so heartbroken about Cory’s death. I literally feel pain in my heart. And to think about what Lea Michelle is going through! I’ve never ever reacted this way about a celebrity death and I’m so glad that I found this article. I’ve loved Glee and I’ve loved Finn and Rachel together. I just honesty don’t even know how to describe what I’m feeling. I guess I need to just grieve….this is just so heartbreaking.

  6. For me celebrity deaths don’t hit me hard. Sure its sad, but honestly, the news coverage was a bit over the top, especially since there was a larger tragedy playing out in Quebec at the same time. I sometimes wish people would realize that celebrities are just people and will die just the same as us. Sure its sad, but Cory and Heath died as a result of their own actions, same as Princess Di (Cory and Heath had a choice not to take those drugs and Princess Di had a choice not to get into a car with a drunk driver). They weren’t saints, yet for some reason people hold them up to a standard that makes me wonder if they really have lives outside of the celebrity culture. Sure I follow celebrities and pro athletes, but I avoid watching shows that seem to treat them as gods and goddesses (I do read hellomagazine.com, but mainly to see what the royals are up to; I don’t wrap my life in what happens to them). You and others have the right to feel the way you do, but do expect that some people realize that this is basically fluff and to some degree has no real importance in the vast majority of people’s lives and I would even argue the birth of Prince George of Cambridge is fluff, but his birth does have affect on those of use who live in a country in which the Queen or King of the United Kingdom is our head of state.

  7. A dear friend of mine dropped dead of a heart attack at age 55 6 days before last Saturday. Then on Saturday the Zimmerman verdict came down. The next thing I knew, I was reading about CM’s death on Facebook. One of the reasons it hit me so hard is because I was already reeling from so much grief and bad news, it felt like it was all just too much. Another reason it hit me hard is that I am a Gleek. I have been watching Glee since it started and have continued, even during the spotty 4th season. I’m hooked. The show makes me happy, in the same la-la-la unrealistically optimistic way that Friends and Sex and the City made me happy.. So it seems surreal to me for something like this to leave such a huge hole in one of my favorite shows. How can this loss possibly be addressed by Ryan Murphy et al? Another reason is, he was so young. Ugh. What a waste of potential.

    Finally, I’m Canadian and therefore biased toward a view of fellow Canadians that is wholesome and untainted by the ills of US society. I knew the facts before hand; I knew he’d started using drugs at 13, went to rehab at 19. But somehow I still chose to see him as clean and untainted. I will admit my first response was anger – “stupid fucking dumbass” flew out of my mouth. Especially compared to my 55-year-old friend, who’d practiced clean living, run 5ks and had just completed a 50-mile bike ride the day before he died. I thought, how can someone with so much going for him, with his whole life ahead of him, do something so STUPID. Then I remembered that he was in recovery. Relapse is a part of recovery; it should be expected. He was in recovery. He had a relapse. He was doing the best he could.

    Usually, when somebody famous dies I’m like, meh, whatever. But in this case, the timing, the loss of innocence, and his irreplaceability on an arguably trivial program that nonetheless makes me feel good about life – all combined to hit me hard about this death. I grieve for all the lost years he won’t get to live, and I grieve for all the lost moments his loved ones won’t get to share with him. I hope that kids out there will learn from this to not use – not even once – hard drugs. It’s sad that this will be his legacy.

  8. A dear friend of mine dropped dead of a heart attack at age 55 6 days before last Saturday. Then on Saturday the Zimmerman verdict came down. The next thing I knew, I was reading about CM’s death on Facebook. One of the reasons it hit me so hard is because I was already reeling from so much grief and bad news, it felt like it was all just too much. Another reason it hit me hard is that I am a Gleek. I have been watching Glee since it started and have continued, even during the spotty 4th season. I’m hooked. The show makes me happy, in the same la-la-la unrealistically optimistic way that Friends and Sex and the City made me happy.. So it seems surreal to me for something like this to leave such a huge hole in one of my favorite shows. How can this loss possibly be addressed by Ryan Murphy et al? Another reason is, he was so young. Ugh. What a waste of potential.

    Finally, I’m Canadian and therefore biased toward a view of fellow Canadians that is wholesome and untainted by the ills of US society. I knew the facts before hand; I knew he’d started using drugs at 13, went to rehab at 19. But somehow I still chose to see him as clean and untainted. I will admit my first response was anger – “stupid fucking dumbass” flew out of my mouth. Especially compared to my 55-year-old friend, who’d practiced clean living, run 5ks and had just completed a 50-mile bike ride the day before he died. I thought, how can someone with so much going for him, with his whole life ahead of him, do something so STUPID. Then I remembered that he was in recovery. Relapse is a part of recovery; it should be expected. He was in recovery. He had a relapse. He was doing the best he could.

    Usually, when somebody famous dies I’m like, meh, whatever. But in this case, the timing, the loss of innocence, and his irreplaceability on an albeit trivial program that nonetheless makes me feel good about life – all combined to hit me hard about this death. I grieve for all the lost years he won’t get to live, and I grieve for all the lost moments his loved ones won’t get to share with him. I hope that kids out there will learn from this to not use – not even once – hard drugs. It’s sad that this will be his legacy.

  9. I am so grateful to have found this article online. I have been feeling sick about Cory Monteith’s death. When I first heard that a Glee cast member had died it never once occurred to me that it was Cory. The last time I was affected to this extent by a celebrity death was in 1980 when John Lennon was shot. That, at least, was more understandable to me at the time: I had come of age with the Beatles and I was living at the time in Manhattan not far from where he was killed, so in that sense the death was local.

    But this! I have no explanation. I am no teenage star-struck fan. I’m 66 years old.
    I have been grappling with myself to find a reason for the amount of grief I am feeling and all I can come up with is that a young and talented man with so much to live for and so many who loved him (and I’m not talking about fans, I’m talking about his real friends and family) was clearly living in a kind of lonely hell from which he he couldn’t escape.

    Since his death I have taken it upon myself to learn everything I can about the nature of addiction–how and why it begins, what happens to the brain and also the best ways of dealing with it. The one month rehab treatment followed by a vacation to Mexico and public appearances was not in any way what he needed. Recovering addicts come out of rehab feeling raw, ashamed insecure, and resentful. They are more fragile than they were before they went in. They need to be surrounded by a structured and loving support system. It is frankly astonishing to me that the producer/writer, and others who staged the intervention that sent him to rehab did not avail themselves of this information which is readily available. Had they done so he might still be alive. That in itself is tragic.

    Clearly Cory Monteith had something very special that he managed to impart to a lot of strangers or we wouldn’t all be on this website so bewildered by the power of our communal grief. And whatever that something was it is gone forever

    And if we are feeling so much grief it is deeply painful to even imagine what those close to him are feeling.

    Thank you again for addressing this issue. At least I don’t feel so crazy anymore.

    • Elena: We are the same age so I feel comfortable saying how awful I feel about Cory’s death. It’s such a waste when someone very special doesn’t seem to get “recovery” the way we hope they will. I always hold Robert Downey Jr. as a great example because by all logic, he should be dead, but he kept at it and worked at it and it clicked for whatever reason and he is now the top paid actor in Hollywood with a wife and new child. It’s a blessing when that happens, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Cory should never have been left alone in Canada so soon after rehab. Part of recovery is relapse and I am not blaming the victim here, but there must have been someone at rehab who questioned how serious his sobriety was. I just hope his legacy will help others who think they are omnipotent and will somehow live through anything. There have been so many tragedies from this disease, when will it end? RIP Cory Monteith. You were loved.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this!!
    Glee saved me in many ways, I couldn’t even begin to explain. I was so invested in the characters as I started to watch this amazing series, and soon the cast stole my heart as well!
    When I heard of Cory’s death I couldn’t even begin to process it. I was heartbroken, devastated and feeling like an idiot for having these emotions having never met him!
    I mourned his passing and it will continue to make me sad knowing he is gone, when he had so much more life to live. Not many people understood why I was so affected by it, but everyone here seems to understand.
    My heart goes out to all his family and friends, and I hope he is happy now :)
    Thanks for being a part of something special Cory – RIP x

  11. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I hear about a person dying, especially someone young, or who has so much to live for.

    I think it’s especially heartbreaking with Cory, as he was just starting a new chapter in his life, and had so much to live for. He had a great, consistent career, great and supportive co-workers, a lovely, loving girlfriend, and a supportive family. I think that makes this almost worse, because you know so many people are hurting, and that Lea’s heart is broken now. You can see the love between them in pictures, as someone else said. It’s just so sad!
    And you always get the “what ifs” with younger people, which makes it even more horrible.
    My heart goes out to his family and his loved ones, especially Lea. How horrible it must be for all of them right now.

  12. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I hear about a person dying, especially someone young, or who has so much to live for.
    I think it’s especially heartbreaking with Cory, as he was just starting a new chapter in his life, and had so much to live for. He had a great, consistent career, great and supportive co-workers, a lovely, loving girlfriend, and a supportive family.
    You always get the “what ifs” with younger people, which makes it even more horrible.
    My heart goes out to his family and his loved ones, especially Lea. How horrible it must be for all of them right now.

  13. Unlike most of you….I never watched Glee. I maybe caught one or 2 random episodes and never thought twice about it. Im usually very caught up on all my celeb news so I know who is dating and who broke up and all that. When i heard that Cory Monteith died I saw it on a scroll on Enews and had to even google the name because I couldnt put a face to him. When I saw who it was my stomach dropped for some reason and I got extremely sad. I started doing research…reading his bio, looking up old interviews, even watching his original Glee audition tape. I couldnt help but notice the love that him and Lea Michele had…they both seemed so genuinely in love and in awe of each other. I turned on Netflix yesterday and started watching Glee from episode 1…and even though it is an incredibly great show, i keep finding it more difficult to watch. He’s just gone…he’s not coming back.

    I have absolutely no idea why this has hit me so extremely hard…I guess I keep imagining myself in Lea’s shoes. Just thinking he’s out of rehab and he just got better and things will be so great now. Somebody mentioned that the fact that Cory (and his camp) did such a great job of protecting the public from his troubles that it does add an extra element of shock and maybe makes the grieving process that much more difficult. I find myself dreaming about him, waking up and thinking about him and being genuinely depressed. I have no idea what is wrong with me or why this has hit me so hard, but I am glad to know Im not the only one. Something about Cory has touched all of us and he will forever be missed. Such a sad ending for an amazing person.

  14. I have been trying to put my thoughts and feelings into words since I found out about sweet Cory’s passing. I had just gotten online when twitter blew up, and I watched the Vancouver PD’s confirmation live. I’ve been an avid fan and follower of Cory’s from day one, and I have never been anything less than amazed by the kindness and genuine love he’s shown to so many. Few (if any!) stars have ever seemed so humble, self-aware, and so grateful to their friends and fans alike. There’s never a bad word spoken about Cory, and it’s truly a testament to his character that he kept a smile on his face through his struggles, like he was protecting us all from having to share in his pain until he couldn’t hold it to himself any longer. Cory Monteith will always be my greatest hero, because it’s about how we LIVE, not how we die, that is truly important. And, boy, did that man live. :) I’ll miss him forever.

  15. I totally understand your feelings and your words are very cathartic for me!Thank you.
    Sit tibi terra levis, Cory.

  16. Thank you for putting what I have been feeling these past few days into words. Cory will truly be missed. My heart breaks for his family, friends and especially Lea. I hope people can learn from his mistakes.

  17. For me, Cory’s death hit home because my brother is a recovering addict and, but for a court ordered stay in a residential rehab, my brother would most likely be dead by the same drugs that killed Cory. This is why his death hurt so much. I wake up every day thankful for my brother’s sobriety (over a year!) but knowing that each day is a battle for him and that relapse is not unheard of. And, yes, I’ve had someone very, very close to me die suddenly at a young age so it’s not as if I don’t understand grief.

  18. Michelle, thank you so much for writing this. A friend sent me this article after I had written her the following: “Can you please tell me that I’m not silly for having at least one Cory Monteith-related break down every day this week? I feel like my feelings aren’t valid because seriously, I do not know this person, and yet, here I am, going through this. One of my co-workers finally asked me if something was going on with me outside of work. I said I was fine because I can’t explain being overwhelmingly affected by a celebrity death. I wish I could just be sad and not sad and confused about being sad.” // Thank you for making me feel less confused, insane, and alone. <3

  19. I wasn’t even a fan of Glee, I would watch it if it was on tv, but nothing more. Still, I have seen these kids grow up artistically and personally (even if I don’t know them in real life) and it just gets to you, you know? You get so attached to these people that don’t even know you exist and you feel like they’re a part of your life. I got so emotional (still am) when I heard about Cory, it brings me to tears because we’re all human and we all feel, in different ways but at the end we all do. I got so upset when my mom called me “ridiculous” for mourning over someone I never knew but I think it’s because of it, she doesn’t feel the way I do and none of us does. Cory, you will be forever in our hearts, thank you for sharing your talent and passion with us.

  20. great article on this michelle, i was also personally upset at cory’s death, it hits people right in the face when something like this happens, and those people who cannot see that death affects everyone regardless of knowing them personally or not, need to look deeper inside themselves

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