The Glee curse: Why is the show plagued by tragedy?

This story contains discussion of suicide and child abuse and may be disturbing for some readers. 

On Tuesday, former Glee star Mark Salling, who played bad boy Noah “Puck” Puckerman on the show, was found dead of an apparent suicide near his LA home.

It was the latest blow for fans, following his 2015 arrest for possession of more than 50,000 child sex abuse images, reportedly found on his laptop and flash drive by an ex-girlfriend.

The star was awaiting sentencing when he allegedly took his own life.

Over its six-year run and the three years post-final-episode, the wholesome family show that tackled social issues through song and dance has been plagued by drugs, divorce, domestic violence charges, and death.

And the news of Salling is just the latest in a string of scandals, making the show’s shiny social commentary seem rather grittily real.

The tragic deaths.

In July 2013, Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson on the show, was found dead in his hotel room in Vancouver. The 31-year-old, who was in a relationship with his co-star, Lea Michele, at the time, had served several stints in rehab since he was 19, and had reportedly struggled with substance abuse since his early teens. His death was ruled to be accidental, the result of a toxic combination of heroin and alcohol.

Just three months after Monteith’s death, assistant director Jim Fuller passed away from suspected heart failure, leaving cast and crew devastated, before production assistant Nancy Motes was found dead in a hotel room in February of 2014 from a drug overdose.

Motes left behind a note in which she appeared to blame her half sister, actress Julia Roberts, describing alleged emotional abuse that was so bad it “drove me into the deepest depression I’ve ever been in”.

Fellow production assistant, Cristina Lageman spoke at the time of Motes’ death about the impact the tragedies had had on “The Glee Family”, with colleagues posting on Facebook: “We’ve lost another one.”

Fast forward another few months and star Becca Tobin, who played Kitty Wilde on the show, lost her “workaholic” boyfriend Matt Bendik to a heart attack.


LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss the complexities of reporting on suicide. Does the media have a responsibility to share these stories? Post continues after audio.

The “scandal.”

It’s not only deaths that have plagued Glee’s wholesome reputation over the years. Just a year after Monteith’s death, Lea Michele was subjected to negative tabloid attention for dating former male escort Matthew Paetz. While the star, best known for her performance as Rachel Berry, denied that her man was a “gigolo” but rather but a coach to escorts, Paetz ultimately broke her heart. The episode in the star’s life was deemed scandalous as she character, Rachel, is such a goody-goody on screen, and garnered yet more negative headlines for the show.

The violence. 

In 2011, Dianna Agron reportedly went into hiding after her boyfriend Alex Pettyfer allegedly threatened her in a vicious phone call after they split.

And more recently, 31-year-old Naya Rivera of the OG Glee crew, who played antagonistic cheerleader Santana Lopez, was arrested and charged with a domestic battery misdemeanor in late November last year, after “getting physical” and allegedly hitting her husband, Ryan Dorsey, in the head and face. The star was released on a $1,000 bond and the charges eventually dropped.

Perhaps the show really is cursed – but more likely it’s a case of real life, in all its hardship and messiness, juxtaposed against a happy, hopeful backdrop. Glee makes us think that yes, life can be hard, and yes, injustice occurs and yes, things go wrong… but ultimately life can be okay.

Unfortunately, sometimes the reality defies that. Here’s hoping the cast and crew can continue to support each other through yet another unfortunate event.

If you are upset by this story, experiencing suicidal feelings or struggling with mental health issues, please get help. If it’s an emergency, call 000. For support and advise, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636.