Monteith was born in Calgary, Alberta, on May 11, 1982, the younger son of Ann McGregor, an interior decorator, and Joe Monteith, a military man who served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He had an older brother named Shaun. Monteith’s parents divorced when he was seven years old, and he and his older brother were raised by their mother in Victoria, British Columbia. After the divorce he saw little of his father due to Joe Monteith’s military service, and he had social difficulties at school. From age 13, he used alcohol and marijuana and started being truant from school.
After attending 16 schools, including alternative programs for troubled teens, Monteith dropped out altogether at age 16. By that time, his drug and alcohol dependency had increased and Monteith turned to petty crimes, such as stealing money from friends and family, to fund his addictions. The turning point in Monteith’s life came when his mother and a group of friends staged an intervention when he was 19, and he began attending a rehabilitation program. Monteith stated, “I’m lucky on so many counts. I’m lucky to be alive.” He eventually received his high school diploma in 2011 from an alternative school he attended in his youth in Victoria. Before breaking into show business, Monteith worked various jobs, including Walmart people greeter, taxicab driver, mechanic, school bus driver, and roofer.
Monteith began his acting career in Vancouver, British Columbia. He played minor roles in Final Destination 3, Whisper, and Deck the Halls. He had a recurring role in Kyle XY. He also made guest appearances in television serials such as Smallville, Supernatural, Flash Gordon, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate SG-1. In 2005, he appeared in Killer Bash, about a tormented geek’s soul that was taking revenge on his murderer’s children by taking over a girl’s twin body. The following year, he made a brief appearance in Urban Legend: a Bloody Mary. Monteith did acting classes with Anthony Meindl. In 2007, he starred in the MTV series Kaya as Gunnar. In April 2010, Monteith was cast in the romantic comedy movie Monte Carlo. In December 2010, it was announced that Monteith would be starring in and co-producing a new untitled workplace-caper comedy for Fox 2000.
In January 2011, Monteith shot the film Sisters & Brothers with Dustin Milligan, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2011. Canadian director Gia Milani’s film All The Wrong Reasons stars Monteith as “a big box department store manager whose wife is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.” Milani suggests he was excited to play his own age, in a “heavy role.” He filmed his part on weekdays, flying to Los Angeles on weekends to do promotional work for Glee. In 2011, Monteith filmed a PSA for Straight But Not Narrow, an online PSA organization aimed at changing the minds of young, straight guys and girls in their attitude and viewpoint towards the LGBT community. In 2012, he hosted the 23rd GLAAD Media Awards in New York City with co-star Naya Rivera. On August 8, 2010, he co-hosted the Teen Choice Awards. Monteith hosted the Gemini Awards in Toronto on November 13, 2010.
In 2009, Monteith was cast in the Fox series Glee. He portrayed Finn Hudson. When Glee was being cast, Monteith’s agent, Elena Kirschner, submitted a video of him drumming with some pencils and Tupperware containers. Series creator Ryan Murphy took notice of the video, but pointed out that he had to be singing, as auditioning actors for Glee with no theatrical experience were required to prove they could sing and dance as well as act. Monteith submitted a second, musical tape, in which he sang, in his own words, “a cheesy ’80s music video-style version” of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling”. He then attended a mass audition in Los Angeles; his vocal skills were considered weak, but he later performed very well with one of Glee’s casting directors, who said that his audition captured the most elusive quality of Finn’s: his “naive, but not stupid, sweetness.” Monteith said of his casting process, “I was like a lot of kids, looking for something to be interested in. Something to be passionate about. All you need is permission. Not only for Glee, but for anything in life.”
Finn is the star quarterback of his high school football team, and risks alienation from his friends by joining the school’s glee club. He is a popular jock at the top of the school’s social hierarchy, but when forced to join the glee club, he finds he loves it. His storylines have seen him struggle with his decision to stay in the club, which is at the bottom of the social ladder, while he maintains his popular reputation and the respect of the other jocks. The character must deal with his attraction to both head cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) and glee club star singer Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), and his storylines increasingly focus on his relationship with them both.
Monteith felt that Finn has had to grow up a lot during his time on the show. The actor said, “Finn started off as the stereotypical dumb jock but as the show has gone on, Finn’s not dumb anymore, really, he’s just a little naïve”. Early reviews of Finn from television critics were mixed; Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club said that he and Michele were “both agreeable and a little desperate for an outlet” in the pilot episode. Commenting on the fifth episode of the first season, Eric Goldman of IGN wrote, “We got to see a bit of a darker side to Finn […] it’s good to see this, because up until now, Finn’s been a bit too straight-laced to totally invest in”. In the second season’s eighth episode, “Furt”, Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly noted “It’s been a while since we’ve gotten some Finn focus, and I think I just missed Cory Monteith. But I also forgot what a good, natural actor he can be”. Monteith as Finn won the 2011 Teen Choice Award for Choice TV: Actor Comedy, and was nominated in the same category in 2010. Although he was not a singer before being cast as Finn, Monteith sang lead or joint lead on a large number of songs on the show.
In May 2010, the cast of Glee went on a two-week live tour with stops in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York City. The cast performed hits from the show and several skits between songs. The following May, the cast went on a second tour with mostly new songs and all-new skits, performing for four weeks in the USA and Canada, and 11 days in England and Ireland. On July 20, 2013, Ryan Murphy said in various media outlets that Monteith is set to have a tribute in the third episode of season five, which is also planned to deal with the death of his character, Finn Hudson.
Monteith began working with American actress Lea Michele in 2009, when they were cast as love interests on Glee. In early 2012, the media reported that they had begun dating. They remained together until his death a year and a half later.
On March 31, 2013, Monteith’s publicist announced that Monteith had admitted himself into a treatment facility for substance addiction. He had previously received substance abuse treatment over a decade earlier, when he was 19, following a history of drug use that began around the age of 12. According to Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, Monteith’s admission to rehab in March resulted from an emergency intervention on the Paramount lot, in which Murphy and other members of the Glee cast and crew urged Monteith to accompany doctors to the rehab facility, which had been arranged by the show. Monteith agreed, and was consequently written out of the final two episodes of Glee’s fourth season, after being assured that he would still have his job upon his return. On April 26, 2013, it was reported that Monteith had completed his treatment. At the time of his death, Monteith was living in Los Angeles, where Glee is filmed.
On July 13, 2013, at the age of 31, Monteith was found dead in his room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in Vancouver. He had been scheduled to check out that day following a seven-night stay, but when he failed to do so, hotel staff entered his room and discovered his body around noon. The Vancouver Police Department stated that the cause of death was not immediately apparent, but ruled out foul play. An autopsy was completed by the B.C. Coroners Service on July 15. The preliminary autopsy report stated that Monteith died from “a mixed drug toxicity” consisting of heroin and alcohol, and that his death appeared to have been accidental. The final report, released by the B.C. Coroners Service in October 2013, confirmed these findings. It noted that Monteith also had codeine and morphine in his system at the time of his death, and that he was found with drug paraphernalia that included a spoon with drug residue and a used hypodermic needle, as well as two empty bottles of champagne. The coroner wrote that Monteith had experienced intermittent periods of drug abuse and abstinence throughout his life, and that “after a period of cessation from opioid drug use, a previously tolerated drug concentration level may become toxic and fatal.”
Monteith’s body was cremated in Vancouver on July 17, following a private viewing by his immediate family and girlfriend, Lea Michele. On July 25, Michele and Glee creator Ryan Murphy held a celebration of life for Monteith in Los Angeles, attended by cast, crew, and creators of the show, as well as colleagues from the show’s network and studio. After consultation with Michele, who also plays Monteith’s love interest on Glee, showrunners postponed production of Glee’s fifth season to August rather than late July. Consequently, the season premiered a week later than planned. The season’s third episode, “The Quarterback”, aired on October 10, 2013, and served as a tribute to Monteith, focusing on the death of his character Finn Hudson. The show then began a brief hiatus, which lasted until November 7, 2013, due to the extra time that was needed to decide how to proceed with the show following the death. After “The Quarterback” aired, Murphy noted that he had decided to “keep mentioning Finn…We don’t just say this is done and we’re never going to go back to it, so that resonates throughout the year.”
The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, held on September 22, 2013, featured an extended tribute to Monteith by his Glee co-star Jane Lynch, along with four other actors who died in 2013. He was also featured in the “In Memoriam” segment of the 56th Grammy Awards. Shortly after his death, Glee fans raised money to name a star after Monteith, after being inspired by a scene featuring his character on Glee.
- May, 11, 1982
- Calgary, Alberta
- July, 13, 2013
- Vancouver, British Columbia
Cause of Death
- Heroin and alcohol overdose