Just like many others, I was shocked and dismayed a few days ago to hear of the tragic death of Cory Monteith. The actor who played Finn on Glee, Monteith had a casual, likeable everyman style that one might compare to Jimmy Stewart in his heyday. I especially identified with him, because I grew up much like him, an oversized, awkward music-gifted high school student.
It was especially tragic to hear that the autopsy report verified that he had died of a heroin and alcohol overdose. For me, who is rapidly approaching 60, seeing someone who is so gifted and so young die such a tragic death is very sad. And even though I will be the first to state that we should not judge him, especially since we don’t know all the information, I think there are a couple of things I think it is important for us, especially as writers, to take away with us.
1. Happiness and success are not the same thing. This is an important lesson that I have to continue to remind myself of. Once or twice I have wondered what would have happened to my life if I had not married, taken the typical middle-class approach to my life and career, and instead pursued writing with my whole heart and soul. And I have always come to the same conclusion: I have a good life. Even if I never sell another book, I have no regrets. Conversely, the history of the entertainment industry is replete with stories of “successful” people–actors, singers, writers–who were miserable in their lives. The bottom line is that happiness is more important than success. In Cory’s situation, he had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, going back to his teen years. And that leads me to my second point.
2. Don’t confuse the actor with the part that they play. I use the term actor, but it goes for anyone who is in the public eye. The public wants to see those of us creative types in a certain way, and those who are successful for the most part are willing to embrace that expectation. Ask Lady Gaga. Ask Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. For their own survival, these people have to learn to separate who they are from who they play. Marilyn Monroe was always frustrated by the world’s expectation of her to always be a sex symbol, and in the end, it killed her. The moral in all of this is that it is very dangerous, and sometimes fatal, to be what the world wants you to be.
I am still sad about Cory Monteith’s death, and I know I will be for a long time. I don’t believe Glee will ever be the same. I pray for his family, and encourage you to do the same.