Inside Glee’s Shocking Tragedies and the Cast's Unbreakable Bond

The Glee cast and crew have weathered unspeakable tragedies—while working together on the series for six seasons as well as in the years since the choir room closed its doors for good.

By Tierney Bricker May 11, 2021 2:21 PMTags
Watch: "Glee" Tragedies and the Cast's Unbreakable Bond

"Tomorrow is not promised." 

Naya Rivera shared that sentiment in one of her final posts on social media before the Glee star was confirmed dead by authorities on Monday, July 13. The news came just five days after she went missing on a California lake. She was just 33 years old. 

July 13 was already a date likely ingrained in most Glee fans' memories. Rivera's co-star and friend Cory Monteith—who would have turned 39 on May 11died on the same date seven years earlier. 

One of the most popular shows of the 21st century after it premiered on Fox in 2009, the young cast of Glee became household names virtually overnight, going on a sold-out national concert tour in 2010-11, collectively breaking Elvis Presley's long-standing record for the most appearances on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and selling over 8 million albums. 

But with the highs also came lows, as the cast and crew have weathered unspeakable tragedies—while working together on the series for six seasons as well as in the years since the choir room closed its doors for good in 2015.

Cory Monteith: A Life in Pictures

Sadly, Rivera's devastating death is just the latest tragedy the Glee family has endured. On July 8, Rivera, who played fan-favorite Santana Lopez on the show for the entirety of its run, went missing while boating with her young son on Lake Piru, a reservoir located about 50 miles north of Los Angeles. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said authorities were called to Lake Piru when a child, later identified as her son 4-year-old Josey Dorsey, was found alone on a boat.

Shutterstock, Manley099 for Getty Images

During a press conference, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub revealed authorities were able to conclude through speaking to Rivera's son, who was wearing a life vest, that he and Rivera, whose life vest was found on the boat, swam in the lake together. It was then, Ayub said, "that her son described being helped into the boat by Rivera, who boosted him on to the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water." 

"There are a lot of currents on the lake that appear particularly in the afternoon," he explained further. "We believe it was mid-afternoon when she disappeared, the idea perhaps being that the boat started drifting, it was unanchored, and that she mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself."


Rivera's final social media post was a photo of her kissing Josey, which she captioned, "Just the two of us."

But she had more than just Josey and her immediate family supporting her. Just before her body was found, Capt. Eric Buschow told E! News that Rivera's Glee "cast members and friends gathered for a prayer at the water's edge."

They had, after all, been through thick and thin together.

Exactly seven years to the day, the Glee cast and the world was shocked by the sudden and tragic death of Monteith from combined drug intoxication at the age of 31. The series' leading man was found on July 13, 2013, in his Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in downtown Vancouver after missing his scheduled checkout time.

"This was an overdose and a tragic accident," Vancouver Police Department spokesman Brian Montague said at a press conference following the release of the autopsy results.

Naya Rivera's Best Glee Performances

The actor, who went to rehab several months before his death, had been open about his struggles with substance abuse as a teenager and his ongoing battle in his adult life.  "I'm lucky on so many counts—I'm lucky to be alive," he told Parade in 2011. "I had a serious problem."

In an interview with E! News, creator Ryan Murphy revealed he had staged an intervention for Monteith in March 2013, saying, "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."

Monteith's death was devastating for everyone on the Fox hit's set, with a source who worked on the show telling E! News at the time, "To say that Cory was much-loved on the Glee set doesn't even begin to do him justice."

Chris Colfer, who played Kurt Hummel, Monteith's onscreen step-brother, took to Instagram to remember his friend. "I'll never forget all the laughs we shared or the faces we made after awkward interview questions," Colfer wrote with a screengrab taken from a TV interview they did together. "Love and miss you, buddy."

Cory Monteith: Remembered By Friends & Costars

Following his death, questions arose about how and if Glee would handle his passing and Finn's absence on the show, with Murphy telling E! News they even considered ending the series.

Ultimately, despite the irrevocable void in the show's core cast, the series went on, with Murphy revealing it was Lea Michele, Monteith's longtime girlfriend who played the series star Rachel Berry, who made the call.

"If Lea had said to me, 'I could never do this again and I don't want to do this again,' you know, she is sort of the show, so what do you do?" Murphy told E! News at the time. "And I would've, out of respect to her as a person, said 'OK,' but that's not how Lea operates; that's not how she feels. She's handled this with so much humanity and grace and she's also handled this in a way where she's trying to look out for 500 other people affected by him and who have mortgages to pay and families to feed."

So after taking an extended hiatus, Glee addressed Monteith's death in "The Quarterback," a beautiful tribute episode that revealed his character Finn had died. It was an emotional and somber hour of television, both on-screen and off as each cast member was given a change to honor Monteith in the episode.

Adam Rose/FOX

"Almost everything in that episode is from the first take of every performance because the actors and the crew had a really hard time shooting it,' Murphy said at the time. "I've never seen a crew that you can't continue shooting because they've left the room sobbing. It was very hard. I struggled even working on it because what they felt, not just about Finn but Cory."

The episode ended with Michele singing Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," and Rachel returning to McKinley High School, where the glee club began and Finn served as the football team's quarterback and captain, to hang a plaque in the choir room featuring a picture of Finn and a quote Finn said in a 2011 episode that reads: "The show must go...all over the place...or something."

Filming the episode allowed the cast to simultaneously grieve two losses, with series star Matthew Morrison telling E! News, "We've mourned Cory, but now we're mourning Finn. So it's kind of like two people in that one person."

He went on to say the tragedy had made the already tight cast and crew even tighter. "I think we all knew we were very close but I think this just kind of solidified it like we are a rock for each other right now," he said. "It's quite a beautiful thing."

20 Shocking Glee Secrets Revealed

However, tragedy would hit again soon.

The same year Glee came to an end, star Mark Salling was arrested for child pornography possession. He was subsequently fired from the mini-series Gods and Secrets, causing his acting career to stall indefinitely.

The actor plead guilty to the charge in December 2017 and agreed to serve four to seven years behind bars with supervised release for 20 years. Additionally, he would register as a sex offender and pay restitution to each victim who requested it. His sentencing was scheduled for early March 2018

His 2015 arrest wasn't Salling's first encounter with law enforcement as the the actor's former girlfriend Roxanne Gorzela filed a lawsuit in January 2013 accusing him of sexual battery and assault during a March 2011 incident.

At the time, Salling denied Gorzela's claims and would go in to file a cross-complaint against his ex in April 2013. The lawsuit was finally settled in two years later, with a judge ordering Salling to pay $2.7 million to Gorzela in March 2015.

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Five years after Monteith's death, Mark Salling, who played bad boy Puck, was found dead at a park near his home in Sunland, Calif, on Jan. 30, 2018. He was 35 years old.  According to the Los Angeles Coroner, the cause of death was asphyxia by hanging and the manner of death was suicide. 

The news of Salling's suicide came after a source revealed details about his life as he awaited sentencing in the child pornography case. "He isolated himself in that house in Sunland and was a very depressed, lonely human," the source told E! News. "He had demons he was wrestling with for many years."

In the wake of his death, Salling's lawyer released the following statement to E! News: "I can confirm that Mark Salling passed away early this morning. Mark was a gentle and loving person, a person of great creativity, who was doing his best to atone for some serious mistakes and errors of judgment. He is survived by his mother and father, and his brother. The Salling family appreciates the support they have been receiving and asks for their privacy to be respected."

Several of Salling's former cast and crew members from Glee spoke out on social media and at red carpet events to remember the actor. "I know life was very, very hard for Mark," Jane Lynch told Us Weekly. "I think we all do the best we can at the end of the day. I know that Mark did the best he could."

Glee Says Goodbye: Behind-the-Scenes Pics From the Final Days of Filming

Through each of these tragic deaths, the Glee family has come together to mourn, proving their bond is unbreakable. Prior to the discovery of Rivera's body, Heather Morris, who played her love interest and wife Brittany S. Pearce on Glee, reached out to authorities asking she could join them and help search for her former co-star and "close friend."

And after authorities discovered the remains of Rivera, her friends and co-stars expressed their condolences in touching tributes.

"I was constantly moved by the degree to which she took care of her family, and how she looked out for her friends," Darren Criss wrote on Twitter. "She showed up for me on numerous occasions where she didn't have to, and I was always so grateful for her friendship then, as I certainly am now."


Kevin McHale, who was one of the series' original cast members, wrote in his Instagram post, "7 years ago today, she and I were together in London when we found out about Cory. We were so far away, but I was so thankful that we had each other. A week ago today we were talking about running away to Hawaii."

And on Twitter, McHale reflected on how Rivera's body was discovered on the anniversary of Monteith's death.

"I'm not religious by any means, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that Cory didn't help find our girl today," the actor, who played Artie Abrams, tweeted. "These 2, in many ways, were the male and female versions of one another. So nice, cared deeply, were stupidly talented, the most fun, and really really good people."

No matter where they are now, the Glee cast is always looking out for one another.

Watch: 5 Years Since "Glee": E! News Rewind

And in an excerpt from her co-star and friend Jenna Ushkowitz's 2014 book Choosing Glee: 10 Rules to Finding Inspiration, Happiness, and the Real You, Rivera offered up the following advice for Glee fans:

"The secret to happiness is identifying what you're passionate about and being able to do it well every day. Also, surround yourself with great group of people you love. Laugh, Live and look forward to the future."

This story was originally published on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 2 p.m. PT.

Latest News