Inside Mark Salling's Shocking Downfall

Former Glee star, who rode the fame wave with the rest of his co-stars while he hid his dark side, apparently committed suicide while awaiting sentencing on child pornography charges

By Natalie Finn Jan 30, 2018 8:48 PMTags

Glee premiered on May, 19, 2009 and was an instant phenomenon, the upbeat musical dramedy brimming with talented, bright-eyed young stars whose anthem upon arrival was "Don't Stop Believin'." Mark Salling played Puck, a bad boy with a good heart (and great voice) who was best friends with Cory Monteith's Finn and was the more reluctant football player of the pair to join the New Directions glee club. But he eventually did, of course.

Monteith died in 2013 of a heroin overdose, a shocking loss for his loved ones and Glee fans around the world. Salling was found dead of an apparent suicide Tuesday, the 35-year-old actor's career over after he was charged with possession of child pornography in 2015. He had pleaded guilty in December and was free on bail while he awaited sentencing in March.

Each lost under wildly different circumstances, both losses such a stomach-churning waste. 

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"I can confirm that Mark Salling passed away early this morning," his attorney Michael J. Proctor said in a statement to E! News 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."

Adam Rose/FOX

Barely nine years ago, Salling's life was just beginning. Like a lot of the Glee cast, the Fox show was his big break. He was trying to make it as a musician and had released his own album, Smoke Signals, under the stage name Jericho when he was cast on Ryan Murphy's smart, savvy, at times gleefully saccharine series about a motley crew of kids coming together in song, acid-tongued cheer coach be damned.

"I've been out here [in L.A.] coming on eight years now," Salling, who was born in Dallas, told E! News in 2009. Talking about his struggle, which included a role in the straight-to-DVD Children of the Corn: The Gathering, he said, "It's hard out here, for a musician to break in without a following, so I was taking that route and almost having to pack up my bags and move back home with my parents, to Texas." He had $300 left when he "came across" Glee.

"That kinda proved to be the shining light at the end of that long, dark tunnel."

Danielle Levitt/FOX

Practically overnight Salling achieved teen (despite being 27) heartthrob status thanks to Glee. His emergence into the spotlight when he sang "Sweet Caroline" on the show, even earning a laudatory tweet from Neil Diamond in the process, was a huge moment for Puck fans.

The cast sang the national anthem at the 2009 World Series and appeared on seemingly every talk show leading up to Glee's Golden Globe win in 2010 (and again in 2011) for best series, comedy or musical. Salling—who also shared in the cast's 2010 SAG Award win for Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series—released another solo album, Pipe Dreams, in 2010. 

In late 2009, as Glee was blowing up, Salling still had the aw-shucks attitude about him in interviews, telling Wendy Williams (whom he charmed by politely calling her "ma'am") that his friends back in Dallas were quick to make sure he didn't get too full of himself on his trips home. "The best part of [his success] was watching an episode with my grandma, and she kinda doesn't really know what's going on right now, but it was still really fulfilling."

While never the subject of quite as much conversation as Lea Michele and Monteith, or as lauded for his acting as Chris Colfer or Jane Lynch, Salling was just as on top of the world as far as the celebrity life went. He was at all the big parties with his co-stars and enjoyed an exponential uptick in attention from women. Only in hindsight, when it was too late, would his behavior—that he apparently wasn't keeping as secret from those around him as he probably thought—from those earliest rosy days be called into question.

Glee Stars' Dark Secrets Revealed: Child Pornography, Drug Use and More

Early on, the big drama for Salling was one episode in 2010 that didn't include Puck, prompting instant rumors that he was leaving the show. Obviously he did not.


"Hopefully I'll devolve," Salling joked in September 2010 on the red carpet at Fox's 2010 Eco-Casino Party, joking that he hoped, after Puck's "baby mama drama," his character could go back to a lighter story line. "'Cause I got enough of that in real life!" he joked, then immediately assured the interviewer he wasn't trying to start any rumors.

Asked if he felt any responsibility as a role model, considering how many young people had started to look up to him, he said, "I didn't before, but thank you for adding that on top of my, you know, the whole show is about arts education and promoting that." He shrugged. "It's a positive show, it's a positive message. And you know sometimes you feel that pressure, know."

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Eventually, in 2013, as the show was starting to enter its what-now-after-high-school period, Salling joined Dianna Agron, Heather Morris, Amber Riley and Harry Shum, Jr. in being bumped down from series regular.

He never said much publicly after Cory Monteith's July 2013 death. Salling did join the outpouring of grief among his co-stars when it happened, tweeting, "going through a million memories and emotions today. ill love you always Brother Cory."

But he already had his own problems to deal with. In January 2013 he had been accused in a lawsuit of sexual battery, dating back to March 2011; the plaintiff, a former girlfriend, said he ignored her demand he put on a condom before having sex and proceeded to have unprotected contact with her. When her calls later on to quell her concerns about catching STDs went ignored, she went to his house; there, the suit alleged, he grabbed and pushed her, causing her to hit her head.

At the 2013 SAG Awards days later, Salling, who denied the claims, told E! News on the red carpet, "You hear about fraudulent lawsuits all the time. Until it happens to you, you really don't grasp what it does, not to just you, but to your family, and you want the legal process to happen as fast as possible, but just...It takes time. I just want the chance to defend myself—and I will, vigorously."

He countersued the woman that March; both complaints were eventually settled in March 2015, with Salling ordered to pay her $2.7 million.

How Lea Michele Continues to Honor Cory Monteith's Legacy

Asked at the SAG Awards what it felt like to be in his position, defending himself, Salling told E!, "It's the first time for me. You kind of have to learn as you go, but like with anything else, you have to stay positive and count on the people that actually do know you and love you, and that you love, as well...You just have to stay positive, and I personally have a relationship with Jesus Christ and I count on that myself. And my parents are awesome, too."

After appearing in the October 2013 episode of Glee called "The Quarterback," the show's farewell to Finn, Salling didn't appear on the show until March 18, 2014—and then only appeared on six more episodes of Glee altogether, including the March 20, 2015, series finale.

Salling wouldn't make any entertainment-related headlines after that.


On Dec. 29, 2015, he was arrested for possession of child pornography, with authorities saying he had thousands of images and videos involving prepubescent minors on his computer. He had recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, which he made with a friend two weeks after former co-stars including Riley, Jenna Ushkowitz and Kevin McHale had traveled to the country for Shum Jr.'s wedding.

"I can't say I was totally shocked, but still–WTF?" Naya Rivera, who briefly dated Salling in the show's early days, wrote in her 2016 book Sorry Not Sorry. "My son's nanny actually told me about it when the story broke. Then I had no doubt that God really did have my back along the way."

She recalled, "When Mark dumped me, I thought it was the worst thing ever, but can you imagine if that didn't happen? And I was laying there in bed when the battering ram came through the door? I think everyone should have that one relationship where you look back and ask yourself, 'What the hell was I thinking?' You'll learn something and you won't regret it. Unless, of course, that relationship was with someone who had a sizable stash of child porn on his computer. Then, by all means, regret everything."


One of his last tweets was from March 29, 2016, when he went home to Texas to visit his parents. He posted a photo of himself with his mom.

In April 2016, a woman filed a police report accusing Salling of raping her four years beforehand. She said she was in a relationship with the actor and he was pressuring her to have sex, though she told him she wanted to wait until marriage. Ultimately, she alleged, she said yes—but then changed her mind, and he did not heed her demand to stop.

He was ultimately never charged, but he was already on his way down in the child porn case. He initially pleaded not guilty, but last month he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor. Sentencing was due to be officially imposed in March, but he was facing four to seven years in prison plus 20 years of supervised release; he also had to register as a sex offender.

"Mark is focused on accepting responsibility and atoning for his conduct," attorney Michael Proctor told E! News at the time. Proctor later denied a TMZ report that Salling had cut his wrists in a previous suicide attempt about a month and a half prior to making the plea deal in October.

Salling had been free on bail when he apparently decided to end his life instead.

Aside from the mention in Rivera's book, his Glee co-stars hadn't had anything to say about their fallen co-star's twisted trajectory.

On May 19, 2016, Lea Michele posted an old cast photo, which included Salling. 

"#tbt 7 years ago.. It's unbelievable how quickly time can go by.. To think we aired 7 years ago today.. Found this photo from our Upfronts trip to NYC just days before the premiere. We were all so excited. We went around the table and each said something we loved about each other.. No matter where we all are now.. I will always think back to this night. #glee."