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Sunday is going to be rough. First, though, it will be wonderful, as my husband and I pick up our two daughters at sleep-away camp and get all the hugs we’ve been missing for the last month. But then, inevitably, we’ll have to tell them about Cory Monteith, about how the charming, talented, sweet-faced star of their favorite TV show, Glee, died of a heroin and alcohol overdose.
They’re 10 and 12 now, so it’s not a conversation I can avoid -- in fact, I suspect that even without TV, internet, or cell phones, the news may have found its way into their idyllic little camp in the Berkshires. I know they’ll be devastated, and I’m trying to anticipate the questions they’ll ask. Why did he take drugs if he knew they were bad? Why would he risk his life when he had everything to live for? How could he do that to his friends and family? I’m still working out what I can possibly say to them when there are no good answers.
Of course, Cory Monteith is not the first celebrity to die tragically young from drugs, and he’s not even the first one I’ve talked to my kids about (that would be Amy Winehouse). But this is different. Glee has always been a shared experience for me and my girls, something we bond over, listen to in the car, talk about endlessly -- and I know from many of my friends that I am hardly the only parent who saw Glee as a way to connect with her kids.
As a former high-school-chorus geek, I was gob-smacked by Glee from the very first episode in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to share it with Bellamy and Molly. At first, I recorded the episodes and simply showed them the musical numbers the next day, but pretty quickly they fell in love with the misfit characters, and begged me to let them watch entire episodes (which I do, with a 15-minute DVR delay so I can fast-forward over any inappropriate scenes). They, too, instantly became hooked, collecting “I’m a Gleek” T-shirts, Glee sheet music, and a tower of Glee CDs that threatens to topple every time I enter their room.
My kids and I all love Cory’s character, Finn, the heart of the show, a lumbering jock who’s fiercely protective of his gay step-brother Kurt and sweetly devoted to his true love, Rachel. In the last few episodes, Finn finally seemed find his calling as a teacher, a nice message in a show where everyone else wants to be the next Broadway star or pop diva. But did we know anything about Cory Monteith himself? Not really. What we’ve learned in the last few days is that despite starring on a hit show, making lots of money, having a beautiful and talented girlfriend (his co-star Lea Michele) and the respect and love of everyone he worked with, he couldn’t shake an insidious, deadly addiction that apparently started when he was not much older than my girls are now.
In the pretend world of Glee, every kid has a problem to overcome. The show has tackled bullying, homophobia, suicide attempts, poverty, bulimia. But with the help of friends, teachers, parents, and a good old power ballad or two, they always manage to climb their way out to the light. That’s TV of course, but in real life, it unfortunately doesn’t always work out that way. So I will have a conversation with my girls, probably a little earlier than I had planned, about the nature of addiction, and how the only surefire way to make sure you don’t get sucked in so deep that you can’t get yourself out is to never even start. And hopefully we'll keep talking, for weeks and months and years to come. Because I want them to know that no matter what happens in their real-life high school drama and beyond, I will always be there to help them through it as best I can.
Mom of two Marisa Cohen is a writer and editor in New York.