‘Glee’s Ryan Murphy Speaks On Cory Monteith Tragedy, Plans To Resume Work With Tribute Episode

BREAKING: In his first public comments since the tragic death of Cory Monteith from an overdose of heroin and alcohol, Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy tells Deadline that a quick return to work was a collective decision made by cast and crew, which decided the best way to deal with the grief of losing the show’s breakout star was to return to work and mourn together. That decision was made after consulting with Monteith’s longtime girlfriend and co-star Lea Michele, as well as Monteith’s heartbroken costars and crew.

“We will begin shooting in late August the two shows we had already written, so that people can physically go back to work,” Murphy said. “We will then do an episode that will deal with the death of Finn’s character and follow that with a long hiatus. I don’t know exactly when we will come back, and we are trying our best with this attempt at damage control. We are planning a memorial for the cast and crew sometime this week on the Paramount lot.” Murphy will write that episode with co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, but acknowledges they aren’t sure at this early stage what form it will take. They will have to have it ready when they finish the first two segments, which is a tribute to The Beatles, and the trio will write the episode using Michele as a creative barometer.

It has been a week of extremes for Murphy, who was two days from completing the feature adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart when he learned of Monteith’s death. Days later, his other show creation, American Horror Story: Asylum received the most Emmy nominations of any show with 17. Since learning that the 31-year old Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel last Saturday, Murphy has huddled with executives at Fox and especially the crew and cast of a show where Monteith was as strong a presence behind the scenes as he was on camera.

There is no easy way to handle a tragedy like this, and when Glee announced its plans to resume production so the crew and cast could prepare, what followed was an online outcry of passionate Glee fans who felt it was too soon and insensitive without a proper mourning period. Murphy understands that sentiment but said it was made because of an overwhelming belief within the show that it was the right thing to do.

“For many of the people we work with who are very young, and also for the fans of the show, this is probably the first time they have experienced death, and that was not lost on any of us here,” Murphy said. “I understand that everyone has their own way of processing grief. Every possible option was explored, and what we did was look to the people who loved Cory, who worked with him most, and specifically Lea. This is what they wanted to do.”

These plans were not made rashly, Murphy said, adding that Fox execs from Peter Rice to Dana Walden and Gary Newman put no pressure on the show’s creators and left all decisions to them. “We were left with the decision, what do you do? Do you cancel, shut down the show? Come back in December and January? We considered every option, and decided to do what the cast and crew felt best, the people who had something unique with Cory, who loved him. They wanted to be back on the set, where there is a sense of security, and where they can grieve together and talk about him. When that happens, we will have grief counselors for the first two weeks to help everyone through it. We had already written the two part Beatles tribute and we’ll shoot those and Cory’s tribute for that third episode and then we will take a long hiatus and figure out what to do. Will we have a truncated season? I just don’t know yet. Lea blessed every decision. I told her even I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to write about the death of someone I love. She wanted people to be together. She and Cory were the young leads of that show, the A story. Lea has been a leader all through this difficult process.”

Before the tragedy, things looked bright for the show. It had gotten a two-season pickup—Murphy said he plans to honor that commitment—and Monteith figured to be a major part of the story line after coming through a rehab and telling Murphy he felt that working on the show would only help his long struggle to stay sober.

“It is so very sad and tragic,” Murphy said. “Cory wasn’t just an actor on one of my shows, he was very important to me, and I was very invested in his sobriety. When I heard what was happening to him, I organized an intervention and got him into rehab last March. We socialized and we also fought, because while he was a lovely sweet guy, he was also a leader on the set, a strong personality and the only analogy I can think of is that he felt like an older son to me.”

So when Monteith’s struggles became evident, Murphy didn’t sit by idly.

“As soon as I heard what was happening, when we had two episodes left to go, I brought him to my office where we had the intervention,” Murphy said. “He said he wanted to finish the rest of the season, and I said absolutely not. We were not going to put a stupid TV show before his sobriety. I assured him he was not fired, that his job was secure, that he would leave today. He went with a whimper and not a bang and it was very emotional. On one hand, he was thrilled that people wanted to take care of him, though he also felt shame and regret. We had experts in the room and tried to let him know this was a disease. It was a tough and very emotional day and the last thing he said before he left was, ‘I want to get better.’ And I believed him.”

Murphy understood that recovery is not a quick fix proposition, and it was clear that Monteith’s situation would need to be monitored. “The last couple of months, all indications were that he’d gone through the steps, he went to one place where it didn’t work and then he went to another, but there was still a lot of concern,” Murphy said. “A couple of weeks ago, he and Lea came to Fire Island where we were shooting The Normal Heart, and I honestly couldn’t tell what was going on with him. He didn’t seem quite himself, but when I confronted him he claimed he was clean. It has been a very difficult roller coaster ride, and all through that, and through the last week, Lea has been the most brave and courageous person I’ve ever met. She has dealt with an impossible situation with more humanity than you could ever hope for.”

Now what is left for Murphy and his cohorts to figure out is how to move on. “What is difficult is that while Cory was going through this struggle, I told him that maybe he would go light on the work. He told me, ‘Work is my salvation.’ I thought that it would help him to be around people who were good influences, so we envisioned a season that was heavy with his Finn character.”

As for fans who bristled about the quick return, Murphy said he and the show’s exec producers will write that third episode to honor their late star, using Lea Michele as a barometer to keep them on course.

“One of the most gratifying things about Glee is that when the show is at its best, it has helped young people and given them information about the human condition that moves and informs them,” Murphy said. “What we’ve been talking about in the writer’s room is that maybe the way we deal with this tragedy might save the life of someone.”

Comments (79)

  • It’s insensitive to air a new episode knowing the person is dead…. For gods sake… selfish as well… If you are such talented people you can start off with a new episode that deals with the death of Cory …..throw out your two beatles ep so what someone died…get it…write a new episode….

    Comment by No way — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 11:46am PDT  
    • I guess the entire cast – people who knew and loved Cory – are selfish as well. This decision was a mutual decision by all. Any actor KNOWS that the show must go on. That’s a belief that has been prevalent for years. And if you think that GLEE isn’t going to acknowledge Cory’s death in some way when the show returns, then you are not that bright.

      Comment by Justin — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:32pm PDT  
    • There are no rules or guidelines on how to deal with grief and sudden loss. The fact that they have consulted the cast members and those involved, especially Lea, and that they all felt that working together is good for THEIR healing process is all that matters. As for not making the first episode about Monteith’s Finn, it is a smart move. It gives the cast and crew time to deal with their grief and their more raw emotions early on before having to step right into what is bound to be a very emotional episode for all involved. By the time they start filming it, they may all be more equipped to do the episode that celebrates the life of their castmate and friend.

      Comment by Ronnie — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:37pm PDT  
    • Insensitive? I don’t think so. Its showbiz, how they deal with someone’s death isn’t through invading it and forgetting it. No matter what everyone says, Cory can’t just disappear from the show especially since he’s one of the leads. I’m pretty sure it isn’t easy for everyone in Glee but then again a tribute in honor of a cast’s death is not something new in the industry. We’d already seen it all over. It is in fact the best way to show everyone how much important that person has been. Let them mourn the way they want in order to move on. I’m also sure that this decision is quite an honor to Cory’s family, I mean, only somebody of significance is worthy of a tribute.

      Comment by dumbandgenius — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 7:00pm PDT  
    • Everyone interested in Glee obviously knows what happened, and it must be dealt with in a positive and sensitive way. It wold not be appropriate to just say he is no longer in the cast and write a fictional reason why.

      Comment by Martin Severino — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 8:47pm PDT  
    • To me it sounds like the only one being insensitive here is you. They have all come together as a whole and conversed with each other and made the decision together to honor him in a special tribute episode, and it’s up to them when they decide it would be best to air that particular episode. Giving them time to film a couple of episodes that aren’t so emotional will give the entire cast time to come to terms with what happened and hopefully give them the chance to film the tribute episode without breaking down in tears with every line. Everybody handles grief differently and it’s insensitive of you to say that they are being selfish by going back to work early if that is how they choose to handle theirs. You should have enough respect for Cory and for the show to understand and accept that.

      Comment by Susan — Sunday July 21, 2013 @ 4:18pm PDT  
      • Well put!

        Comment by Anouska Whitley — Sunday July 21, 2013 @ 7:42pm PDT  
    • Wow..did you even READ the article?

      The people who KNOW CORY best and are closest to him are the ones who made the decision.

      Comment by NewYears1978 — Tuesday July 23, 2013 @ 8:27am PDT  
    • Maybe getting back to work is the best thing for the crew, rather than sitting around — doing SOMETHING rather than the alternative. And there’s no mention that Finn’s death will be drug-related; perhaps the two eps leading up to the tribute will be used to give some back-story or foreshadowing of Finn’s death. To simply start the season with the death of a major character would be callous and insensitive and too shocking for the fanbase (especially the younger demographic); the fans as well as the crew need time to process and, yes, do damage control. Cory’s death is tragic, but the show must go on; however, Ryan and his crew are handling their loss and the show’s character loss as best they can, with thought and sensitivity for the fans as well as themselves.

      Comment by Sirah — Tuesday July 23, 2013 @ 4:27pm PDT  
  • Given the actor’s desire to help other people avoid the hard knocks he experienced, this sounds like the perfect way to honor him. What a task of mind and heart it will be to do it well…

    Comment by Chloe — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 11:49am PDT  
  • What a brilliant post. Kudos to Mike Fleming Jr., to Deadline, and especially…… especially to Ryan Murphy.

    Comment by kathy — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 11:50am PDT  
  • Great interview. Had to read it twice because it was so fucking good. Nice job, Fleming!

    Comment by A WGA Writer — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 11:51am PDT  
  • What the hell does “We are trying our best with this attempt at damage control” mean? It is an absolutely bizarre thing to put in a statement about someone’s death. Does Ryan Murphy understand what “damage control” means? It’s like issuing a statement saying, “We’re trying really hard to spin this.”

    Comment by Rob — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:05pm PDT  
    • I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one who thought, “WHAT? That’s such an odd phrasing for the situation.” It’s so out of place and just plain wrong.

      Comment by Jenna — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:36pm PDT  
      • I’m wanting to hope that by using the phrase “damage control” he meant that they were trying to help the Glee family get through this tragedy the best that they know how. I thought it was out of place as well, but don’t think that he meant the reputation of the actual show, but the people involved. Not a Ryan Murphy as a person fan, so I’m not defending him, but that’s what I hope that he meant.

        Comment by Panda — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 1:48pm PDT  
      • Well yes it is sort of a weird phrase to be put with someone’s death.

        But it still holds true. Any time there is anything negative, be it a death, accident, problem or whatever..then there will be some sort of damage or fallout that needs to be controlled.

        People just over think things a bit and try to find stuff to moan about. Let it go..

        Comment by NewYears1978 — Tuesday July 23, 2013 @ 8:29am PDT  
    • Which is 100% the most truthful thing to come out of Ryan Murphy’s mouth from this article. It’s all about the business not the deceased.

      Comment by Jess — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 1:36pm PDT  
      • Totally. That statement couldn’t come off as more arrogant and condescending if he had prefaced it by saying, “I is what I is.”

        Comment by Michael — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 3:40pm PDT  
    • Damage control means they don’t want people to think they are being insensitive. Ryan wanted to let people know the cast and Leah had made the decision to keep working.

      Comment by BBGURL11 — Sunday July 21, 2013 @ 12:11pm PDT  
      • Yeah, well it’s Ryan Murphy and that sentiment went out the window when he said damage control. Team Grohl.

        Comment by hilly — Monday July 22, 2013 @ 7:56am PDT  
        • Look, you cannot POSSIBLY say that there is no damage here to the cast and crew of this show. The producers and directors and all of the GLEE family must go back to work on the show with a probable feeling of PTS and shock of the sort that anyone feels when a part of their life is ripped away. When my mother died I am truly thankful there was someone available to perform damage control on my life and I am quite certain that those who actually KNEW Mr. Monteith feel the same way. So those of us who are only marginally affected by this (we did not KNOW or work with him, after all, we simply came to love his character and his public persona) should step aside and quit trying to tell the people who really KNEW the man how to deal with is absence.

          Comment by Mark — Monday July 22, 2013 @ 6:25pm PDT  
    • It means that the entire season arc envisioned has been “damaged” and they have to figure out how to move forward, once the tribute episode is done. The article said that the original plan was to have Finn feature heavily, so that means that a lot of already planned ideas have to change. Once they decided that getting everyone back to work is the best thing, the next question is “How?”.

      Comment by Clare — Sunday July 21, 2013 @ 6:36pm PDT  
  • That might be a little harsh—everyone grieves differently–and for that crew –Cory was family–and it sounds like they considered all options—it’s always hard to move on after someone dies–especially unexpectedly–so maybe getting back to normality provides them comfort–shooting the tribute to Cory will be very difficult for all involved–giving them time to process might make it a little easier to get through that difficult real life episode! I commend the writers and actors for coming back at all-

    Comment by Beth — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:26pm PDT  
  • “it has helped young people and given them information about the human condition that moves and informs them.”

    Oh, brother.

    Comment by Hawker Wahls — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:26pm PDT  
  • Good lord; calm down. You obviously don’t get how TV works, or you just didn’t process the article. They want to get back to work for everyone’s sake (which Cory would likely appreciate, if work was his “salvation”), and two episodes are already written. If they hastily wrote a Cory/Finn tribute, you’d probably bitch about that, too.

    Comment by MW — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:32pm PDT  
    • My guess is that they will bitch about it anyway…

      Comment by Mark — Monday July 22, 2013 @ 6:27pm PDT  
  • I hope the show takes the opportunity to say something honest and meaningful about addiction in the memorial episode that might get through to teenagers. It’s always surprising to me when someone like Cory Monteith dies how quickly the peanut gallery is to jump in with comments like, “What a shame to throw away all that talent.” Clearly not understanding that it’s like blaming someone for losing their battle with cancer. I can only assume it’s because the popular media depiction of drug addiction is Charlie Sheen getting wheeled to an ambulance by pornstars, people tend to write off a death like this as “too much partying.” Most likely Cory Monteith spent the last few hours of his life suffering alone and praying to God, and there was nothing about it that looked like a party. The show seems to have an opportunity to bring both compassion and understanding to a very mis-understood subject. Hopefully they will take it.

    Comment by hopeful — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 12:36pm PDT  
    • Well said.

      Comment by kells — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 2:58pm PDT  
    • That was well said. And sadly, you are probably very correct on the scene that unfurled. Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure.

      Comment by Mo — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 4:37pm PDT  
    • Very well said, great comment.

      Comment by Katie — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 5:41pm PDT  
  • I genuinely hope his promises that Lea was closely consulted and never pressured are sincere.

    Comment by RIP — Saturday July 20, 2013 @ 1:12pm PDT  
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