Cory Monteith's Death: How TV Shows Handle the Loss of a Star
Some series have written it into the storyline; others have gone the other way. It remains unclear how Fox's "Glee" will handle the passing of one of its most beloved stars.
Glee's Cory Monteith, who died Saturday at the age of 31, joins a list of actors whose sudden passing came when their show was in production, with some (Cheers) opting not to write their star's death into the series and others (TNT's Dallas reboot) acknowledging the loss onscreen.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that it's too soon to know how Glee will handle the death of one of its most beloved and original characters, as those connected with the series are still grappling with the young actor's passing. It is, however, safe to say that the Fox musical will never be the same.
Monteith was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room Saturday. A cause of death has not been determined, and an autopsy has been scheduled for Monday. Foul play is not suspected. The actor voluntarily checked himself into a rehab facility in late March for treatment for substance abuse, marking his second attempt to seek help. He left the facility in April and in recent weeks vacationed with his girlfriend and Glee co-star Lea Michele before coming to Vancouver earlier this month.
Monteith played Finn Hudson, the lovable jock and former leader of the glee club at the center of the Fox musical from creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. The character was last seen during Glee's recently completed fourth season agreeing to serve as co-coach of New Directions, along with his mentor and former teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), while he studied to become a teacher at a nearby Ohio college.
The end of Glee's fourth season set up Monteith -- one of a handful of the show's original stars to be a series regular in season five -- for a continued leading role. Michele, for her part, has been vocal in her desire to see Finn and her character, Rachel, wind up together despite their onscreen split in season four, comparing the fan-favorite couple to Friends' Ross and Rachel.
Monteith's unexpected death leaves Glee in a precarious position. Murphy has been prone to writing hot-button social issues (school violence, teen pregnancy, texting while driving, eating disorders) into the series to bring a sense of realism to the coming-of-age story. Thus far, Glee has only briefly touched on death, with the passing of the sister of Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and a flashback to the late mother of Kurt (Chris Colfer). Finn's stepfather and Kurt's father, Burt (Mike O'Malley), had a cancer scare last season.
The most recent example of a star who passed away during the production of a series came with TNT's Dallas. The soapy drama wrote Larry Hagman's death into a major part of its second season with a "Who shot J.R.?" storyline similar to the one in the original series. At the time of his death, Hagman had filmed six of season two's 15 episodes. TNT subsequently renewed Dallas for a third season.
ABC's 8 Simple Rules wrote star John Ritter's death into its second season. Ritter, who starred as a writer and father of two, died during production on the fourth episode of season two. The series followed his screen family coping with the character's death and ended after its third season.
NBC handled the slaying of NewsRadio star Phil Hartman by incorporating his death into the show. Production was on hiatus at the time of his murder, and the series returned for a fifth season by introducing the fact that his character had died suddenly into the premiere of what would be its final season.
Other series, meanwhile, took a "the show must go on" approach. Cheers seemingly refused to say farewell to star Nicholas Colasanto -- aka bartender Coach -- who died during production toward the end of season three. (With his health deteriorating, the beloved actor retired from the show before the end of the season.) His absence was regularly addressed as if he were away on vacation or doing other activities outside of the bar. The series would continue for eight more seasons, with Woody Harrelson ultimately boarding the show in season four. That season's premiere revealed that Coach had ultimately passed away. Cheers concluded with a touching and subtle nod to the character.
On NBC's Chico and the Man, Freddie Prinze Sr. played Chico until season three, when the actor, battling depression following his divorce, took his own life. Onscreen, the titular character's absence was addressed with a visit to see his father in Mexico. He was replaced on the series. During the show's fourth and final season, when Ed (the "Man" in the title) suffered a nervous breakdown, it was revealed that Chico had ultimately died.
On CBS' original Dallas, the death of Jim Davis during the show's third season was not addressed until a year later, when in the show's fourth cycle producers revealed that his Jock Ewing perished in a helicopter crash.
After Sanford and Son star Redd Foxx died of a heart attack during production on the seventh of a 15-episode order of the CBS comedy The Royal Family, producers initially decided to end the show out of respect to their star. But they reversed course and decided to continue the series in his memory, retooling its creative direction and adding cast members. The ratings for the rebooted comedy paled in comparison, and the show was canceled with only two episodes to go.
Cable network Starz recast the title role after Spartacus star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and his treatment delayed the start of production on season two. Liam McIntyre brought the series to an end following Whitfield's death in 2011.
When George Reeves died of an alleged suicide, The Adventures of Superman ended its run, though producers briefly attempted to pitch a spinoff. Fox canceled the 1996 series Kindred the Embraced after star Mark Frankel died in a motorcycle crash in London.
STORY: Hollywood, 'Glee' Co-Stars Mourn Cory Monteith
It's unclear how far along Glee -- which was renewed for a fifth and sixth season earlier this year -- was in production on season five. The Fox musical is a demanding show because of its intricate choreography and musical arrangements, which require ample rehearsal and recording-studio time.
This off-season, the series promoted five Ohio-set characters to series regulars and saw four original stars downgraded from series regular -- with the quartet and two more original series players likely to guest star during season five. Murphy also had a plan for American Idol alum Adam Lambert in season five, announcing July 10 that the singer would be a part of the upcoming season, which is currently scheduled to premiere Sept. 19. It is unclear whether the series will still make the premiere date.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragic news," Glee executive producers, producers 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Co. said in a statement Saturday. "Cory was an exceptional talent and an even more exceptional person. He was a true joy to work with and we will all miss him tremendously. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."
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