Cory Monteith: Heartbroken Acting Mentor on Final Dinner With 'Glee' Star
VANCOUVER – Don’t tell Maureen Webb she holds the key to explaining Cory Monteith’s final days.
It’s Tuesday evening, and the Vancouver casting director is sitting in the East of Main cafe she runs in the city’s downtown eastside neighborhood.
She fights back tears while trying to come to grips with news heard only hours earlier that the Glee star’s untimely death was caused by an accidental overdose of heroin and alcohol, according to the local coroner's office.
Five days earlier, on July 11, Webb sat only a few tables away, sharing a laugh-filled dinner with Monteith and manager Elena Kirschner as they caught up on old times and talked about new ways to support Project Limelight Society, a free performing arts program for kids living in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
“He was very charismatic, very charming,” says Webb haltingly, wanting to share yet also not trespass on the far greater grief of Monteith’s family and close friends over his loss.
She worked with Terry Gilliam to cast the Canadian elements of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which was produced out of Vancouver.
Webb remembered an anxious phone call as she learned about the sudden and unexplained death of Heath Ledger after his own battle with substance abuse.
But she’d never met Ledger, and his death took place elsewhere.
Monteith’s death on Webb's doorstep, by contrast, is deeply personal.
“Everyone wants a piece of someone, especially when they’re that young,” she says with disdain about media accounts of a local boy’s fairy-tale rise to Hollywood fame ending with bar-hopping on Vancouver's Granville Street and leading to Monteith dying alone in his 21st-floor room at the nearby Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel.
Webb recalls Monteith looking fit and fresh last Thursday night while on hiatus from Glee, having just hiked along the Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island.
They also talked about an upcoming Project Limelight fundraiser, with Webb, having just launched the charity last year along with sister Donalda Weaver, on a shoe-string budget, thinking small.
Monteith, by contrast, knowing the crowd-pulling strength that Hollywood fame brings, thought big during last week’s meal.
An example: The Project Limelight theater needs an air-conditioning system.
Webb recalls Monteith promising, “We’ll get you that air conditioning.”
Now, even with his death, Monteith’s presence still hovers over the kids charity.
On Tuesday, a foundation set up by the Glee actor’s friends and family named three organizations to receive donations in his memory: Project Limelight, Branson’s Virgin Unite, in which Monteith was a global ambassador, and Chrysalis.
That continuing support is in part due to a debt Monteith apparently felt over Webb having given him an early yet crucial leg up into acting when he was only 19 and already having battled substance abuse.
The casting director is loath to take ownership for the Hollywood celebrity's success and fame.
“I didn’t cast him in Glee. I didn’t even cast him in his first film. All I did was help a good friend,” Webb insists.
What she did do was 12 years ago listen to talent agent Carmen Amos, a business partner with Webb in Red Room Studios on Vancouver Island.
Amos had recommended Webb talk to a talented young man who wanted to get into the business.
But she turned Amos down at first, with Webb insisting she didn’t want to meet yet another young acting wannabe.
Then, quite by chance, Monteith came walking down the street outside the Red Room front door, his arms full of drugstore shopping bags.
Webb remembers looking at a tall, gangly young man with a big smile and thinking, “OK, I’ll meet him.”
Monteith in May 2012 recalled that chance meeting in an interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper done during a Project Limelight visit with Richard Branson in which the British Virgin tycoon brought along a check for $26,000.
“I was literally walking from the London Drugs with bags of groceries at a loose end in my life, a real transitional phase, looking for the next thing to do. I didn’t know what that was,” he recounted.
“She (Webb) was a friend of a friend who suggested on the side of the street ... that I come into her studios and take these acting classes. And I said, ‘What am I going to do with acting?’” Monteith continued.
Webb did give Monteith the free acting lessons, but more importantly, she introduced him to Vancouver acting coach Andrew McIlroy.
And McIlory in turn hooked Monteith up with Kirschner, his manager, helping cement his career.
It turns out serendipity also played its part in the media glare this week trained on Project Limelight.
At one point last Thursday, Kirschner took a photo of Monteith in the East of Main cafe that was posted on her Twitter account later that night.
In it, the actor appears in dark silhouette against window that looks onto East Georgia Street in Vancouver's Chinatown district.
Monteith retweeted the image that evening, and Webb on her own Twitter account thanked the actor and his manager for a “great evening.”
Webb insists the photo of Monteith was done partly out of fun, but also because, as ever, Monteith knew the power of his fame and its ability to benefit Project Limelight.
Of course, the dark shadow cast on Monteith in the Twitter photo, quite possibly the last picture taken of the actor before his untimely death, now appears ominous.
But Webb insists that’s with hindsight, as she recalled laughter yet again when she joined Monteith to look at a wall of photos in a hallway leading up the Project Limelight theater.
Here Monteith saw for the first time photos of himself signing autographs for adoring kids at Project Limelight taken last year on his visit with Branson.
This week, those same kids from a poverty-stricken neighborhood are torn up emotionally, Webb insists.
Many hadn’t even seen Glee before they’d met Monteith, or thought they’d known him by the guiding light of his star power that he shed on Project Limelight.
And still others just felt “cool,” she adds, as they, like so many young people worldwide, lived vicariously through a TV hero.
“They’re just very sad,” Webb says, her eyes glistening yet again, her mind’s eye filled with the faces of the children.