To love Glee is to know that the hit Fox TV series is haunted by several startling tragedies. Most notably, the high-profile deaths of stars Cory Monteith, who passed away from an accidental drug overdose in 2013, Mark Salling, who died by suicide in 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography, and Naya Rivera, who suffered a drowning accident in 2020.
This phenomenon is the basis for Investigation Discovery’s new docuseries, The Price Of Glee. Airing roughly eight years after Glee wrapped in 2015, the project chronicles the untimely deaths of both cast and crew members and details behind-the-scenes moments of alleged tension and drama, beginning with a fitting quote about the show from creator Ryan Murphy: “What started off as being such a great celebration of love and acceptance ultimately became about darkness and death.”
It’s important to note that neither Murphy nor any of the main cast are involved in the three-part documentary, which premiered Monday (Jan. 16) on ID and is available for streaming on Discovery+ that same day. In fact, some of the former New Directioners have denounced the docuseries altogether.
Kevin McHale, who played Artie Abrams, likened it to trash, and in December told In Touch that he and his castmates had “nothing to do with it.” Chord Overstreet, who played Sam Evans, called it “bulls–t” on the Elvis Duran radio show.
The stories that are included in The Price of Glee come from various crew members and some actors who served as stand-ins for the main cast. Rivera’s father, George Rivera, is also featured in the doc, as are a couple of Cory Monteith’s former friends — one of whom is Stephen Kramer Glickman, a supporting actor on Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush, who claimed to have befriended Monteith while their respective shows were filming near each other.
Keep reading to see nine of the biggest revelations from The Price of Glee.
Cory Monteith Predicted He Would ‘Die Young’
Cory Monteith had been open about his childhood struggles with drugs and alcohol before he died of an accidental overdose at age 31 in 2013, when his body was found in a hotel in Vancouver, B.C., along with drug paraphernalia. And according to his former roommate Justin Neill, the actor had at one point confessed he used to think his drug and alcohol use would lead to an untimely death.
“I remember him telling me once, ‘I thought I was gonna die young,'” Neill recalled. “Like 18 or something like that.”
Though Cory had successfully remained sober for much of his time on Glee, he relapsed and checked himself into rehab just months before he passed away.
People Were Confused by Cory's Relationship With Lea Michele
Lea Michele, who led the show as Rachel Berry through all six of its seasons, had a reputation for being difficult to work with. This is touched on several times in The Price of Glee, with production assistant Garrett Greer at one point labeling the Funny Girl star a “narcissist” in the Investigation Discovery doc.
According to some of the interviewees, some people behind the scenes were confused by her romantic relationship with Monteith (the two were rumored to be engaged), whose reputation for being kind and laid-back on set was opposite Michele’s.
“I did not understand the two of them together,” Greer said, revealing that Monteith and Michele had been “an item” before the show even premiered in 2009.
“I think a lot of Cory’s confusion had a lot to do with his relationship with Lea Michelle,” said hair department head and Monteith’s friend, Dugg Kirkpatrick. “I don’t know that she was a friend. I think she was involved with him because he was on a TV show.”
Cory Had a Stalker
When they lived together in Culver City, Calif., Neill said that Monteith started being stalked by “a young girl who was always following him.” They put up extra security cameras, but eventually, the actor was forced to move out of their house.
“I was super emotional,” Neill recalled. “We were like family.”
The incident came as the Glee cast’s fame was reaching a fever pitch following its first season. Fans would apparently frequently show up to set and bombard the actors, according to the program, forcing the crew to go as far as building tunnels between their trailers and filming locations so that the young stars could travel safely from place to place.
The Cast Would Compete for Followers
Kirkpatrick also claimed that the cast of Glee had an outright competition to have the most followers on social media, with journalist Andy Swift saying that the actors’ follower counts allowed one to “track who the fans are really in to.”
“I would oftentimes see the actors gathered, talking about how many people they’d acquired as followers,” Kirkpatrick recalled. “And there was a competition. In the beginning, when they had to tweet every day, it was Lea that really had the numbers. The head gets a little bit bigger, to say the least.”
‘Everybody Knew’ Lea and Naya Rivera ‘Hated Each Other’
Knowledge of Lea Michele and Naya Rivera’s behind-the-scenes beef has been public information for years now. Rivera even spoke on it in her memoir, Sorry Not Sorry, writing that Michele “didn’t like sharing the spotlight” and “blamed me for anything and everything that went wrong.”
Rivera also wrote that she didn’t “hate Lea, and I never have.” Kirkpatrick, however, has a different take on the feud. “There was always a fight with them,” he said. “Everybody knew. Everybody saw it. They hated each other. And at the same time, respected each other’s talent.”
“It was kind of a cliquey, b—hy environment,” he added.
Cory Supposedly Relapsed After Another Cast Member Persuaded Him to Drink
In one of the more dramatized moments from The Price of Glee, Kirkpatrick recalled something his friend Monteith allegedly told him “in the last couple days I saw him.” The exchange took place right after the actor had relapsed, according to Kirkpatrick, who said he could tell that the star was “different” and “under the influence of alcohol.”
“He said he was at a party and he hadn’t been drinking,” remembered the hairstylist. “He knew he shouldn’t.”
Kirkpatrick then alleged that Monteith had confessed he was convinced to drink that night by a castmate, setting his relapse into motion. “He was told by a certain cast member that same night, ‘If you want to have a drink, you should have a drink. I will be here, you can always trust me,'” he said.
“That confused him, and kind of made him mad,” Kirkpatrick continued. “But he did — he started drinking. Because he was given permission by someone that he loved.”
There Was a String of Deaths in the ‘Glee’ Crew Too
Though the deaths of Monteith, Rivera and Salling are by far the most publicized of all the Glee-related tragedies, crew members interviewed for the documentary wanted to remind viewers that several of their coworkers on set passed away during the show’s run.
These include assistant director Jim Fuller, who died of a heart attack; production assistant Nancy Motes, who died by suicide; and Matthew Morrison’s stand-in Mark Watson, who died from a “car fire,” according to Rivera’s stand-in, Jodi Tanaka.
Rigging gaffer J.A. Byerly went as far as saying that he partly blames Glee for the suicide of his brother, who worked on the show’s sets. He said that leading up to his death, his brother was run down by the pressure to keep up with the set piece demands of Glee‘s musical numbers, which became increasingly extravagant in the later seasons to keep the show’s declining viewership interested.
Everyone Was ‘Forced’ to Resume Filming After Cory's Death After Michele Made the Decision
It’s long been reported on that it was Lea Michele who made the call that Glee should resume filming mere weeks after Cory Monteith’s death. The actress herself confirmed that she felt it was important to get back to work so that the cast could be together in an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show. Ryan Murphy told E! in 2013:
“Ultimately the person who made the decision was Lea, who felt that the best thing for the cast and crew was to be together and to get back to work and be together every day and talk about our memories of him. So we decided to do that with Lea’s blessing and we’re going to go back to work and have grief counselors on the set for two weeks because people are really hurting.”
According to people interviewed for The Price of Glee, however, not everyone necessarily agreed with Michele’s decision, but were “forced” to go back to work while still in the throes of grief.
“It was only a couple of weeks. All of the actors just had to pull themselves together and get back to work,” Tanaka recalled. “Everyone was just kind of forced to.”
“It probably would’ve been better to just, you know, end the show,” commented Stephen Kramer Glickman. “But there’s no possible way they were going to do that. The show was like a giant, massive money machine.”
Years later, Murphy himself admitted that, in hindsight, he feels he should have ended Glee after Monteith’s death.
Naya Rivera's Father Called Her Moments Before Her Death
According to Rivera’s father, George Rivera, he warned the actress about the dangers of hitting the water on a pontoon boat, the type of watercraft she rented on a mother-son lake trip in California in July 2020, right before she died.
“I get a sinking feeling cause we’ve been boating forever,” George recalled. “I was FaceTiming with her trying to talk her through the pitfalls of trying to anchor your boat. First of all, I said, ‘Naya, you’re on a pontoon boat, that’s not a boat … why are you on a pontoon boat?'”
“I said, ‘Do not jump off that effin’ boat. If you’ve got an anchor, you can anchor it, but do you know how to anchor it?'” he continued. “We went through a couple iterations like that, and then the FaceTime call hung up and that was the last time I talked to her.”
Later, her then 4-year-old son Josey was found wearing a life jacket and sleeping alone on the pontoon, still floating out on the water. Naya’s body was found five days later, with authorities determining that she’d saved Josey’s life before she drowned.
“I knew immediately when I got the phone call in Knoxville that it was over with,” George said upon finding out his daughter, 33, had gone missing. “You don’t find a drifting ,,, child asleep on a boat at the end of a lake without his mother and have any hope. I had no hope.”
“[Naya] knew she was on a really good show with a lot of tragedies,” he added. “Don’t know if you can equate that to fame, but I think it has something to do with it.”