Warning: Details about tonight's (10/10/13) Glee episode appear in this post.
On the outside looking in, perhaps Cory Monteith's untimely death appears as just another celebrity death; a rich white kid addicted to and with access to too many drugs for their own good. That's the outside perspective of a man who was had it all going for him and found himself in the wrong situation.
Perhaps those on the outside consider the enabling factors of such a death. Perhaps they consider the free lifestyle Hollywood allows its members. Perhaps they consider the problematic lifestyle encourages by celebrity. Those who assume this perspective and cast judgment without hope for change catch the trees but miss the forest.
Finn Hudson, Monteith's character on Fox's Glee, plays the jock who starts as the star quarterback in his waning high school years and is discovered to be a talented singer in the school locker room. From that point on, Finn Hudson in many ways single handedly, completely, and dramatically changed the way the lines between jock and nerd were drawn. The star quarterback became the lead singer. He went from being in love with the star cheerleader to falling for the star diva. When he accepted his new gay brother-by-marriage, he proved to the school that even beyond the walls of high school cliques, prejudice was not something necessary for the "cool kids" to exhibit.
As cheesy and stereotypical as it may be, Finn Hudson blurred lines. His charismatic smile and genuine good looks changed the way students at the fictional McKinley High School understood stereotypes. Given his looks, his attitude, his talent, and his loving spirit, Cory's Glee character changed things.
Cory's death (a deadly and seemingly accidental mixture of heroine and alcohol) does very much the same thing for the outside world. A good looking 30-something with incredible talent and a hit TV show dies of an overdose? That's not the drug addict we've been bred to recognize. The drug addicts our society regrettably pokes fun at look nothing like Cory. Cory has money. Cory has style. Cory has looks. Cory has success. Cory has talent. That's not the druggie we recognize. It can't be. It's something else.
But the truth is, that is our drug society. That is a large part of our drug culture. Celebrities' struggle with drugs can often be exponentially worse than the common man's struggle simple because of availability. And though the good looking happy go lucky kid always seems to have his head on his shoulders, he may be struggling with a real problem we might never have considered because of his looks or his success or his talent or whatever.
At the end of tonight's episode of Glee in which most of the show's popular cast members returned to remember Finn through song, their beloved teacher cries at home on top of Finn's letterman jacket, a piece that had been passed around through the show. In that moment I realized all that that letterman jacket meant to McKinley High. That letterman jacket, worn by Finn the football player, made its way on his back to be worn by Finn the glee club member. If any piece reminded us of and symbolized the paradigmatic shift in culture at McKinley High, it was that letterman jacket.
As I watched Mr. Schuester bawl over the symbolic piece that saved his glee club and shifted the ever-walled and prejudiced high school campus, I realized that Cory's death is our world's letterman jacket. Cory's death symbolizes the change in our culture where we not only pay attention and seek help for the obvious drug addict, we pay attention and seek help for anyone in any need, no matter their appearance.
There are likely many many around you on a daily basis struggling with some sort of addiction that is controlling them, weighing them down, and perhaps even killing them. Let's learn from Cory, recognize the importance of that jacket, and use this as an opportunity to care more for those around us.
Even if they look like they have it all together. Perhaps especially so.