High school star quarterback Finn Hudson, at least on paper, smacked more of a caricature than a character: a handsome dumb jock whose gullibility stretched to believing he’d impregnated his cheerleader girlfriend without the benefit of intercourse.
But on the small screen, Finn soared beyond stereotype, thanks to some fine writing and the talent of Cory Monteith, whose sudden death
at age 31 seems sadly incongruous with the joy he brought millions via “Glee.”
The young actor, found dead in a Vancouver hotel room Saturday, will be remembered as an irreplaceable piece of the heart of a show that, at its best, set pulses racing with its mix of teenage dramas wrought large and even bigger musical numbers.
Monteith imbued Finn with a sense of vulnerability that belied the character’s status as the big man on campus at small-town McKinley High School. At times, Monteith’s Finn, who lost his soldier father as a youngster, came across as a little boy lost. At others, Finn rose above his insecurities to become a leader in the locker room, and, more importantly, in the chorus room, as he straddled two very different worlds under one shaky schoolhouse roof.
Monteith, about a decade past his own high school days and his first struggles with addiction when “Glee” stormed onto Fox and into the popular culture four years ago, intuited – and effectively conveyed – the changing-by-the-minute emotions of the turbulent teenage years.
By turns scared and unsure, sweet and naïve, selfless and strong, Finn often emerged as the emotional center of a rollercoaster of a program that could go from silly to serious with the toss of a Slushie. A lesser actor would have plunged from the “Glee” high wire in perhaps the show’s finest episode
: the “Grilled Cheesus” installment in which Finn sees the image – and the power – of Jesus in a sandwich. The episode, a potential offensive mess if not played right, shines as a smart, funny and touching meditation on religion and spirituality, thanks in great part to the utter guilelessness Monteith brought to the excellent script.
Monteith proved himself a fine musical performer, whose abilities were appreciated – if not always heard – by the screaming fans who filled “Glee” cast live performances. He could put across a song, even if he lacked the powerhouse vocal capabilities of co-stars Amber Riley and Lea Michele, his girlfriend on and off TV. With Michele, he helped set the tone for “Glee” in the pilot episode with their duet of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a three-decade-old Journey number that became a hit once again, and the show’s unofficial theme song.
Monteith’s Finn remained a key part of “Glee” even after the character graduated McKinley High. It’s too soon to think about how Monteith’s death will be handled on the show. It’s also not a time to speculate on the personal demons that ended with his death.
All we can know for certain is that Monteith’s family and friends are dealing with a crushing blow. For fans, who knew the actor in a different way, sorrow can only be tempered by happy memories amid the loss of a familiar voice silenced far too soon. Monteith, as seen in the clip below, was blessed with a voice that helped turn “Glee” fans into believers:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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