Cory Monteith and Lea Michele cheering on the Canucks

The only time I saw Cory Monteith in person was at a Canucks Game. He and his on-screen and off-screen love interest Lea Michele were in their Canucks jerseys at GM Place cheering on the home team at game one of this year’s playoff debacle against the San Jose Sharks. Their smiling faces were pasted on the Jumbotron (yes, that’s the picture above), and if my brother David and I squinted we could sort of spot them from across the arena.

David joked that you could tell Monteith was a Canadian celebrity because of where he was sitting. “American celebrities always seem to be watching hockey from the front row, where you can’t really see the game, but the TV cameras can see their faces. The Canadian celebrities are always sitting at least 10 rows up where they can actually see the puck.”

A few weeks later I was checking the mail in my apartment building in Vancouver’s west end and sitting in the pile where everyone dumps the mail sent to former tenants I spotted a letter addressed to Cory Monteith. And I thought . . . No way. I only knew of Monteith as one of Canada’s most successful acting exports and imagined him living in a building that was a lot posher than my place.

But when I asked the manager if it was that Cory Monteith he said it was. That he’d lived in the building for a couple of years and  was “a really sweet kid.” And I have the type of manager who would make a great informant for Santa Claus — if he thought the actor had been naughty, he would have told me.

When the news flashed on Facebook that Monteith had died in a Vancouver hotel room I assumed it was another Twitter hoax. I hoped it was another Twitter hoax.

Sadly, no.

Instead I woke up Monday to a request to write Monteith’s obituary for The Vancouver Sun.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t get to say when I was writing in formal newspaper style. Everybody I talked to loved him. On and off the record. No one had a nasty word to say. All were heartbroken. Many of the people I spoke to were on the verge of tears. Many of the people I reached online told me they were still crying and weren’t prepared to talk to me or anyone else about his death yet.

Monteith publicly admitted that he had drug and alcohol issues in his life but from everything I heard, even from the people who made reference to his “demons,” the drugs must not have had the same Jekyll and Hyde effect on him that they do on so many substance abusers. No one I spoke to — and I spoke to a lot of people — had a negative word to say about him.

He paid for his earliest acting classes in Vancouver by sweeping the studio.

After he became a star he donated his time and money to help kids who were at risk, like he’d been, like he clearly still was.

He kept flying back to Canada to sprinkle a bit of his newfound stardust on Canadian productions, likely working for less money on Canadian projects than “Glee” spent on his wardrobe.

He did impossibly sweet favours for people he barely knew. When Gemini Awards producer Lynn Harvey shared her story about how Monteith invited her family to visit the set of “Glee,” and then treated her teen daughters like visiting rock stars, she was still incredulous recounting how gracious the young actor was. She kept telling me, “he didn’t have to do that” and “he barely knew us.”

By all accounts, Monteith was the type of kind, gentle, polite all-Canadian boy-next-door who everyone would love to have as the boy next door to them.

I hope that’s how he’ll be remembered.

(this story was originally published July 16th, 2013 in backofthebook.ca)

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